Lived in: Thailand, Guangzhou, Canada, Puerto Rico and New York
Katie Ford oversees all North American (including the US, Canada and Puerto Rico) communication planning for the Procter & Gamble business. She leads the strategic development of 20+ brands across four business units, and has made significant contributions in driving digital thought leadership and strategic innovation.
She recently created a contact choice visualization tool to help inspire creative agency partners to maximize the message impact and interplay between Paid, Owned and Earned contacts. Earlier this year, Katie and her team created the world’s first live beauty ad for Pantene that quickly became the envy in a cluttered category, debunking some product myths on national TV in a top rated reality show’s LIVE season finale. This work was so innovative that it received a Shortlist honor at Cannes in 2011.
Katie also continues to drive scalable innovation in the mobile space with hyper-local targeting, m-commerce, augmented reality and using best-in-class behavioral targeting tools to aggregate niche audiences to drive impact to her client’s business.
What is the biggest challenge you face in applying innovative thinking to international projects? Every challenge is really an opportunity, and one of the biggest opportunities that Katie focuses on in driving innovation internationally is embracing a scarcity mindset. With years of global experience, Katie has continuously witnessed smaller, less developed markets become much more receptive to understanding cross-border approaches and adapting innovation for their own market. They have a scarcity mindset with limited resources, including both budgets and people. These international markets are skilled at adaptation and driving net contribution improvement of an idea borne in another region and are passionate about how to build in local nuances and make the idea their own.
The biggest challenge that a scarcity mindset cannot overcome yet is the limited ability of data sophistication. Many times agencies (and even clients) want to have every data point to prove the business viability. However, many underdeveloped markets do not have this infrastructure and are more reliant on gut or anecdotal results; as a result, clients are often reluctant to take the leap of faith. It’s Katie’s job to make those clients comfortable with taking the calculated leap.
Why do people see you as an innovator? You can often hear Katie saying “our aim is to make our clients comfortable with the uncomfortable.” This push is driven by her undying passion to push the boundaries of scalable innovation, taking a great idea and scaling tailored versions across the globe. In pursuit of the sort of ideas that go above and beyond, Katie rarely takes no for an answer. She encourages her team, partner agencies and clients to work from “no” to “maybe” to “yes.”
She has been applying this mentality through her entire career. Back in late 1990s, she exported the concept of “Coke with Food” from North America and Latin America to regions never accustomed to having sparkling drinks with a meal. The campaign drove cultural acceptance in the Southeast Asian region and Uzbekistan and has recently been celebrated as one of the most celebrated campaigns around the globe driving consumer brand love.
What role does innovation play in your marketing strategy today? In a world where changes in the digital space in the past 90 days outpaces innovation in the broadcast space in the past nine years, helping reinvent the way the agency harnesses new technology and distribution models is more important than ever. Katie believes data and marketplace relationships are the fuel to successful innovation. If agencies can use data to be best informed about consumers’ behaviors, their desires and where they are spending their time, Katie and her team can then create meaningful experiences and lasting relationships between brands and consumers.
Dictionary definitions aside, how would you characterize innovation in the work you do? In Katie’s mind there are two ways to characterize innovation:
1. First-ever ideas and approaches that are leading the marketplace
2. Searching and reapplying best-in-class thinking and scaling it globally
For Katie, a happy balance of the two parts of the innovation equation is ideal. If all you have are first-ever shiny objects, you will likely not reach enough people to have scalable impact. But if you can create some first-evers and export and tailor to other markets, you can nail the innovation in a provocative, scalable way.
Any other interesting aspects to your international background? As a young teenager, Katie served as a People to People Ambassador to the U.S. and traveled to Russia around the time of Reagan/Gorbachev summit. During her time there, she met with Russian peers to get behind-the-scenes access and talk about how the U.S. and Russia could come together and become allies.