Daniel P. Simon | The Innovator 25 North America 2019

Daniel P. Simon

CEO and Co-Founder

New York

“We need to have the courage of our conviction and resist the urge to turn our industry in to a poor imitation of the marketing function.”

As a new generation of workers push back on traditional corporate culture, agencies that are rapidly evolving their workplaces stand out. Among them is Vested CEO and founder Dan Simon, a surprising champion for a modern workplace given the agency’s specialty in the conservative realm of financial communications. The basics are there: unlimited vacation time and unlimited sick time, as well as a no-questions-asked work-from-home policy. Adding to this, employees become dividend-yielding shareholders within a year of employment, financial transparency and frequent cash bonuses. It’s all part of Simon’s vision to change traditional workplace dynamics to make Vested a successful organization. And it’s working —  the four-year-old firm has continued on an impressive trajectory, growing into an $8m operation, with revenues rising an impressive 31% last year alone. 

In what way(s) does PR/communications need to innovate the most?
PR is overdue its ‘digital transformation’ moment. So the obvious answer is in technology. But there is a tension right now in the PR world between between those who would leverage technology to move our industry in the direction of marketing (Ie down the funnel) and others - myself included - who believe our future lies in developing better technology for the areas we’ve always owned at the funnel’s top: brand, reputation, share of voice and executive eminence. The allure of marketing is pretty obvious.

For nearly 20 years, marketers have held the CEO’s ear and a seat at the board table on the strength of compelling data. Technology has elevated marketing from a once mundane department to a strategic function that sits right at the top of the organization. It’s understandable to look at that success and want a part of it. But if we adopt the language and the tech stack of marketers we will subordinate our practice and turn it in to a pale imitation of our marketing colleagues. More importantly, MarTech has reached the end of its useful life. In a world of fake news and social influence, the future of business success will be based almost exclusively on brand and reputation. PR/communications needs a dedicated CommTech stack which will help professionals in our industry do what they've always done well but be able to better measure the impact of their decisions and bring compelling data to the C-Suite.
How would you describe the communications/PR industry's level of innovation compared to other marketing disciplines?
Lagging the others
Where is the PR industry's greatest opportunity for taking the lead on innovation?
  • Business/management practices 
How do you define innovation?
Innovation in communications is about uncovering and bringing new stories to life.
What is the most innovative comms/marketing initiative you've seen in the last 12 months?

In your opinion, what brands and/or agencies are most innovative around PR and marketing?
State Street Global Advisors, Nike, Sweetgreen, Disney

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider innovative.
Creating Qwoted.com to bring influencers and PRs together around a shared platform which improves communication and reduces friction for both sides.

Most underrated trait in a PR person? 
The human element

How do you get out of a creativity rut?
Look at other - radically different - industries. If you're in Finance look at what FMCG is doing. If you're in Entertainment look at Healthcare. Think of services as products and products as services.

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
We need to have the courage of our conviction and resist the urge to turn our industry in to a poor imitation of the marketing function. Efficiency, data, intelligence and innovation are all coming to the communications industry and we need to hold our nerve until it is fully mature.

What are you thinking about most these days? 
2-sided networks. We're building one with Qwoted and so I spend a lot of my time reading about thinking about how they grow.

What one movie, book, TV show or podcast do you recommend someone rent, read or stream tonight?
The Innovators Dilemma