Adam Beaugh | The Innovator 25 North America 2019

Adam Beaugh

Co-Founder and President

Zignal Labs
San Francisco

“Innovation should be driven by equal parts big ideas and bold bets on uncharted territory, as well as continuous discovery”

As co-founder Zignal Labs, Adam Beaugh has given the Fortune 1000 the means to monitor and respond to reputational risks in real-time. The company’s hallmark platform, the Zignal Media Intelligence Cloud, is behind that ability, by monitoring conversations about brands as they occur — thus identifying reputational risks and giving decision makers the ability to craft and execute responses before it’s too late. Beaugh didn’t stop there, however, and drove the development an influence intelligence solution aimed at combatting the spread of disinformation by mapping media coverage and social media conversations in real-time to identify influential human and automated accounts and activity.

In what way(s) does PR/communications need to innovate the most?
Across all industries, but especially PR and communications, there is significant opportunity to leverage technology to handle rote tasks, freeing up time for more strategic activities and decision-making. 

One key to successful innovation within the PR and communications industry will be ensuring that the technology utilized is human-centered, and balances the art of PR and the science of using data, artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Technology should extend and augment – rather than replace – the valuable knowledge and experience that all PR and communications professionals possess.

How would you describe the communications/PR industry's level of innovation compared to other marketing disciplines?
About the same as other marketing disciplines

Where is the PR industry's greatest opportunity for taking the lead on innovation?
The successful adoption and application of analytics and measurement are critical to fostering innovation across all of the above areas of PR.

How do you define innovation?
At the highest level, I believe innovation comes not from driving change to meet abstract academic or competitive goals, but rather progressing to resolve customer pain points. 

Once you have this framework in mind, innovation should be driven by equal parts big ideas and bold bets on uncharted territory, as well as continuous discovery – constant research around customer pain points – and continuous delivery – constant production of agile and rapid iterations and prototyping. 

If you move fast, aren’t afraid to iterate and work in the pursuit of solving customer pain points, that is innovation.

What is the most innovative comms/marketing initiative you've seen in the last 12 months?
Unilever, in pursuit of its mission to “make sustainable living commonplace,” has embraced the innovative goal of becoming a purpose-driven organization. Through its many brands, Unilever drives corporate social responsibility initiatives that support causes like building self-esteem for women and girls, sustainable farming, increasing access to employment, improving global sanitation habits and supporting female entrepreneurs. Unilever also supports purpose-driven initiatives within its own company, for instance championing programs that help women and diverse workers rise to senior levels of the organization. This purpose-driven philosophy, which strategically utilizes resources of a multi-national organization to get behind big and important global initiatives, transcends marketing or communications to innovate the lives of not only Unilever’s customers and employees, but the world at large.

The combination of time spent outdoors with my family, making videos just for fun and selecting the right music always helps me get out of a creativity rut.

In your opinion, what brands and/or agencies are most innovative around PR and marketing?
At the charge of Lauren Day, the Chief Communications Officer for Prudential, the group is establishing themselves as industry-wide leaders in understanding emerging social issues impacting reputation through social data. Through their innovative approach to understanding their market, as well as the broader social and political climate, they have set up an effective early warning system allowing them to alert relevant internal departments of emerging issues and potential reputational risks. This proactive approach is further establishing Global Communications as a trusted strategic intelligence partner to the enterprise businesses and corporate centers.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider innovative.
One of the most innovative – and satisfying – moments in my career was when we finally cracked the code on achieving real-time media analytics at Zignal Labs. 

This was back in 2013, when news cycles were already moving at speed of social, resetting not every 24 hours, but every 24 minutes. We knew it was critical to provide brands with situational awareness and alerts at the speed of their customers. 

Everyone we talked to thought it was impossible, but after going through multiple, agile attempts, we were finally able to create a solution that analyzes data fast enough to create actionable intelligence in real time.

Most underrated trait in a PR person? 
The ability to balance the speed of today’s media cycle with both precision and big-picture thinking.

How do you get out of a creativity rut?
I love going on weekend outdoor adventures with my wife and three boys, especially here along the California coast and amongst the redwoods. Throughout these adventures, I record little video snippets on my phone, which I later edit together with a soundtrack. The combination of time spent outdoors with my family, making videos just for fun and selecting the right music always helps me get out of a creativity rut.

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
To help foster innovation, you need to build and surround yourself with a cross-functional and diverse team, which will naturally encourage diversity of opinion and drive creativity. Once you have your team assembled, build a culture where curiosity and collaboration are key and failure is normal, as long as you are using data-driven insights to make small and swift changes to continue learning and iterating.

What are you thinking about most these days? 
Because it is becoming more and more central to the work that we do at Zignal Labs, I often find myself thinking about how influence operations are manipulating conversations and weaponizing social media and information to change public opinion, (political or otherwise), as well as the best ways to help guard against this.

What one movie, book, TV show or podcast do you recommend someone rent, read or stream tonight?
Blue Planet II – not only is David Attenborough’s narration fantastic, but the film does an exceptional job of humbly, yet urgently showcasing our unique and symbiotic relationship with the world in which we live.