Joe Smyser | The Innovator 25 North America 2019

Joe Smyser


The Public Good Projects (PGP)
New York

“I think true innovation comes from a place that is slow and quiet.”

In this era when so many PR campaigns are built around changing behavior to make the world a better place, The Public Good Projects designs and implements large-scale behavior change programs for the public good. PGP, however, selects its work based on three criteria: will it advance public health, will it create change at a large scale, and will it be rigorously evaluated. Smyser holds a PhD and masters in public health with an emphasis in health communication. He has spent his career designing behavior change programs and social marketing campaigns, including well-known anti-tobacco initiatives.

In what way(s) does PR/communications need to innovate the most?
We've seen the impact that technology has had in the democratization of communication. I believe more good than harm has come from this, however I have not seen PR/communications firms adapt to this new world as quickly as the public at-large has. There has been a lot of focus on leveraging new sources of data in order to be more timely and relevant. Relatively little effort has been expended in using these same data to better understand people and social movements, in order to more authentically represent communities and be a force for positive change.

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?
Analytics and measurement

How do you define innovation?
Two ways: what is everyone else not doing, and what would increase the effectiveness of what everyone else is doing.
What is the most innovative comms/marketing initiative you've seen in the last 12 months?
Broadly speaking, leveraging micro and nano influencers.

In your opinion, what brands and/or agencies are most innovative around PR and marketing?I'm sure it's because of where I'm positioned in the industry and the mission my organization must execute on, but I don't see a tremendous amount of innovation in the PR/marketing space right now. I see a lot of old thinking expressed by new tools. I am impressed by agencies that are trying to collect and present data in novel ways, like Zignal Labs.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider innovative.
The moments in my communications career that have been the most satisfying are those where I have successfully created the means to get out of the way and let people tell their own stories. I abhor over-production.

Most underrated trait in a PR person? 

How do you get out of a creativity rut?
I go for a walk.

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
This industry has a reputation for "fast and loud." I think true innovation comes from a place that is slow and quiet.

What are you thinking about most these days? Building tools and techniques that make PR and marketing invisible to audiences.

What one movie, book, TV show or podcast do you recommend someone rent, read or stream tonight?One that has nothing to do with PR or marketing.