One of the big stories at this year's Super Bowl was Burger King's return as an advertiser after a long absence.
Opinions about the spot varied greatly, but everyone talked about it. The agency behind all the buzz: Crispin Porter & Bogusky (CPB). The person who helps maintain CPB's buzz: VP/director of agency communications Katie Kempner.
Kempner is just the person you'd expect in that role for CPB. Much like the Miami-based agency, she is trendy, unconventional, and creative. And she is making a name for herself in an industry she entered almost by accident.
After graduating from the University of Miami in 1992, Kempner worked as an actress for one year before switching gears.
"I just couldn't take the rejection all the time," she recalls. Yet the same skills she developed then come in handy in her present role.
Chuck Porter, chairman of CPB, notes that Kempner's lack of PR experience didn't concern him.
"She's a wonderful example of a characteristic that the agency has had since day one," he says. "We have tried to hire really smart and talented people. Experience is not anything we ever paid very much attention to."
From the minute Kempner went into the agency to learn about a possible job, she says she "got" it. "I just felt comfortable," she says. "It just had a great vibe."
At first, her role combined new-business development with a small amount of PR. The agency was relatively unknown outside of the industry, which provided a challenge for Kempner, who was essentially its first PR person.
"Clients would tell us, 'We don't go farther south than Atlanta, so we're not interested,'" she remembers, adding that the first step to expanding the firm's visibility was to get an article in what was then the Southeast edition of Adweek.
In 1997, the agency was awarded the Florida "Truth" anti-smoking campaign, which significantly raised its profile. In subsequent years, campaigns for Mini, IKEA, and Burger King have made CPB a well-known name - and not just in the ad industry.
"She looked at the task that we were trying to achieve, read a lot, thought a lot, talked to a whole bunch of people, and figured out how to do it," Porter says. "As it turned out, she figured out how to do it better than almost anyone else does it."
Today, she is not only responsible for helping shape and protect CPB's brand, but she is also VP/director of corporate communications for MDC Partners, the agency's parent company.
Yet, when asked if she considers herself a PR pro, she says, "No, I just consider myself a communicator."
That fact is clear to anyone who has listened to her weekly Web radio show, The Hook with Katie Kempner. Hosted every Tuesday on WebmasterRadio.com, the show features Kempner interviewing everyone from New York Times advertising columnist Stuart Elliott to her colleagues at CPB.
While the show has provided her with an outlet for doing something she truly enjoys, meeting the challenges of communicating about CPB is still Kempner's highest priority. Because of CPB's increased visibility, its PR activities have become much more strategic.
"We don't have to do every interview," she says, "and I think figuring out what is and what isn't smart for us, in terms of speaking engagements or interviews, is sort of the big picture."
This summer, the agency will open an office in Boulder, CO, something that makes conveying the right messages about CPB that much more important.
"I want make sure that everyone is clear about who and what we are," she says, adding that some of the key messages about the agency are that it is a big believer in building brands, a leader in the industry, and media agnostic.
"CPB is a culture," she says with a laugh. "I want people to see that we have fun."
VP/director of agency communications, Crispin Porter & Bogusky; VP/director of corporate comms at MDC Partners since 2004
MacTemps (now Aquent), posts including PR director and director of permanent placement