In our Headliners series of conversations, we get under the skin of PR and communications leaders around the world who have made PRovoke Media headlines recently, uncovering what they see as the greatest challenges and opportunities for the industry, where they find inspiration (and how they switch off), what they’ve learned about themselves, as well as the creative campaigns they love and the work they are most proud of.

In this week's Q&A, we speak to Jonny Bentwood, who was recently promoted to a new role as global president of data and analytics at Golin. 

What are the greatest challenges and opportunities for the PR and communications industry over the next 12 months?

In my 30 years in the industry I have never seen anything as disruptive as the introduction of AI. The adoption has been more aggressive than when smartphones came on the market and we are only just figuring out how to use this to our advantage. The new tech is moving quicker than legislation and company procedures can manage and firms need to give employees the license to operate to explore and create new IP and offerings.

What’s the best PR campaign you’ve seen recently and why?

When Rick Astley re-recorded Never Gonna Give You Up with misheard lyrics. This campaign had it all. It was healthcare, purpose, fun and it worked! Helping Specsavers to raise awareness of hearing loss, the PR focused on highlighting the public’s silliest malaprops, such as ‘Never gonna run around and desert you’ with ‘Never gonna run around with dessert spoons’. I can never hear this song again without the misheard lyrics jumping out.

What work from your team are you most proud of over the past year?

Doing less. The real art of providing strategy is taking stuff out. This couldn’t be more true than when delivering reports to clients. Too often I have seen teams uncover incredible intelligence only for it to be ignored, or the point to be missed largely due to the fact that the key insight was lost in a huge PowerPoint or the person it was delivered to cannot immediately grasp the key point.

The secret is data storytelling. We need to over-index on visualisation and remove anything that is interesting but not useful. Transform the content from a dull Excel graph into an image that everyone can understand and share. My favourite example of this from last year is when the ASICS team uncovered incredible insight showing that the large majority of people hated the before-and-after photos seen at gyms. Rather than encouraging people to exercise, these images actively worked against it. Smart data storytelling helped push this story internally to help provide the inspiration for a campaign that showed that one of the main benefits of exercise is not for appearance, but rather for improving mental health.

What have you learned about yourself over the past couple of years?

I am ok with being a passionate data geek. Traditionally, the PR industry is stereotyped by creative geniuses who couldn’t be further apart from me. It took me a long time to be confident and stand tall in the within the niche industry that I am part of. This may mean I see the world through a different lens, but I am proud of my prescription glasses and will swim upstream to champion our cause. I am lucky in that I love what I do, pushing boundaries, and have amazing people around me who share my passion.  I have learnt that these are the vital ingredients to be happy in work.

How do you switch off and maintain wellness?

I love playing golf. No Saturday or Sunday morning would be complete without donning extra layers of clothes and braving the links. I could argue that it gets me outside, allows me to exercise or even that the self-loathing after hitting the ball in the trees (again) is good for me. In reality, it’s a curse and an addiction – but bloody hell, being outside and smacking a small white ball helps me focus on the here and now.

What cultural source (eg book/podcast/movie/TV show/music artist) has provided creative inspiration for you lately?

I have been reading and applying learnings about the 'Three Box Solution' framework developed by Vijay Govindarajan. The concept is that we need to split our thinking into a few distinct areas. Traditionally peers currently only focus on their current business (Box 1). However, true success comes from identifying and selectively removing past and outdated assumptions or approaches (Box 2), while also looking forward to thinking what can be created to enable breakthrough innovations and business models (Box 3).

However, beyond anything else, my greatest inspiration has been through travel. I remember speaking to leading chef Marc Murphy about what advice he would give to anyone looking to succeed. He said: “get a passport”. I am fortunate to have seen the most incredible wonders around the world, from the temples at Machu Picchu to the Pyramids in Egypt. Most recently, I flew to Argentina to see the Iguazu Falls, which are truly breath-taking!

If I wasn’t working in PR/comms I would be…

Sailing a yacht around the Aegean Sea.