2 Minutes With … Lance Koenig, CSO of Havas Chicago

On creativity fueled by empathy and always staying curious

Lance Koenig is a marketing executive with over 20 years of experience. He joined Havas Chicago as chief strategy officer in 2022. Previously, he worked at The Martin Agency, where he was the head of global strategy for clients including Mondelez brands Oreo and Ritz, as well as UPS and Santander.

Prior to that,  Lance worked as Toronto CSO at Stockholm-based Forsman & Bodenfors. His career also includes leadership roles at Leo Burnett, DDB, MullenLowe and Hill Holliday.

We spent two minutes with Lance to learn more about his background, his creative inspirations and recent work he's admired.

Lance, tell us …

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, and I now live in Chicago. I took some detours through Boston, Richmond, Virginia and Washington D.C. in the U.S., as well as Toronto.

How you first realized you were creative.

I've always been very curious, often asking "why?" That’s because I've always been interested in how things work, and perhaps more importantly, how people work—what motivates them, how they connect to things and each other. So, I think my creativity has largely come through a deeply entrenched empathy. That said, my mom might point to the use of the cat poop in my sandbox as people for the town I built as an early indicator of creative problem-solving. In fairness to me, I thought they were rocks and I was like three.

A person you idolized creatively early on.

Kurt Vonnegut, Bono—how's that for spectrum?

A moment from high school or college that changed your life.

In high school I was recruited to be part of a student outreach program called Peer Helpers. The group was created for students to inspire others in making the school more welcoming, more inclusive, and more appreciative of diversity. On the last day of our training we were given a piece of writing by [Johann Wolfgang von] Goethe, and the last stanza has always stuck with me:  "If you treat people as they are, you make them worse. If you create people as they ought to be treated, you help them become what they’re capable of becoming."

A visual artist or band/musician you admire.

Summer Wheat.

A book, movie, TV show or podcast you recently found inspiring.

Bono's Audiobook: Surrender

Your favorite fictional character.

Billy Pilgrim from Slaughterhouse Five—strange, I know. But, he's the ultimate anti-hero and underdog.

Someone or something worth following on social media.

I'm a rabid consumer of podcasts. I'm currently listening to Articles Of Interest and going deep on micro cultures and their influence on fashion trends. I've also enjoyed Scratch by Rival and Eric Fulwiler who explores challenger brands and moves. Eric has his finger on the pulse of emerging brands and tech. It's always worth a listen to hear what's motivating him and his company.

How Covid-19 changed your life, personally or professionally.

I lived in Richmond during that period, which was a sort of epicenter for Black Lives Matter during the George Floyd murder and ensuing protests that resulted in the destruction and removal of confederate monuments. Those monuments were symbols of hate, to say the least, and to see them covered in graffiti and decimated was a wonderful experience.

One of your favorite creative projects you've ever worked on.

The original Royal Caribbean work "Come Seek" was so fresh, positioning the brand as stewards of the islands that are the source of its name while promoting the uniqueness of the islands.

Also, the UPS "Unstoppable" campaign put the brand on the cultural map and captures the spirit and energy that is authentic to them. It became a part of New York Fashion Week, helping to celebrate up-and-coming black designers as well as minority-owned small businesses as proudly unstoppable.

A recent project you're proud of.

Nurishh launched a dairy-free cream cheese that is "As Good, But Better" than the leading dairy cream cheese. The work we created for it is smart, playful, and the cream cheese credit is wonderfully provocative.

Someone else's work that inspired you years ago.

I'm always so inspired and even jealous of work from Wieden + Kennedy. It's alway creative, but also always very, very smart. They know how to build brands—their recent efforts for McDonald's prove that, putting that brand back into the cultural conversation. But, I'm also a big fan of The Martin Agency and Kristen Cavallo's work.

Someone else's work you admired lately.

The rise of Mischief has been fun to watch and wildly deserved. They consistently come up with news ways of approaching brand problems.

Your main strength as a creative person.

I'm never satisfied.

Your biggest weakness.

I'm never satisfied.

One thing that always makes you happy.

Design. There's so much beauty in the world, whether it's natural or art or an inspiring building. I love the creativity that manifests through design.

One thing that always makes you sad.

How disposable people are in this industry. We expect so much, and yet we invest so little in them.

What you'd be doing if you weren't in advertising.

Architecture, design, house-flipping and basset hound rescue.

2 Minutes With is our regular interview series where we chat with creatives about their backgrounds, creative inspirations, work they admire and more. For more about 2 Minutes With, or to be considered for the series, please get in touch.

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