Pick A Sense, Any Sense

Posted By Natalie Kay on August 11, 2015

We have a rather competitive, structured and fruitful internship program here at Karma. Seems like there is a always a steady stream of interviews where a sea of promising and hopeful future professionals are looking to enter agency life and experience all the communications industry has to offer—in just three months.  

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of interviewing a young woman and rising senior at my alma mater, LaSalle University. The first part of the engagement was a typical interview: I explain who Karma is, what we believe, what we do and whom we do it for. The candidates then tell me about their education, hands-on experience, interests and ambitions. But the question and answer portion of this interview took the conversation from basic to inspiring. After thoughtful yet expected questions this candidate asked, “What is your favorite sense?” Quite honestly, I stumbled and asked her to explain her question. Without hesitation she said, “In communications we must rely on the senses to build a narrative. Which is the one you cannot live without?”

I could not answer the question in that very moment. We use as least one of the five senses every moment of every day. They are one of the key components of consciousness. I never had to rate the senses and I certainly never had to pick one over the other. I was blessed with all of the senses and never wanted to lose any of them.

Since this conversation I’ve been keenly aware of every sense. I watch the sunrise from my kitchen window. I kick off my shoes on grass, sand or even concrete when the opportunity presents itself. I identify the voice of any morning show host without looking at the scroll on the car radio. I savor every bite of a sweet white peach. And I make time to stop and smell the peonies. Each action, each sense, would elicit the thought of my fellow Explorer. “Which sense can I not live without?” I knew I owed her an answer and found myself unintentionally conducting case studies on the senses in search of my favorite. 

1. A colleague recently recommended the book All the Light We Cannot See by Pulitzer Prize winning author, Anthony Doerr. Set in occupied France in during World War II, the novel centers on a blind French girl, Marie-Laure LeBlanc, and a German boy, Werner Pfennig. Marie-Laure’s father creates a wooden-scale model of their neighborhood in Paris so can she memorize every house, every manhole with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her feet and cane. She learns to care for herself and imagines life through feeling and counting, but most of all, hearing. Meanwhile, Werner has a passion for science and a gift for radio mechanics. He is fixated with a short-wave radio and chooses to focus on what he hears in radio transmissions and broadcast rather than what he sees throughout his time at a brutal military academy.

Doerr blends imagination and observation as he interweaves the lives of the main characters and highlights a bond formed through radio transmission and the voices of strangers. The novel is so beautifully written and the details are so specific, so deliberate. More than a wonderful recount of a horrifying place in history, the book places significant weight on everything we cannot see and challenges us to heighten our senses, in particular the sense of hearing. My eyes read the text of the book but my whole being heard the narrative. Point one for the sense of hearing.

2. Serial, the podcast that explores a nonfiction story told episodically, makes a strong case for the power of audio storytelling and, in fact, the sense of hearing. Podcasting is a very intimate form and the producers of “Serial” and its host, Sarah Koenig, are masters at it. The cadence of Koenig’s narration is so soothing yet so captivating. When I listen to her, I feel like I’m listening to a friend talk to me about a crime case in great detail, and that’s just gripping. In one inflection she makes you want to root for Adnan’s innocence and in the very next moment, makes you grateful that he is behind bars. I swear that I knew what Adnan, Hae Min, Jay and even Mr. S looked like just by hearing the vivid descriptions Koenig presented. I could navigate Leakin Park (if I had to) and could pinpoint the exact location of the parking spot and payphone booth at the Best Buy (if it existed) just by the way Koenig told the story. I had nothing to look at, watch or reference. I was just fascinated by what was happening in my ears.

I went to see Koenig and co-producer Julie Snyder when they were here in Philadelphia at the Merriam Theatre for a behind-the-scenes look at the cultural phenomenon and an evening of binge-worthy journalism. They told us how they came up with the concept, how they constructed certain episodes and shared audio outtakes – all interesting tidbits that conjure obsession with the series. But something wasn’t exactly right. Instead of listening to Sarah, I was looking at her. I closed my eyes at one point during the event (in part to relieve my straining eyes from the nosebleed-seat glare) because I needed to hear Sarah to feel the power of what she was sharing. Point two for the sense of hearing.

3. My most recent client engagement is a shoo-in for a sense case study. I had the distinct privilege of working on an awareness campaign for my favorite drive-time companion and lifelong teacher, WHYY. Our charge was to visually inspire folks to tune in to the terrestrial radio station. The campaign seeks out people who have questions, want answers, care about the other side of the argument, are purposeful and just want to Get More Interesting. Point three for… you get the point.

I could go on but I’d rather focus on the learning moment of this exercise. Through the exchange of thoughts, messages or information, as by dialogue, visuals, gestures, writing or behavior—we communicate with one another. Communications should evoke emotion; it should make us feel something. And it is the human sensory system that enables an emotional response, one that helps to enhance, inspire, temper and guide the feeling. If something we create—a press release, a social media post, a customer letter, a visual identity, a :30 spot on radio or television—inspires a sensory reaction and persuades someone to think or act differently, then our job is a success. To us communicators, there is no better feeling than that of inspiration.

So, to that rising senior at LaSalle, you know who you are, thank you for awakening me to the power of the five senses. I’ve never felt more in tune with their influence.

Natalie is Karma’s Group Account Director and is in search for the sixth sense.