Julie Colehour | The Innovator 25 North America 2019

Julie Colehour 



“If the idea doesn’t make your client or you boss a little nervous, it is not an innovative idea and it likely won’t be successful.”

It’s one thing to tout diversity and inclusion as core organizational values, it’s another thing to actively build an anti-racist work culture, like Julie Colehour has committed to doing at C+C. These days, a passive approach seems to condone the status quo, which is the reason Colehour has made a point to encourage actions and adopt policies that actually oppose racism. What does that look like at a PR agency? For example, pointing out instances of biases — yes, even to clients. (And as a result, the client changed its problematic policy.) “Three or four years ago, we wouldn’t have done that,” Colehour said. “But now, multiple people in the room felt comfortable speaking up.” The agency has also changed its meeting formats to be more culturally inclusive and has made some portion of the hiring process anonymous. 

In what way(s) does PR/communications need to innovate the most?
We need to do a better job of embracing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion with an emphasis on equity. This requires being willing to hire people that don’t fit the traditional education and experience backgrounds that we typically hire for in our industry. Making this shift is hard and is more work. But it is critically important for our industry to both to create a more diverse PR workforce and to allow us to create strategies and campaigns that are relevant to the culturally and ethnically diversity of today’s target audiences.

How would you describe the communications/PR industry's level of innovation compared to other marketing disciplines?
More innovative then other marketing disciplines

Where is the PR industry's greatest opportunity for taking the lead on innovation?
Industry diversity and equal pay

How do you define innovation?
Pretty simple. Something that hasn’t been done before that makes things better and/or solves a problem.

What is the most innovative comms/marketing initiative you've seen in the last 12 months?
I have seen a couple that I thought were cool. The first is a campaign that Starbucks’ Energy Efficiency team ran a campaign where they asked their store managers to send it pitches to make their stores greener. Five teams/ideas were selected to pitch to Starbucks executives in Seattle – all five ideas were funded! Love this one! The second comes from our client REI who is backing up their promise to make the outdoors more accessible by making its gear rentals and used gear sales a larger part of its business.

In your opinion, what brands and/or agencies are most innovative around PR and marketing?
Year after year South African agency atmosphere comes up with the coolest and most innovative ideas. Most recently they created a series of 30-second shower jingles to remind people in South African to take shorter showers during a water shortage. Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t shout out the Wendy’s diss track campaign – “We Beefin”. I still giggle when I think of it.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider innovative.
Deciding to start C+C. The business plan was unproven – could we build a social good PR agency that focused on work for both the public and private sector? It was sort of like jumping off a cliff and not being certain what was at the bottom. Turned out being all about the good, was all good and the right choice.

Most underrated trait in a PR person? 
I think the trait that is most underrated is empathy. Empathy lets you hear others perspectives whether its clients or story spokespeople. Empathy also helps you pitch stories and ideas because you can see ideas and issues from multiple perspectives.

How do you get out of a creativity rut?
Bring new people into the conversation. Don’t assume that only the creative people can be creative. Build a creative team that rejects ego and is willing to procure and listen to ideas from everyone in your organization. Then set up a system to do this.

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
Get rid of the safe idea! If the idea doesn’t make your client or you boss a little nervous, it is not an innovative idea and it likely won’t be successful.

What are you thinking about most these days? 
Most of us get in the rut of focusing a lot of our time on what is going wrong and putting out fires. Instead, we need to start to focusing most of our time on what is going well and how to make those things even better. True innovation comes from finding the good and the success and pushing it even further.

What one movie, book, TV show or podcast do you recommend someone rent, read or stream tonight?
The Anatomy of Peace. It may not seem immediately applicable, but read it. It will change how you view your relationships in your job and help you focus on the good.