Karen van Bergen: PRWeek Hall of Femme 2016

CEO, Omnicom Public Relations Group

What would you do if you were not in PR?
If I had started training early enough, I would be a Muay Thai fighter. I’m very competitive.

Talk about the last time you experienced a truly fist-pumping victory moment.
The end of 2015 was a significant milestone for Porter Novelli. It marked the end of our three-year strategic plan, which we put into place when I took on the role of CEO and it guided our direction as an agency since that time. As 2015 came to a close and I looked back over the past three years, it was definitely a fist-pumping moment. I am so proud of what we achieved at Porter — through grit, determination, and drive. We pivoted to seize opportunities, assessed and redirected our efforts when needed, and we celebrated our successes together.

When was the last time you endured a real "agony of defeat" moment, a total wipeout? What did you learn from it?
Last year, our team came together for an important pitch, one we were passionate about and really wanted to win. We had the right team in place, our big idea was grounded in research and insights, our thinking was smart and creative and all members of our team were fully integrated — from digital to creative to analytics and measurement. When it came time for the in-person pitch, we nailed it, but we lost as one of our competitors had more industry experience.

Our lesson learned was a tough one: even when you give your all, even when you did everything right and brought everything to the table, sometimes you still don’t come out on top. And you can’t let it get you down. You’ve got to get back up, brush yourself off, hold your head high and move on to the next.

How long ago was the last time you truly took the time to recharge your batteries? What did you do?
I took a vacation to Puerto Rico over Christmas with my husband Jos and son Joshua. I did a pretty good job of truly unplugging. I don’t get the chance to recharge very often, and this was much needed. It was sublime.

What is it about this industry that frustrates the hell out of you sometimes?
The lack of diversity in the overall industry and the lack of women in leadership roles. While we’re making some progress on women in leadership, there’s so much more to be done. And diversity is a nut we just haven’t been able to crack yet. I see mentorship as key to both of these issues. All of us have to do our part to move the needle on these issues.

I’m also frustrated by PR’s tendency to be too humble — as a result we give away way too many integrated assignments to ad agencies, when we should be leading them.

And lastly, it’s annoying how slowly we, as an industry, are pushing through the need for measurement. It is key to demonstrating our value and ROI, and it needs to be integrated into every campaign.

Words to live by?
Think as if you would live forever and live as if you would die tomorrow.

What would you tell your 20-year-old self?
Follow your heart. Embrace opportunities and challenges. Don’t be afraid to take a big jump. Ask for advice. And embrace failure.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say to you as you enter?
Oh, hell.

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