Early in my career, I was told how important it is to establish a professional reputation as a reliable and dependable person, and I’ve since seen how people who do so end up with the most interesting projects and best job opportunities. Plus, it’s just a good practice as a human being!
As part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Katie Krum, a marketing executive with a passion for all things digital. She has recently been named Senior Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer at PURE, the policyholder-owned property and casualty insurer designed for high net worth individuals and families. Fourteen years ago, Katie was one of PURE’s original three employees and returns to the company after holding senior marketing roles at Weber Shandwick, Under Armour, Marriott Hotels and Nickelodeon.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Marketing found me, rather than the other way around. I was a history major in college — I loved the subject, but I didn’t give much thought to how it would unlock future career opportunities. I also took art and creative writing courses in undergrad and in retrospect, it makes sense that I ended up in marketing and content. At the time, though, I had no idea I was heading in that direction.
I like to say that careers are kind of like dating. Each job helped me find a little more of what I loved. ❤️
When I was 23, I got a job at what was then an insurance start-up — PURE. Working at such a small, scrappy company, I was able to get my hands dirty and try a little bit of everything. It was there that I discovered my marketing career path.
That eventually led me to a job at Nickelodeon, where I went one step further and uncovered the magic of building brand love and fan communities online. It was an exciting and creative time, considering the rapidly changing digital and social media landscapes. I was growing professionally while at the same time these platforms were evolving, and we were at the forefront of so many digital firsts, including voting for the Kid’s Choice Awards on Twitter and releasing content early by “hiding” it online for the biggest brand fans to discover and then share. My work there really sums up why I love digital — because it truly creates community and provides an opportunity to have a more personal relationship with the consumer.
Later, I led the hotel industry’s first crowd-sourced innovation platform while working at Marriott. Travelers submitted their ideas about the future of hotels, and we brought one of the submissions to life with a Healthy Vending Machine in Chicago.
I’ve since brought that passion and perspective to roles at Under Armour and Weber Shandwick, where I led content and digital teams, and now PURE earlier this year.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Insurance isn’t typically the category that builds a strong base of brand fans. But PURE is a different kind of insurance company, as our model creates an unexpected alignment between the member and the business. We have a Net Promoter Score of 71 and track it regularly to ensure our efforts make them feel like a member, not merely a policyholder. This foundation, I believe, is the pathway to building a membership that literally loves their insurance. Furthermore, through an engaged membership, we have the ability to do things like crowd-source the best local repair shops, contractors and property maintenance providers — even specialty services like designers. Community is truly possible.
On another front, I’m not concerned about PURE having the most social media followers or only working with influencers who do. In fact, we’re looking to tap into members and employees as content creators and influencers in their own right. PURE is a regular recipient of best places to work awards, and as such, our employees are our greatest assets and advocates. This also serves to ensure our social identity reflects the PURE experience and that our content is true and ownable to the brand.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I was right out of college, someone in an interview asked me for my 5-year plan. I had no idea how to answer, so I panicked and admitted I didn’t have one. I know now that this isn’t the type of answer you want to give in an interview! But at that point in my life, just starting out in the professional world and not sure what I wanted to do, I saw no way to talk myself into a true or authentic response to that question. Luckily for me, the interviewer was kind and understanding. He thanked me for my honesty and told me that most people are in the same boat. He assured me that it was okay not to know my future plans, but recommended I be more proactive in trying to figure them out, as no one else would do it for me. I didn’t expect to learn a lifelong lesson in that interview, but it was such great advice that I still think about and share today.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
I’m a huge believer in the personal Board of Directors mentality to mentorship. I have a circle of previous managers and co-workers who I turn to for advice and even just to talk shop. I’d love to tell you so many stories! Just a few:
At Nickelodeon, Jim Mollica led our digital marketing strategy team. As I’ve mentioned, this job was pretty transformative, yet in 2013, I had reached the point where I was ready to spread my wings a bit more. I had accepted a position at Marriott and was very nervous to tell him. I held my breath. I walked into his office (without a meeting) and blurted it out. He spent that next hour with me. We talked about the opportunity. He agreed it sounded promising. We talked about the cool stuff we had accomplished. And he told me we would work together again. (And we did at Under Armour 🙌).
