Curtis Sparrer | The Innovator 25 North America 2022

Curtis Sparrer


San Francisco

“Agencies need to find and cultivate creative people, supporting them with a team that can translate their vision into an executable PR and marketing program that matters.”

Curtis Sparrer doesn’t shy away from putting himself out there, as the kind of guy who has leveraged his position leading tech agency Bospar to take actions from waging battle on Texas’ anti-abortion laws to supporting minorities and marginalized communities. Having pledged to “right” several “wrongs” in PR agencies when he co-founded Bospar seven years ago, Sparrer has stuck to his promises to not overwork employees and lead with purpose, by hiring only individuals willing to take stands against injustices.  A virtual shop pre-pandemic, Sparrer gives employees positions in sync with their talents, setting them up to flourish rather than flounder. Providing every employee – regardless of seniority – with a mentor keeps wellness in check. Sparrer’s methods are reaping results, evident through Bospar being listed for a second consecutive year on Inc.’s 5000 list for achieving year-over-year growth.

How do you define innovation?
What do Steve Jobs, Maya Angelou, Albert Einstein, and Anais Nin all have in common? They are all quoted on what innovation means to them. It’s inspiring. In fact, each year, we generate hundreds of new quotes. That’s because we're not daunted by giants. We keep innovating on innovation.

What is the most innovative PR or marketing initiative you've seen over the past 12 months?
In 1997, the band Aqua prepared us for 2023 with the song: “It's a Barbie World.” In the past 12 months, Barbie stooped to conquer with a marketing partner program of Napoleonic ambitions. No, scratch that. Barbieonic Ambitions. From oral care to hamburgers, Barbie became an outsize presence, because she appeared not just in every facet of our lives but in the unexpected ones as well. It was as if to communicate: I’m Barbie; I’m unavoidable. That should be the goal of any grand marketing program.

In your opinion, which brands and/or agencies are most innovative in their approach to PR and marketing?
There is a Goldilocks rule for innovative agencies. If they’re too small, they’re likely to suffer from groupthink. Too big – too institutional. But if you get something in between, you can tap into the resident mad scientist and the uptight practitioner. You can get something more than just right, but dynamite!

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider to be innovative.
The tech disruptors Bospar represents inspired us to fulfill a need. Let me explain. When I first went to The Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, I noticed there wasn’t a nightclub for LGBTQIA+ attendees. So we took a page from a tech playbook and fulfilled an unmet need. We launched Club Courage, the first nightclub for LGBTQIA+ attendees and their allies. We partnered with the local LGBTQIA+ community to produce the event, attracting journalists and PR professionals from agencies such as Ketchum and IAB. This comes when brands supporting the LGBTQIA+ community are under siege, requiring real corporate courage. To drive that point home, we surveyed over 5,000 adults from five countries about their attitudes about brands’ support of the LGBTQIA+ community during Pride. Nike ranked first, followed by Adidas, Disney, Levi’s and Apple. Chick-fil-A came in last.

Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation?
Adam Ritchie. He just published a book titled 'Invention in PR'. In the critics' reviews section I gushed: "I wish I had written this. Adam Ritchie's new work has given me a true case of professional envy!"

How do you get out of a creativity rut?
I channel my inner five-year-old and think: what would get me in trouble? That’s to get me out of the creativity rut. Then I think: how would I deploy that in the real world? That’s how I get into my innovation groove.

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation? Support your local mad scientist!
That it's more than just a bumper sticker. Agencies need to find and cultivate creative people, supporting them with a team that can translate their vision into an executable PR and marketing program that matters.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing your current job?
In 2008, I had a choice: leave producing or leave San Francisco. As a native Texan who grew up hating summer heat, I determined that San Francisco is the best place on the planet for me. I thought I gave up on being a producer. But as the co-founder of a PR agency, I realize I’m more of a producer now than ever before.
So that’s my long-winded way of saying I would still be a producer. I just don’t know what form it would take!

Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has provided inspiration over the past year?
'Foundation' tells the story of a man whose mathematical models can predict history. And those in power don’t like his predictions. It was first a book by Isaac Asimov. Now it’s a TV show on Apple+. And it speaks to me. It’s a parable for what PR and marketing professionals do daily: look into the future and dare speak truth to power.

How can the PR and communications industry harness innovation to make more progress on diversity, equity and inclusion?
DEI is frequently the missing ingredient to innovation. That’s because the killer of innovation is groupthink.
Outliers mix things up. They don’t have the same background, biases and cultural baggage. So it's not about harnessing innovation to make more progress on DEI. It’s about prioritizing innovation to make DEI an agency mandate.