Soon Mee Kim | The Innovator 25 North America 2019

Soon Mee Kim 

Global Diversity & Inclusion Leader 

Porter Novelli  

“The memory of a simple sign on a door at Patagonia announcing a store closing indicated all I needed to know about their values.”

The slow progress of diversity & inclusion within the PR industry has compelled a new generation of leaders to disrupt the tired initiatives that clearly weren’t working. Soon Mee Kim is among them. In 2017, she became Porter Novelli’s first global diversity and inclusion leader, reporting into the CEO. Before she moved into this role, the firm looked at D&I primarily thought a multicultural marketing lens or through a regional approach. Creating her role was the first step, the second is what Kim does with it. “We need to risk being uncomfortable and can no longer perpetuate fragility and impede development by withholding immediate and necessary feedback to help our managers and direct reports grow,” she said during our recent series on this topic. Her approach, so far, has been to be refreshingly modern — and yes, necessarily disruptive. 

In what way(s) does PR/communications need to innovate the most?
I'd like to see our industry connect more relevantly to a brand's consciousness and the important role we play in driving business strategy and societal impact.

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?
Creative ideas

How do you define innovation?
I define innovation as new and better ways of getting to an improved reality.

What is the most innovative comms/marketing initiative you've seen in the last 12 months?
One campaign I loved was "Time to Vote" that brought organizations together to give their employees a day off to cast their ballots on election day. The memory of a simple sign on a door at Patagonia announcing a store closing indicated all I needed to know about their values. It was brilliant.

In your opinion, what brands and/or agencies are most innovative around PR and marketing?
Can I name my own agency? It's a great time to be at Porter Novelli as we fully embrace our transformation into a global purpose communications consultancy. We're at a time when we're constantly creating new products and services, looking at how we operate, and trying to live our values more fully. Understanding who we are and leaning into our purpose creates an environment of innovation.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider innovative.
There was a time when I was deeply unhappy at my agency. Looking back, that tension was good for me. As things began to resolve, I remember a time that I refer to as a "State of Popcorn" because ideas were pop-pop-popping all around me. In many regards, that state was made possible because I work in a diverse environment and the full acceptance I feel from my colleagues. It definitely led to my transition as a practice leader and client relationship leader to my diversity role today.

Most underrated trait in a PR person? 

How do you get out of a creativity rut?
When I'm in a funk, I change up every little thing from where I park, to how I get to work, to changing my physical surroundings. The change in perspective literally helps me see things differently.

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
I don't think it's possible to embrace innovation and not embrace diversity. I don't believe you can have one without the other. It's those differences in background, perspective and experience that lead to the aha moments that you need to innovate.

What are you thinking about most these days? 
I'm thinking about institutional racism pretty much all the time.

What one movie, book, TV show or podcast do you recommend someone rent, read or stream tonight?
I recommend binge-watching Queer Eye. It restores my faith that we can all appreciate and love one another if we just try. Make sure to have tissues on hand.