Karen Olivares led brand strategy for Marriott Hotels when I joined. With her MBA from Harvard and a long career in brand marketing, she is a marketing veteran. I joined her as the digital partner to help change the perception of the brand among millennials. At first, the relationship was confusing, at best. What was her lane and what was mine? Over time, we embraced working together and fell in love with the partnership. Together, we were the perfect combination of a modern-day marketer. I learned from Karen and Karen learned from me. We still talk today about how we should do a Ted Talk on the strength of multi-generational partnerships.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
For the most part, I would argue that disruption is positive. It’s important to be open to the idea that there could be a better way to do something, and I believe even the little things deserve thoughtfulness and creative solutions.
That being said, some brands are too focused on ‘disruption’ — creating thought-provoking or edgy content, for instance — without thinking about how it serves them or reaches their prospective audiences. For example statements like: Let’s make a podcast! Or let’s do a chatbot. We need more videos. Can get us into trouble.
We have to better define the why before we ideate the format.
That’s why it’s vital to consider every aspect of marketing and content with the brand’s identity in mind. At PURE, we’re mission-driven and member-focused, so everything we do should align with our members and their interests. It’s not about disrupting for the sake of it but getting closer to bringing a brand’s identity to life through interesting, meaningful and potentially unexpected marketing solutions.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
- Early in my career, I was told how important it is to establish a professional reputation as a reliable and dependable person, and I’ve since seen how people who do so end up with the most interesting projects and best job opportunities. Plus, it’s just a good practice as a human being!
- My dad has had a major impact on me. He might tell you we don’t have a lot in common in terms of our work styles. Showing a lot of vulnerability and bringing your whole self to work — things that he sees in me, are very foreign to him. But I’ve learned from his intense intentionality and work ethic. He loves to tell this story to underscore the importance of always being prepared — early in his career, he was on a flight somewhere and the department head randomly sat down next to him. Something like your boss’s boss’s boss’s boss. The guy took the opportunity to talk big picture with my dad. And he wasn’t prepared. I really don’t know the guy who wasn’t prepared for the in-flight strategy conversation. He is a man who puts so much thoughtfulness into life. And I do my best to do the same.
- At my high school graduation, one of my close friend’s mom gave me a photo album of HS memories. On the inside cover, she placed a sticky note with a very simple message: Don’t be afraid to fail. This wasn’t advice that Mrs. Briggs was giving to everyone. She had me figured out. It was such an important message for me. And still is today. (I still have that sticky.)
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
I’m really excited to be back at PURE — I think the brand has great potential to not just shake up the insurance industry but reach beyond that as well. As a provider to high-net-worth individuals and families, there are so many areas and passion points we touch: art, auto, watercraft, and I’m looking forward to establishing PURE as a voice in those spaces as well.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
I love Pivot, a podcast with Recode’s Kara Swisher and NYU Professor Scott Galloway. They talk about marketing and tech and media in a really honest, fresh way. On the show, Scott once said “social media has been described as more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol and is now entrenched in the lives of young people, impossible to ignore when talking about mental health issues.” That impacted me deeply, reminding me how important the work we do as digital marketers is, and the responsibility that comes with it.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Big question, so I will narrow it a bit. On the topic of leadership and building teams that achieve greatness (and disruption), Harvard Business School Professor Francis Frei said: “The key to leadership, in my mind, is that you hold people to very high standards and you do it in a way that people feel you’re deeply devoted to their success.” The first time I heard this, I saved the quote immediately because it captured so well the leader I strive to be.
Ross, the CEO of PURE, and my boss in 2006 and now again, was the first in my career to exemplify that combination. I was very lucky to experience it early and it is very much part of the reason that I returned.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Genuine kindness and real empathy is still not valued enough in the workplace. I think we’re getting closer to appreciating ‘soft skills’ like this one, but I’d love to see a world in which empathy and decency is a priority in business. I know from experience that kind, collaborative teams can make magic for a company and its customers, and I hope other business leaders join me in building more of them. 💪
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!