Angela Chitkara | The Innovator 25 North America 2019

Angela Chitkara

Practitioner & Asst. Professor, Branding + Integrated Communications

The City College of New York
New York

“I believe there is an opportunity for PR agencies to help clients identify, counsel and report on 'social risks'”

Angela Chitkara changed the game by shining the diversity & inclusion spotlight directly on the CEOs, focusing on how involved agency leaders are in their organization’s D&I initiatives. Her research includes a ground-breaking study that features interviews with 16 CEOs and two former CEOs of major PR firms. By bringing to light how various CEOs define diversity and inclusion, their personal levels of involvements and their approaches to solving the problem and the metrics they use to evaluate change has given the industry much-needed insight to move this hugely important conversation forward in meaningful ways.

In what way(s) does PR/communications need to innovate the most?
Talent leads to innovation. Based on my interviews conducted in my research, recruiting more people of color was the #1 priority for most PR agency CEOs. Let’s continue to strengthen bonds between industry and academia by developing partnerships and pipelines that lead to upward mobility, such as the CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion initiative led by PricewaterHouseCoopers.

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?
Bridging the gaps between business, government and society

How do you define innovation?
Introduce new thinking with a creative solution that can be integrated into activities.

What is the most innovative comms/marketing initiative you've seen in the last 12 months?
Nike’s Just Do It campaign with Colin Kaepaernick

In your opinion, what brands and/or agencies are most innovative around PR and marketing?
The most innovative brands and agencies do their homework, believe in what they do, and listen and lead with an adventurous heart.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider innovative.
“Talent is Universal, Opportunity is Not.” I love this quote by Rye Barcott. Prior to the #MeToo movement, my students at The City College of New York ( CCNY) in Harlem, a part of the City University of New York (CUNY) system, and I developed a working group session tied to the release of the #PRDiversity: The Struggle is Real, Meeting Business Objectives with a 2020 Mindset report and development of The Harvard Business Review article titled "PR Agencies Need to Be More Diverse and Inclusive: Here’s How to Start." We engaged PR agency CEOs, students, recruiters and Diversity and Inclusion officers, in a discussion about race, gender, equity, and inclusion in the workplace, face-to face and via social media. It was a moment of vulnerability for so many, including myself, and a step toward organizing as a diverse and inclusive community. We cannot discuss diversity and inclusion without meeting people where they are.

Most underrated trait in a PR person? 
Engaging stakeholders and audiences in the public opinion process. This is especially important today as policy issues weigh into the decision-making of a brand’s stakeholders and audiences.

How do you get out of a creativity rut?
Spending time with my nieces and nephews, for now, at least. They know everything and buy everything. They’re hilarious, uncomplicated and full of creativity. They remind me to chill.

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
Innovation can be unstructured and sometimes messy, but as an organization’s thinking evolves, so will its clarity and confidence in serving its clients and assessing risk in a swift and efficient manner.  If an organization truly wants to be innovative, it has to be prepared for the disruption that comes with innovation. Create space for innovation within your organization and on client teams. Encourage your talent to fall and rise, and watch them grow and flourish.

What are you thinking about most these days? 
I am excited about the prospects of public relations agencies competing with consultancy firms as strategic counsellors. I believe there is an opportunity for PR agencies to help clients identify, counsel and report on “social risks” in publicly-filed documents considered “materially important” in an effort to encourage transparency and brand responsibility.

Our value lies in preserving trust earned by a brand’s stakeholders and audiences and our opportunity lies in capturing the “qualitative intangibles” that inform a consumer’s ability to make a purchase, an investor’s ability to make a socially-conscious investment and a brand to develop an authentic campaign consistent with its actions and mission and values, and attracts and retains top talent.

What one movie, book, TV show or podcast do you recommend someone rent, read or stream tonight?
To Kill A Mockingbird, a broadway play directed by Aaron Sorkin based on the book written by Harper Lee.