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After three years as SC Johnson CCO, Alan VanderMolen has taken on what must be one of the world's most difficult communications assignments — leading PR for the UAE's controversial hosting of COP28. VanderMolen was brought in earlier this year as senior advisor and communications director for the critical event, which is headed by president Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber — whose role has attracted criticism from climate activists because of his existing position as CEO of Abu Dhabi state-owned oil company ADNOC.
VanderMolen leads external communications for COP28, including global media relations, policy communication, and social media, leading a team of more than 30 professionals, including external consultancies. Most importantly, he is charged with delivering a sensitive public relations effort that can allay concerns and deliver, in his words, a "transformational" event.
VanderMolen earlier held several senior global roles for Edelman during a 13-year tenure with the firm, prior to a three year stint as WE's international president.
Can you share a moment in your career when you saw PR’s direct impact on business performance?
It always goes back to crisis, financial comms or political campaigns for me. I am hard pressed to isolate PR’s direct business impact outside of those three. An important support role for sure... but not as lead marcoms discipline in the consumer space. Maybe B2B.
What are the communications industry's biggest challenges and opportunities in the year ahead?
The opportunity and the challenge are the same: Demonstrating value. The industry overall is very good at promoting successes in echo chambers (Cannes, industry awards, etc); however, it always struggles to show consistent value in a quantifiable way in boardrooms and the executive suite. Perhaps it is time to focus on qualitative value and accept the role it is given (or has earned)?
What have you most admired about the communications industry over the past year, and what has disappointed you?
I see more executive appointments – at agencies and in-house – coming from outside traditional PR and media backgrounds. I think that diversity of capability strengthens the function.
How have you switched off from work and maintained wellness over the past year?
I am practicing intermittent slowing – eat whenever and whatever I want, and limit exercise.
Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has helped you get through the past year or provided inspiration?
Rewatched Breaking Bad and Ozark.
If I wasn't working in marketing/communications, I would be...
Riding one of my Harleys across LatAm with my pooch, Seamus, in tow.
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