Back in 1997, Karen Costello became Deutsch LA’s seventh ever employee and, looking at her CV, we think there must be somewhat of a magnetic pull between Karen and the agency. That first stint lasted more than six years before she left for Secret Weapon Marketing. But Karen was back just over a year later, taking an executive creative director role at Deutsch LA that would last some 12 years before she left for Richmond, Virginia to join The Martin Agency as its chief creative officer. But in September 2020 – right around the time that Deutsch LA and NY officially split into separate agencies – Karen returned home once again as the chief creative officer of Deutsch LA.
The split, in Karen’s eyes, has allowed Deutsch LA to fully embrace its Los Angeles roots, a city that she believes is “the hub of creativity”. LBB’s Addison Capper chatted with Karen about how that creative home ground is spurring on the agency and its work.
LBB> You've been back at Deutsch for almost two years now and it's been just over a year since Deutsch split into two agencies. With those facts in mind, what kind of state is Deutsch LA in right now? What are your big aims and focuses as CCO for 2022?
Karen> Deutsch LA is an exciting place to be right now. We have strong momentum with some unbelievably great client partners. There is a palpable feeling that we’re just getting started. Even in the face of the great challenge of the last two years, we’ve experienced tremendous growth which we are focused on continuing. As a CCO, I always want to convert that energy into doing great work in whatever form it takes. I have a particular love for big, ambitious ideas and innovation in general.
LBB> How has the split to two agencies shaped and influenced what you have built / are building at Deutsch LA?
Karen> Our split has allowed us to fully lean into our Los Angeles roots – bringing through that spirit and energy in our work. This city is the hub of creativity; it is bursting at the seams with culture, innovative tech ideas and entertainment. Being positioned in the centre of all that magic in LA, we’re able to tap into that raw and amazing talent, allowing us to pour that into the ideas and work we deliver to our clients. We take our ideas and infuse it with a touch of that LA magic, and turn them into real, meaningful award-winning work.
LBB> What have been some highlights in terms of creative work and business since you've been back at the agency?
Karen> I have loved so many things – we’re a melting pot of creativity. From the Dr. Pepper/Dr. Pepper Zero Lil Sweet work, which snowballed into a bigger partnership, to the never been done before Walmart drone show, I am constantly in awe of great and wildly effective work we’ve produced. Our best work is ambitious, like Taco Moon
for Taco Bell, as well as huge campaign launches for PetSmart and Lowes.
LBB> I read that Deutsch LA moved into Steelhead's offices last year and gave up the original office space. What was the thought process behind that? Was it purely pragmatic or is there business sense to having the agency and production outfit all together under one roof?
Karen> Production is at the centre of everything we do so it was a philosophical no brainer for the business and the work. You can literally feel the creative energy buzzing through our office space, because what we’re able to create together is much greater than what we could’ve ever perceived possible apart. All of that great energy is encapsulated into one space you can feel it and most importantly see it.
LBB> Some years back, you were the 12th employee at Deutsch LA. How did you wind up in advertising? Was it something you actively wanted to do?
Karen> Back when I was the 12th employee at Deutsch, I had already been in the business for roughly seven years, never imagining I’d be at it for this long. I’ve always been creative and thought I had to choose between being a starving artist and having a ‘real job’ because I never knew advertising as a job – or what that looked like. Or at least I hadn’t been exposed to it yet. I went to college and studied Art and Design History, and went on to work for an art gallery following graduation, where I got my first real experience with a graphic design studio. In that moment, my mind was blown, completely shifting everything I thought I knew about the possibilities of my career and its trajectory. I now knew that it was possible to do this for a living – make great art and also eat a meal, so I went back to art school and studied graphic design and that catapulted me into the colourful world of advertising.
Years later, I continue to have a deep love and respect for design and the power of visual thinking. Things have come full circle as we have an incredible design department at the agency headed by the always inspiring Adhemas Batista and design that has been a powerful part of every single thing we do at the agency.
LBB> What was your first role in the industry? What are your fondest (or most horrifying!) memories from that time?
Karen> My first role in the industry was a junior art director. I have very fond memories of those times because everything was new and exciting. Even in that humbling moment, I didn’t yet know what I didn’t know and there is real joy in that.
LBB> Which piece of work from your career are you most proud of and why?
Karen> I am proud of many things for a variety of different reasons, but there is a special pride I have when I and a team of incredible people pull off something that hasn’t been done before. The best example of that is the work we did with Target and the first-ever music video created live during a commercial break. Taking that challenge on, locking arms with your amazing client partners and then succeeding beyond your wildest expectations… that is something both exhilarating and memorable. I choose to live in those moments but also use it to help inspire the next project we touch.
LBB> As a CCO, I imagine a chunk of your responsibilities involve nurturing talent and listening to your teams to ensure they're able to work to the best of their abilities. What is your approach to this side of the job?
Karen> This is my favourite thing – nurturing and mentoring talent. You hear lots of things in our industry like ‘it’s all about the work’ but it’s really all about the people. This is a people business. You have to water what you want to see grow and that’s how I look at our Deutsch family. This is a place where we want to encourage growth and listen to what people need. When the relationship with employees is solid, we can come together and work tête-à-tête to deliver amazing things. Great work is the outcome of great relationships and creative people who feel supported, seen, heard, inspired, nurtured and mentored.
LBB> We've spoken about your leadership responsibilities and enjoyment in nurturing talent, but is there someone in the industry that you look up to or someone that has been a great mentor?
Karen> I have huge admiration for Colleen DeCourcy. Obviously a huge creative talent, but more importantly, she leads with unwavering integrity, empathy, compassion and conviction. She’s an incredible master in what she creates, rich in experience and creativity. You can tell she has an immense amount of adoration and respect for her team and her work.
LBB> Outside of work, what keeps you relaxed / busy / happy / sane?
Karen> I have two teenagers in the house so sanity is hard to come by these days. But in all seriousness, my family and my love for outdoor adventure are the things that truly keep me grounded and able to deliver to my team. We trail run, kayak, rock climb, ski/board and camp as much as possible.