Charlie Witkowski | The Innovator 25 2016
Charlie WitkowskiThe Innovator 25:

Charlie Witkowski  

GM/VP/creative director   

Olson Engage 

"When it comes to getting final sign-off on the most innovative ideas, we still have a long road to travel as an industry."


As a stand-up comic and former improv player at Second City in Chicago, Witkowski's creative calling card, so far, seems to be helping brands find their sense of humor. This has resulted in his being able to show truly innovative, creative work across the duration of his career. Highlights include launching game-changing Facebook pages like Oreo's, coming up with the idea for the award-winning Trulia Haunted Open House and helping to lead a creative department that produces work like Skittle's lauded Marshawn Lynch's press conference

Describe what you do.
Champion and deliver more innovative, creative thinking to clients across the agency.

Where are you from/hometown?
Chicago, IL

Where are you based now?
San Francisco, CA

In what area of marketing/PR do you see the most innovation?
Planning &Measurement - Every day clients are more and more open to new marketing strategies that are truly unique and custom-tailored for their brands. There is a thirst for differentiation and disruption that wasn't nearly as pronounced five years ago. It's a great environment for innovative thinking that starts during planning. Unfortunately when it comes to getting final sign-off on the most innovative ideas, we still have a long road to travel as an industry.

How would you describe the communications/PR industry's level of innovation?
More innovative then other marketing disciplines. We're innovating from the ground up. We start with what people actually want to see from brands or, at least, what will they be receptive to seeing. It's like having a rolling focus group where you're constantly reevaluating and reshaping your ideas. It's often more arduous than more traditional approaches because the ground is always shifting under your feet. The reality is consumers occupy the same changing landscape — so marketers should avoid ivory tower-approaches to innovation.

What is most important for the PR industry to do to foster more innovation?
Change the industry culture

How do you define innovation?
surprising people

Most innovative PR/comms campaign you've seen in the last 12 months?
Project Graham

What brands and/or agencies are most innovative when it comes to marketing/PR?
Burger King, Skittles, KFC, JetBlue, Netflix and Arby's

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider 'innovative.'
Getting a very hesitant Oreo client to launch a page on a "new social media service called Facebook." That seems to have worked out rather well for everyone...

Something — not PR/marketing related — that is innovative.
The brewing industry. There's a Wild West-level of innovation going on there.

Please giveour readers an idea of something that can inspire innovation — this can be a book/movie/podcast/activity/article.
Try working when you least feel like it. It sucks at first but that tension can lead you to unexpected places.

Least favorite time of day?
Between 10 and 11 PM. There's something untrustworthy about that hour...

Most innovative place in the world? This could be a city, a venue, a neighborhood, etc.
Certainly not the part of my brain trying to answer this extraordinarily complex question.

Ticket taker
IT guy
Website design/dev
Aspiring comedian
Video producer