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Why Natural Empathy Is This Creative Director’s Super Power

Get to know Nina Kauffman, an associate creative director at R/GA San Francisco

Why Natural Empathy Is This Creative Director’s Super Power

Meet Nina Kauffman, associate creative director at R/GA San Francisco. A meandering career path took her from radio, to television, to her current role creating messaging, content strategy, and UX for clients and consumers. Aiming to create work that is both useful and inspiring, Nina taps into her ‘super power’ – her natural empathy – to think and write from a range of perspectives. 

Q> Tell me about your career. How did you end up where you are today?

Nina> I took kind of a meandering route. I worked in radio PR and was miserable, so I went back to school to study media and arts management. I thought I’d go to LA and work in TV development. Instead, I landed a gig at a small interactive agency focused on entertainment clients – as an office manager. I let them know I could write, and spent the next three years focused on digital and social campaigns for film and TV, like Hunger Games, Prometheus and Arrested Development. Eventually I wanted to broaden my portfolio, and I headed north to San Francisco, working on digital content and social campaigns for finance and tech clients. 

From there, I landed at R/GA San Francisco, where I found kind of my true calling: building useful, meaningful experiences that provide value for consumers. It was really a crash course in UX and human behaviour, and that was so exciting to me. The leadership let me push, grow and move beyond the role of ‘copywriter’, letting me hone in on my sweet spot of messaging, content strategy and UX. My work centres on crafting a narrative pathway for users and understanding the psychological impact of language – really, being able to treat content as another design discipline. 

Q> What work do you currently find interesting?

Nina> Work that straddles utility and inspiration. It’s not enough to just build an elegantly crafted tool that helps users achieve something. When you’re building something great, you need to make it meaningful, too. I think the recent Insta Novel project for NYPL by Mother is a great example of that. Simple, useful, powerful. 

Q> Do you have a mentor? How have they helped you in your career development?

Nina> Yes! Lucia Orlandi, a creative director at R/GA NY. I worked with her for a year in SF, and it was one of the most transformative times of my career. She pushed me to be louder, more confident, to focus on my strengths, and overcome my perceived weaknesses. I think one of the most valuable lessons she taught me was about context. You can have the best idea in the world, but if you’re not speaking to the why – even if you think it’s obvious – no one’s going to buy it.

Q> When did you realise you wanted to be a copywriter?

Nina> It’s kind of funny – my father was a creative director at Leo Burnett, and I never thought I’d do that kind of work. I wanted to be a ‘writer’, creating books or novels, or maybe working in publishing. I never considered advertising as that kind of work. I definitely fell into it by accident, but I knew it was something I really, really wanted to do when I started working on the Hunger Games. The agency I was working at had built this huge, in-world experience across different platforms, and I got to write in-character… it was just the most fun project, to capture the voice of all these different people. And even though it wasn’t the most traditional copywriting work, I’ve used that experience to inform how I take on and jump between different brand voices seamlessly.

Q> Tell me about your process for creating. 

Nina> I was at this storytelling event recently – 2X, which is awesome, go check it out  – where one of the speakers talked about recognising your super powers. Mine has always been a deep empathy, this ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and feel what they feel. And I think it’s made me a better creative. I’m able to dig into the mindset of the audience, whoever they are, and think like them – imagine their days, their lives, what they care about – to better understand what problem we’re solving, but also what they need to hear to be convinced a solution is for them.
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