Karen Kaplan: My Story

You could say packaging design is in my blood. My father, Herb, started Murrie White and Associates, a package design firm, in 1964. I was 2 years old then. Along with creative genius Tom White, my dad and his team created iconic designs for the Keebler tree house and SO many more.

I grew up watching my dad preparing for client meetings. In the living room, he’d project his slide presentation on the wall and rehearse his speech…. I remember hearing about the iconic branding of Coca Cola’s bottle shape and wave, the evolution of Tide’s bullseye and Campbell’s red and white soup cans. He’d sometimes stop midway through his spiel to blow the dust off a slide.

I studied marketing at Indiana University. During summers and winter breaks, I worked part time at my dad’s company, anywhere I could provide some help. Upon graduation and excited to work, I was disappointed when my dad said, “You can’t work for me, you don’t have a design background.” Slightly deflated, I went out and created my own path.

I began my professional career as a Sales Rep for Nestle Foods, growing into an Account Manager role by my second year. I moved on to Heublien Wines as Account Manager for a short time after that. My dad’s partner, who was retiring, knew I was having a successful career and asked my father why I couldn’t come in, learn the design business and become a liaison between clients and designers. 

After 4 straight hours of interviews with eight Account Execs at MWDL (because my dad’s concern about nepotism was so strong, he wanted everyone to have a chance to turn me down), I got the job!

I started working at MWDL on my birthday, December 27, 1988—because Dad felt it would look ambitious to get me rolling before the new year. And that’s where it all began—my love of client relationships, package design and all things creative!

My career continued for 17 years, through boyfriends, marriage and the birth of 3 kids. When my kids were 2, 4 and 6, it was time to take a career break and transition into a full-time mom. 

Once my youngest hit first grade, I decided to go back into a paying career. A former client gave me the opportunity to work part-time for her at Strategia Design, helping with business development and client management. This opportunity led me back to another familiar face, someone I had trained to be an Account Executive! I was hired for a full-time position as Account Director at Bluedog Design. I was thrust into a maelstrom of learning everything I’d missed for the last 10 years (including how to make a PPT presentation), yet I was also fortunate to have the opportunity to work with several amazing CPG brands, such as Beech-Nut, Apio, Ocean Spray, etc.

My former co-worker from MLR (another evolution to Murrie Lienhart Rysner & Assoc) Adrienne Nole introduced me to Ron Farnum that led to the culmination of my best career move ever!

I started at Damen Jackson in July 2018 and dove right into managing projects for clients like Fisher Nuts, Azteca Tortillas, Daisy Sour Cream and more.

I was responsible for business development with Ron and we landed some great new business in my first two years, which included a complete rebranding for Heartland RV and development of a software brand called GreenBear.

My strength in cultivating and growing relationships resulted in growth within our existing clientele for projects like packaging for Baja Tortillas by Azteca, creating online visual standards for iRobot, and guiding the design of many new product packages for Fisher Recipe Nuts, Squirrel Brand Nuts, Orchard Valley Harvest and Fisher Snacks.

I learned a lot about categories I hadn’t work in before; I opened my mind to more strategic thinking for all our work and engaged more deeply with my co-workers and clients to best solve their branding challenges. Over a short period of time, Ron and I began to shift our way of thinking, using our collective experience to create a stronger methodology that helped us better identify, clarify and leverage our client’s brands to be more successful against their competitors.

After 3 years at Damen Jackson, I was promoted to Vice President—a true honor! I have grown immensely from all my experiences, but at Damen Jackson, I feel fully trusted, appreciated and a real part of the leadership team. Ron has been inspiring, collaborating, and challenging me along the way. I am excited about all the things we’ve got coming up and all the new client opportunities we’ll encounter along the way!

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