About Karen Strauss

Karen loves winning trophies for clients, believing awards affirm how much strategy and creativity matter. As Ketchum's chief strategy and creativity officer, as well as co-lead of Ketchum's 50+ specialty, she is an evangelist for courage and creativity in communication, and she ensures strategic discipline and creative liberation for the firm's global network of planners. Her devotion to studying human behavior, crowdsourcing creative ideas and working across silos have contributed to Ketchum winning more awards for clients than any other PR firm. Some of her initiatives include the creation of Mindfire, Ketchum’s crowdsourcing site for fueling creative ideas; the Ketchum Creative Community and related Passion Panels to solve client challenges; and the Ketchum Media Optimizer, the first media planning discipline in the public relations business. As a member of the small minority of female agency creative chiefs, Karen is on a mission to inspire and empower more women to take on lead creative roles.

Author Archive | Karen Strauss

Hail to the YOLD and the Bold

Unsolicited, and only after a little sip of wine, a lovely woman I had just met attending the Mature Marketing Association’s Summit in London last week tugged down her skirt and showed me the newish and rather colorful tattoo on her hip and boasted she was having the best sex of her life. In her 50s, single, joyful and uninhibited, she was completely unfazed that we were among other Summit-goers at a networking event inside a proper English convention center.

Like Helen Mirren, who seems to be the marketing world’s default older sultry spokesperson, my new acquaintance is the embodiment of “YOLD,” brilliantly defined by legendary British adman Robin Wight as “young old,” the concept that “we’re all young now, even the old.” In his words, and he’s in his 70s and busy with many business and philanthropic endeavors, “ageism is so last century.”

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There is a Creative Echo Chamber: Now what are you going to do about it?

With all the evidence that echo chambers polarize society by affirming people’s beliefs, it had to be asked whether this phenomenon is also warping creativity.

Simply put, it is. And the reasons are complex, extending far beyond our reliance on like-minded people and media that echo back what we already think or want to hear.

A new Ketchum-Fast Company survey of creative professionals reveals that most creatives believe they are working in an Echo Chamber because diverse views are insufficiently encouraged or heard in most workplaces.

Why is this still happening in 2017?

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Three Creative Directors Walk Into the Gutter Bar… Where’s the Comic Relief?

A creative director for an ad agency, a PR firm and a digital shop all walk into the Gutter Bar in Cannes. Over cocktails, together, they mastermind a campaign of such noble purpose and seriousness, it’s a lock to win a Cannes Lion award in 2018.

And you were hoping for a humorous punchline?

Actually, these days we’re all looking for some comic relief, so how come most of the marketing campaigns predicted to win Cannes Lions next week are SO NOT amusing?

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Invisible No More – The Power of 50+ WonderLust


“A woman her age is supposed to be invisible. But Hillary Clinton, who is 68, refuses to disappear — and there is no shortage of people who despise her for it,” writes Petula Dvorak, as she reflects on society’s pervasive and persistent views on older women in her Washington Post column. When I shared this account of blatant ageism with enlightened people, including those in my field of marketing communications, most responded in disbelief. “I had no idea we make older people feel so invisible,” said one accomplished former CMO.

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Fishing For Your Sole

Early each morning here on the French Riviera, anglers can be seen casting their lines in search of a perfect catch.  Their leathery, tanned skin and white hair are outward reflections of their age and love for fishing.  And they are reminders that we are all, no matter our age, hoping to snare a big one.

Here at the Cannes Creativity Festival, the big fish is a lion-shaped trophy of creative affirmation. Most of the winners bounding to the stage are young, mirroring the industry.

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Crystal Balling the Cannes Festival of Creativity

When the wise people at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity put together eight days of inspiring content for the international creative elite, they are curating workshops and sessions to hit the big issues keeping creative leaders up at night.

This year’s lineup looks provocative, marked by a whiff of alarm around how truly difficult it has become to cut through all of the content pollution. After poring over hundreds and hundreds of seminar titles and descriptions, here’s what I expect will be the buzz on the Riviera (click to tweet).

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Give Fruitcake a Chance

It’s officially fruitcake season. Yet, in spite of all the goodwill and holiday cheer a fruitcake is intended to convey, it remains the longest running joke of the holidays. As someone whose job it is to rehabilitate reputations, I asked myself how fruitcake could be so mocked and maligned, yet continue to have so much cultural staying power as a symbol of the season.

Traced as far back as the Middle Ages, fruitcake recipes vary, but the modern image of a fruitcake is one of garish, candied fruits and dry, leaden texture. The American talk show host, Johnny Carson, is credited with fruitcake’s fall from grace with his oft-repeated joke, “There’s only one fruitcake in the world and people keep passing it around and around.” The final affront to fruitcake is the annual “fruitcake toss” on January 2, when unwanted loafs are literally thrown, hurled, catapulted and cannoned into the air using a range of inventive devices. It’s practically a cultural expectation to loathe the loaf.

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When Nests Empty, Brands Face ‘ReMovement’

As Seen in … Adweek.

Empty nest. It sounds lonely and a bit sad, but apparently it isn’t either. With June marking the start of empty nesting for millions of Americans, it’s good to know so many are happy. I am, after all, becoming one of them.

Remarkably, 29 percent of Americans in their 50s say they are living their best-ever years, only to be topped by the 38 percent a decade later who say their 60s are the best yet. I discovered this spirit of optimism through a recent Ketchum 50+ study, and it’s good news for me personally–and for marketers who should be salivating at the size and positivity of the population segment that controls almost 70 percent of disposable income in America. This demographic also spends half of all CPG dollars.

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Is 50 Finally the New Black?

Just as I was feeling uncomfortably invisible, several fashion houses in Europe cheered me up by featuring older women in their ads earlier this year. French fashion giant Céline made a splash by casting my literary idol, 80-year-old Joan Didion, as the “respect-worthy” face of its brand, followed by an Yves Saint Laurent campaign featuring one of the great singer-songwriters of my adolescence, Joni Mitchell (who we all hope gets well soon). And, Selfridges launched a unique campaign called “Bright Old Things,” celebrating what it calls the “retirement renaissance.”

In America, older faces remain scarce, other than in sexual dysfunction, vitamin, and insurance marketing, though famous jewelry designer Alex Bittar did recently pair Millennial blogger/actress Tavi Gevinson with 93-year-old fashion icon Iris Apfel in a glimmer of what I believe is a hopeful trend in ageless marketing.

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A New Age in Marketing

Several days before attending the gender-equality-in-marketing 3% Conference, an influential 50-year colleague said something to me over lunch that still rankles. “You know, Karen, agencies are not for the old,” she offered as an explanation for why I was wrestling with one particular business challenge. Her words stung because I had actually thought I was doing a pretty good job keeping up with trends and staying relevant, while very conscious of how much marketers today venerate youth.

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