Fast Chat: Lori Senecal

kbs+p’s CEO and president has changed her firm (and the industry) by innovating, motivating, and inspiring.

For every winning idea such as the Client Stock Index, how many innovations have you introduced at kbs+p that simply slipped through the cracks or didn’t pick up steam?

Well, I think we entertain a lot of ideas, and we try to be choiceful in the one’s we select. The Client Stock Index [which weighs employee incentives against campaign results] started as sort of an all-agency invitation to pitch ideas that would help advance us as a company. So there were literally 50 ideas that were brought forth by 50 of our employees. We selected the Client Stock Index as the top idea because it was such a no-brainer, given that if you wanted to create the mentality of aligning employee wealth and motivation with client success, it’s something really tangible that you can put in the culture. But I think the main thing is to entertain a lot of ideas and then be choiceful about the ones that you implement.

It sounds like a game of odds. Some of those ideas must fall flat.

I mean, absolutely. There are always going to be ideas that succeed and fail. But if you have good instincts, the odds will be in your favor. And if you don’t try, then you won’t have the success.

What’s the biggest challenge when you introduce an idea? Is it convincing the other partners, is it motivating employees, or is it an entirely different obstacle altogether?

Well, one of the things we did in order to create change is, first of all, engage people in it. So when I talked about that American Idol-style sort of pitch process to select an idea that we put into our culture to drive change, when people feel like they’re part of generating what that change is going to look like, they’re less fearful of it. And the other thing is that we have a value system here, which is “do things that matter.” It really puts an emphasis on doing rather than just talking about it all the time.

With such an emphasis on innovation, do you press your clients to be more innovative?

Absolutely. We’ve made real investments at the agency in terms of the technology. We have Spies and Assassins, which is our technology and innovation practice. We have the Test Kitchen. We have kbs+p Ventures. And all of those are designed to help our clients have a view into the future and be able to experiment with us, and be able to actually execute ideas that will help them drive change.

What will you be talking about at the panel?

The reason I was so interested in doing this panel is because Advertising Week’s mission has been described as “to inform and to inspire,” and I think that this seminar brings a third dimension to that, which is to apply—to actually be able to apply that information and inspiration. The areas I’ll probably talk most about will likely be focused on this purpose-driven organization of having a do-things-that-matter kind of value system. What that means is saying yes to entrepreneurs. So when you have people that bring ideas forward, it’s having a bias toward action and empowerment.

Considering how innovative you are, what companies do you think of as innovative?

Certainly a lot of technology companies. We also work with our great automotive friend, BMW. And one of its hallmarks is certainly innovation. But so I think you can see examples of innovations in most categories. There’s always someone blazing a trail.

Is there such a thing as too much innovation?

I think that change in our industry requires constant reappraisal of our practices and our perspectives. Ideas are born from multiple influences, and creativity is about looking at things in different ways. So I think innovation is a constant imperative.

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