Isabel Lara | The Innovator 25 North America 2022

Isabel Lara

Chief Communications Officer

Washington, D.C.

“Innovation happens when you approach situations with an open mind, listen to different perspectives, and sometimes lightning strikes and you find an answer that is unexpected but makes so much sense that you wonder why nobody had done it before.”

Isabela Lara is NPR’s first chief communications officer (and therefore its first Latina CCO), with the expansive remit of overseeing the radio network’s voice and connections with its expansive audience across the country. Having started her career with Hispanic media organizations, Lara is an advocate of NPR’s expanding inclusion and coverage of Latino culture, while personally paving the way for the next generation of LatinX communicators.  
How do you define innovation? 
Innovation happens when you approach situations with an open mind, listen to different perspectives, and sometimes lightning strikes and you find an answer that is unexpected but makes so much sense that you wonder why nobody had done it before. And then everyone thinks it was their idea. Those are the best brainstorms. 

In your opinion, which brands and/or agencies are most innovative in their approach to PR and marketing? 
I think NASA does a fabulous job in their press and social media, they're always relevant and have a great sense of humor. Netflix Con Todo does a good job of connecting with their audience in Spanglish and with humor. The Monterey Aquarium is absolutely wonderful on all their social platforms, I mean they have cute animals and a great sense of humor, what's not to like? 

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider to be innovative. 
I loved working on NPR's 50th anniversary last year. It was wonderful to really feel our listeners' connection with public radio & what NPR voices have meant for them over the years. A very fun innovative thing we did when we launched NPR's partnership with Radio Ambulante at the Third Coast Audio Festival in Chicago was that we had a sort of invite-only smallish party at a bar off-site and gave away branded luggage tags (which was a sort of a play on words with "ambulante" and the nature of the podcast that tells stories from all over Latin America) and it was so delightful to be at O'Hare airport a couple days later and see all these bags with the red Radio Ambulante tags, out there in the wild, as all the different people who had been in the conference went home. 

Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation? 
Brittany Brown, Director of Digital Communications & Strategy at NASA. Thanks to her work, NASA shows up in unexpected places and connects with digital audiences all over the world. 

How do you get out of a creativity rut? 
I go to museums! Looking at art makes me think differently and takes me out of my own head. 

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation? 
To not be afraid of new ideas, to not be afraid of what hasn't been done before. People are so jaded, but you can still surprise them with humor, with details that show you understand, that you paid attention. That connection when somebody thinks "you get me," is absolutely priceless. 

What would you be doing if you weren't doing your current job? 
I would like to be a judge on Iron Chef. 

Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has provided inspiration over the past year? 
"Call My Agent!", a terrific French show that is about a talent agency in Paris and has hilarious cameos from some of the most famous French movie stars. All the characters are so wonderful and it is fun to see how they take care of their clients through thick and thin, but also how much they love the art of filmmaking. 

How would you like to see work culture, and the role of the office, evolve? 
We're still processing the disruption of the traditional office --everyone in the same location at the same time-- that we went through during the past couple of years. I think the key is flexibility: I would like to have days when our team can be in the office in person, as I love the energy and collegiality, the informal conversations and impromptu meetings, but I understand that remote work has allowed for a lot more work/life balance and opportunities for people who don't want to live in an expensive big city to be able to still do work they like and are excited about from pretty much anywhere. I think what I miss most is hearing laughter in the halls... It's always nice to know that your team gets along and that we make each other laugh. 

How can the PR and communications industry harness innovation to make more progress on diversity, equity and inclusion? 
The best and most provocative ideas come from the voices that can authentically connect with the audiences you are trying to reach. DEI is extremely important for the PR and communications industry: communities of color are tired of being talked down to, misunderstood or pandered to and only by ensuring that people of color have the power and feel comfortable enough to pitch creative ideas and execute them can we have true innovation and smart campaigns that truly reach and connect with diverse audiences.