Chad Latz | The Innovator 25 2016
Chad LatzThe Innovator 25:

Chad Latz  

Global president of digital innovation  

Cohn & Wolfe 

"What is innovation if not a disruptive force that captures the attention of the public? And that’s exactly what the most successful PR work accomplishes."

For dismantling Cohn & Wolfe's digital practice and inserting digital concepts and engagement strategies across the agency — from grocery store to established pharma clients. Since then, he's also launched the firm's paid media business and created M.E.-24 a mobile engagement unit within the WPP-firm. Latz is also responsible for Cohn & Wolfe’s position as the only PR agency member of WPP’s Data Alliance. These contributions have, no doubt, helped with the firm's remarkable growth (45% over the last couple of years) that has made Cohn & Wolfe one of the industry's top-performing large agencies. 

Describe what you do.
I oversee the digital and social media business at the agency globally, including our Digital Innovation Group, a team of nearly 90 digital experts around the world. In addition to strategy and client business, I work with our talented team to spot trends, emerging technologies and platforms, strategic partnerships, develop new products and services and guide digital training for the agency. I also work closely with the rest of our global leadership team to define and drive agency strategy.

Where is your hometown?
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

Where are you based now?

New York City

In what area of marketing/PR do you see the most innovation?
Creative technologies with the convergence of digital and the physical world to create brand experiences and consumer engagement. As technology has become an enabler and underlying component for nearly everything we experience – from social media to wearable tech to connected cars – brands have a tremendous opportunity to bring together the physical and digital worlds in ways that generate attention, inspire engagement and drive action.

How would you describe the communications/PR industry's level of innovation?
Lagging the others. At the moment, I look at PR as a sleeping giant. What is innovation if not a disruptive force that captures the attention of the public? And that’s exactly what the most successful PR work accomplishes. I’d like to see more of it. When I look at some of the most celebrated innovative and creative work, a critical metric is earned attention and social reach. No marketing discipline has a monopoly on innovative ideas and PR has always been strongest in understanding social undercurrents and trends in culture and media. As a result, we (PR) should best understand those mechanisms for disruption. Our growing capabilities in digital should embolden us towards more innovative thinking. But in order to do that, we need to break out of the PR/media relations and social media boxes and envision what technology can really enable by way of brand experiences.

What is most important for the PR industry to do to foster more innovation?
Disrupt the agency business model.

Who most influences how innovative a brand's marketing/PR is?
It is a combination of the agency and the company CMO or CCO that influences how innovative a brand’s marketing/PR can be. Clients look to their agencies to be on top of emerging trends and to push them to break new ground. The problem with innovative ideas is they often break boundaries and are not easily categorized. They don’t conform to convention. They don’t fall neatly into the functional responsibility of a single marketing discipline. At the same time, these ideas have the practical needs of client sponsors and budgets in order to ultimately get executed. This can become a challenge if the idea can’t easily be called PR or advertising. A progressive CMO or CCO who has the organizational clout to push an unconventional idea forward is our best ally.

How do you define innovation?
Innovation manifests itself in many ways: defining and establishing a new marketplace for an understood or unforeseen need, enhancing or simplifying a process that removes friction or delivers value to an end user, or to articulate a completely new perspective in a unique way that creates action/reaction. But perhaps the most essential element of innovation is something that transcends ideas and imagination, becoming that which others can materially experience. Ideas without implementation cannot be innovation.

Most innovative PR/comms campaign you've seen in the last 12 months?
The most innovative campaigns always emerge as elegantly simple solutions to a universal truth, insight or human behavior. Some favorites? Nivea Doll, Hashtags for Life and, one that we worked on at Cohn & Wolfe, The Swedish Number.

What brands and/or agencies are most innovative when it comes to marketing/PR?
I loved what JetBlue did for Mother’s Day this year with #Flybabies. The National Health Service did an amazing campaign with Tinder called "The Wait" in order to grow the organ donor registry. I was also loving the IoT activation by game developer Techland that used tweets with the hashtag #TweetForSpeed to send a physical slot car around a track at the gamemaker’s offices.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider 'innovative.'
The value of working in digital and social media, as well as having been in the industry for a while, means you get to have lots of those innovative moments. Our space is always changing. It’s a nice feeling to help clients through their own innovative “first moments.” So whether it’s using social media as a construct to help a brand completely reimagine their business approach (beyond marketing), or witnessing an innovation that fundamentally shifts your thinking…it’s really what gets me up in the morning. The development of IoT was a holy sh!t moment and now we are experiencing the dawn of AI. Some say that my generation (GenX) has witnessed the greatest evolution in media. We also supposedly have the most diverse media consumption habits. As a marketer I feel really lucky about that. We’ve gotten to see a lot!

Something — not PR/marketing related — that is innovative.
One of my favorite things that I have seen recently was a device by Waverly Labs called Pilot which allows real-time audible translation between two people as they speak to each other. A simple problem to be solved with an elegant device that is easy to use.

Please giveo ur readers an idea of something that can inspire innovation — this can be a book/movie/podcast/activity/article.
There are a few places I look for inspiration. As a maker I am a big fan of learning new processes that are outside of marketing. Allowing yourself a mental break to experience something new can jumpstart ideas in your professional pursuits. Last week I made my own soap and last year I learned how to sequence my DNA in a bioengineering lab. I’d encourage everybody to learn a new skill. Try Coursehorse or Verlocal (of course they have marketing and creativity courses too). I also love to periodically peruse crowdfunding sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter where passionate people have developed innovative ideas to solve problems. While I occasionally fund the projects, it’s often inspiring to see what needs people think should be filled and how they’ve chosen to do it! Often there is a marketing insight embedded there. Finally, looking at sources of data can also be quite inspiring. A byproduct of our digital lives is the amount of information that we are constantly generating, whether passive or active data. Every step, vital statistics, proximity and geolocation, eye tracking, remote sensing, weather…often innovation comes from the unique application of different types of data.

Least favorite time of day?
The 3pm slump, of course! Flat white to the rescue!

Most innovative place in the world? This could be a city, a venue, a neighborhood, etc.
I’m paying attention to the growth trend around Maker Cities, incubators and co-working sites that are springing up around the country (and the world) where municipalities join forces with entrepreneurs, artists and engineers to fuel innovation, economic growth and industry. Technology startups in the Rust Belt. Maker Spaces in Pittsburgh. I’m hearing more and more about Des Moines! There’s also a lot of ingenuity surrounding developing markets like sub Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. Innovation can be driven by practical necessity in areas with less infrastructure or places unburdened by legacy technologies. There are lots of places to look for inspiration outside of Silicon Valley.

Construction labor and moving Screenprinting factory applying labels to shampoo bottles Pottery instructor Bakery Managing a small design shop & service bureau Running a not-for-profit artist book press Advertising