Catherine Blades | Influence 100
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Catherine Blades

SVP, Chief ESG & Communications Officer 
Aflac
US

 

 

Aflac’s rise from a relatively obscure Atlanta insurance company to a household name owes much to its savvy marketing approach. Just as important, though, is its commitment to an authentic purpose, underpinned by its 24-year focus on paediatric cancer and best illustrated by the My Special Aflac Duck toy robot — which has so far helped more than 4,300 children battle through cancer, by providing emotional support and helping kids open up and communicate through a troubling period.

That campaign is just one example of how Catherine Blades has reshaped Aflac’s purpose strategy, through a series of initiatives that have not been without risk. In the process, Blades has emerged as one of the corporate world’s more thoughtful voices on brand purpose and stakeholder capitalism, while helping to deliver impressive business results, and also serving as an important advocate for diversity and inclusion. 

Blades joined Aflac in 2014, after senior roles at Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Flextronics.

Can you share a moment in your career when you saw PR's direct impact on business performance?
When using public relations in Poland to avert an eight-figure penalty on the F-16 offset program was successful. Not a single lawyer had to be brought in and I came in 40% under budget to boot!

What are the comms industry's biggest challenges and opportunities in the year ahead?
Technology is both.

What have you most admired about this industry in 2020?
The way the industry has provided material value to its companies in the wake of Covid-19.

What has most disappointed you about this industry in 2020?
It's that we don't get the credit we deserve. We're more than the conscious of our company, which is important. We're also business leaders who are helping to keep companies afloat in the midst of a global pandemic and tremendous social unrest in the US.

How have you switched off from work and maintained wellness in lockdown?
Dreadfully.

Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has helped you get through this year or provided inspiration?
Jazz and blues music.

If I wasn't working in marketing/communications, I would be...
A CEO.

Sum up 2020 in one word.
Next (please).