Karla Chaves | The Innovator 25 North America 2019

Karla Chaves Brenes 

Próxima Comunicación Founder

Costa Rica 

“Innovation is a way of life that is built from culture and leadership.”

In the 14 years since launching Costa Rica’s Próxima Comunicación, Karla Chaves Brenes has emerged as a leading champion of sustainability, and putting environmental protection at the center of companies’ agenda. Her hallmark initiative is ecoins, the first virtual currency that awards doing the right thing for the planet. Individuals receive ecoins in exchange for bringing recyclables to designated collection centers; Participants can exchange the coins for discounts on products and services. The program was launched in 2018 in partnership with the Costa Rica Ministry of Health, companies (Pepsico Latin America is the regional sponsor) and nonprofits. This year will see the launch of the ecoins project in Panama, Peru, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. It will extend to Jamaica, Columbia and Argentina in 2020.

In what way(s) does PR/communications need to innovate the most?
In PR agencies we usually expect clients to come to us with their challenges, so we activate our talent to help them and in some way, we are part of their success. I believe that the difference lies in the fact that agencies, as companies, must first seek our own identity and success, read trends, identify opportunities and act, not only wait to serve customers, but serve society from the vision of the sustainability This inevitably improves the retention of the best talent, attracts good business and creates synergies and alliances that strengthen the entire industry.

How would you describe the communications/PR industry's level of innovation compared to other marketing disciplines?
About the same as other marketing disciplines

Where is the PR industry's greatest opportunity for taking the lead on innovation?
Content creation, plus sustainability vision for business, create synergies.

How do you define innovation?
We live in the reality of limited resources, information saturation and an exaggerated sense of urgency.
Innovation is a way of life that is built from culture and leadership. It is to pause, know how to listen, recognize the true need, is to do more with fewer resources, is to be able to read trends, activate an action plan and at the end generate true value.

What is the most innovative comms/marketing initiative you've seen in the last 12 months?
In our country, the launch of our program ¨ecolones¨, and globally, the approach of P&G brands to gender equality issues seems very powerful to me.

In your opinion, what brands and/or agencies are most innovative around PR and marketing?
As part of the global Edelman agency, we are identified and proud of their approach, and the importance they give to trend research. The Trust Barometer is a very powerful tool for reading the environment and making decisions.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider innovative.
About three years ago we started a process of developing our own project — including our contribution and solution — from the perspective of public relations to a widespread problem in Costa Rica: the incorrect management of valuable waste. This bet changed the course of my career and the agency. We launched it in April 2018 and it has been so successful that we will finish 2019 with a presence in six countries, now with new name: ¨ecoins¨ and in 2020 we will be in five more.

Most underrated trait in a PR person? 
I don´t know.

How do you get out of a creativity rut?
Communication for me is not a job, it is a way of life and a tool to fulfill my personal purpose, so I never stop joining points, seeing patterns and looking for alliances. Creativity happens many times without knowing it.

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
When we first focus on people and not on business or money, we are able to go further and make a difference. The current trends of gender equality, environmental protection, the defense of minority human rights, diversity and inclusion and sustainability, show us the way of new business, you just have to pay attention to the signs. Being authentic, consistent, competent and building trust in our communications are the key to moving forward to innovation.

What are you thinking about most these days? 
What I think most is about the growth potential of our program "ecoins", and how to generate memorable user experiences, in each of the interactions. In addition, in how to raise the level of the Próxima Communication team from current opportunities, from an integral vision of sustainability, be the best place to work, to grow, to dream and to be happy.

What one movie, book, TV show or podcast do you recommend someone rent, read or stream tonight?
I recommend Brené Brown's TEDx, The Power of Vulnerability.