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The Innovator 25:
How do you define innovation?
I define innovation as anything that solves a problem with a solution that isn’t obvious. When we, as marketers, go immediately to the tool in our toolbox we know will work because it worked before, we may be effective in meeting immediate goals but we’re coasting at best. Innovation requires experimentation and therefore requires tolerance for risk. The most innovative companies in the world right now, the ones we all look to as beacons of the future, are all taking amazing risks, from Netflix to Tesla, to Uber, to Apple and Google. They’re more afraid of stagnancy than failure.
What is the most innovative comms/marketing initiative you've seen in the last 12 months?
The innovation I’m most excited about right now in communications and marketing is work that blows up the idea that utility and inspiration are two modalities of a brand. I’m really in love with the work we did with Hulu that launched this year. It’s gorgeous, intuitive, personal, and emotional - all the things you would expect from the “marketing” side of the house, but at its core it’s a product, built around prioritized user and business needs. I think the smartest work out there is moving away from “storytelling” and “functionality” as two barely overlapping circles. Instead we’re building an ecosystem that’s actually useful to consumers, that they seek out organically, and infusing it with experiences that communicate a brand’s value.
In your opinion, what brands and/or agencies are most innovative around PR and marketing?
Smaller, startup disruptors in the retail industry like Warby Parker, M.Gemi, Dollar Shave Club, Casper, and Thinx are doing an amazing job making their nimble, challenger status an asset. Their emphasis on craft, product quality, and direct to consumer transparency, coupled with aggressive use of social media as a primary advertising platform to establish their base quickly (almost before the established players see them coming) is pretty phenomenal. It feels like this is a moment we’ll look back on where a new playbook was established for how challenger brands enter the market.
Describe a moment in your career that you would consider 'innovative.'
My approach to convincing Huge to hire me 13 years ago could be described as either crazy or innovative. I interviewed 6 times over 10 months for 6 different job postings ranging from copywriter to admin to project manager to researcher, and enthusiastically pitched myself as perfectly qualified for each role. Eventually they hired me as the company’s second project manager and 13th employee, either out of admiration for my tenacity or because it was the only way to make me stop interviewing.
Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation?
My boss, Aaron Shapiro. In addition to having a brilliant mind himself, he’s shockingly democratic in his approach to innovation. He can find a spark from anyone on a team at any level, see the genius in it, and stoke it into a fire. He listens with a focus that is unparalleled and inspires me with his complete openness to ideas. He truly suspends disbelief and can be as out there as any designer when it comes to ideation, using his business acumen as an additive rather than conservative force. It’s a trait I admire greatly and aspire to emulate.
How do you get out of a creativity or productivity rut?
What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
If PR is about telling great stories that capture the right attention, innovation is the greatest story of all. And risk is the plot tension that makes us all take heed.
In your opinion, what's the most innovative place in the world?
The design department of any creative company. I have an achilles heel of being very conservative when it comes to imagining what’s possible. Designers view constraints as very low hurdles set for a racetrack full of flying unicorns. They have to, or they’d design to requirements and we’d all be worse off for it. Designers invent the impossible, then push us all to create space for possibility.
What's your favorite hobby that's not work-related?
Biking around the city with my 5 year old daughter on her “extend-o-bike” (not the brand name, just what she calls it) - a fun contraption that’s a kids bike attached to the back of mine. When we hit a hill I request a “power boost” and she pedals like mad. It really makes a difference!
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