Innovator 25 EMEA 2019 | Holmes Report
Our fifth Innovator 25 class in EMEA provides a valuable glimpse of the PR industry’s future, shining a spotlight on the individuals who are reshaping influence and engagement in an era of dramatic disruption for marketing and communications.

The people recognised here come from various corners of the industry — social and digital, strategy, data and analytics, marketing, brand reputation, creative, internal communications, content and influencer management — but the one thing they all have in common is their ability to innovate ahead of the curve. Together they represent a compelling picture of what marketing and communications looks like today, and where it is heading.

We once again feature one communications innovator from the region who isn’t, in fact, in comms. Last year we looked to the business world and named Iceland’s managing director Richard Walker, who has led his agencies to transform the supermarket’s reputation, particularly around sustainability. This year, there was no question we’d include another kind of environmental campaigner, who has not only radically shifted the messages around climate change, but changed hearts, minds and behaviour: Greta Thunberg.

The Swedish not-quite-17-year-old is one of four Swedes in the listing. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the highest proportion of our inaugural class – around half – are based in the dense UK market, and other markets represented are Germany, the UAE, South Africa, France and Spain.

While 83% of this year’s cohort are relatively fresh to their current roles, having been in post for less than three years, most are not newcomers to the industry: 35% have been in PR and communications for between eight and 12 years, another 31% have between 12 and 20 years’ experience under their belt, and 26% are true veterans, having been in the industry for more than 20 years, showing that an innovative mindset isn’t confined to younger member of the industry. Less than 9% of our innovators have been working in comms for less than eight years.

Innovator 25 EMEA - Gender There is a pretty even split between in-house and agency innovators on the list this year (52% in-house vs 48% agency), and there are more women on the list than ever: 60% versus 40% men.

The Innovator 25 profiles explore each individual’s view of the state of innovation in the PR and communications industry, and also gives us a glimpse of the habits and learnings that drive our innovators.

Embracing innovation

When we asked our 25 innovators in what ways the PR and communications industry needed to innovate, they came up with some interesting thoughts, including around creativity, diversity, society and technology:

“The industry needs to continue pushing the boundaries on creativity to cut through and drive real engagement.”

“The biggest opportunity for our industry and our clients is to use PR/comms to address social issues to drive and make real change and create real value for society – and brands.”

“The industry needs to embrace the new technologies that allows us to spread this content in totally new ways. PR is reinventing itself along with the social media age but I think we need more cross collaboration.”

“PR & comms needs more innovation in where the next generation of talent is coming from. We still lack diversity in every sense of the word and it limits creative thinking and genuine insight into all type of communities.”

Using data and measurement in more innovative ways was a priority for a number of respondents:

“Despite making strides in better measuring PR impact and efficacy, it’s still challenging to find PR programmes that have data at their core rather than ‘gut instinct’ thinking. PR can reach next-level outcomes by finding meaningful ways to integrate audience and landscape data. Doing so will open up new angles on old problems, and provide bullet-proof rationale for strategic decision making.”

“We need to make smarter, data-driven decisions to create more effective and impactful campaigns and activities for our clients. This means starting with an insight that's based on data – and then come up with the right creative solutions and ways to generate reach (and not just create stories and content only few people see) within the identified target or stakeholder groups.”

“Finding new ways to measure PR results in a more tangible way, both online and offline. An extension of that would be the measurement of social influencers and their true impact on brands.”

“I’d actually like to see more innovation in the area of measurement – finding a universally accepted way by which to calculate and demonstrate value.”

“We must change the way we measure success. In the world of PR and earned media fame is no longer achieved through newspaper titles, but I think we are a long way towards understanding how to create ideas that go beyond that and measuring the impact and success of those ideas.”

We then asked our EMEA cohort what advice they would give to the PR industry around embracing innovation. The inspiring responses varied widely, including:

“The media landscape has already changed a lot and continues to do so, so PR has no choice but to embrace innovation. We have to think of new ways to innovate in PR if we are going to get coverage in a world of sensationalised news stories and click bait headlines.”

“Just do it: Fail fast, learn faster.”

“Everybody claims to embrace innovation but let’s be honest, it takes courage. Being brave and making room for the grand ideas means hard work, really hard work. Sleeves up!”

“Agency priorities are driven by the client - so find the right client. Structure that relationship so innovation is a driver behind key metrics for the progress of their programme and the health of your partnership. When innovation is equally valued by both partners and a critical success measure, things will really get done.”

“I grew up in the tech world where companies are starting, listing, being sold for billions and/or going bust every day. The fast pace showed me that if you have a fresh idea about how to change the way things are traditionally done - or for a new product or service - what’s to lose?”

“Innovation is critical in staying competitive but do not fall into the trap of creating a new shiny toy every few months to stay innovative. Unless you get people using your innovation then it's a waste of time.”

“The industry needs to be comfortable with taking more risks. To do that, they need to truly understand the brand and the customer. Brands need to let their agencies in so that they have the insights and collaborative support needed to be more challenging and creative.”

A common theme was getting out of the PR bubble and looking at other disciplines and industries:

“Dare to try. Listen to others and other industries and see how that can be reworked. Integrate with business, HR, sales and marketing disciplines.”

“Stop being too focused on what the client is asking for and start thinking more about what they (and society) really need. Step outside of comms and marketing lingo.”

“I think as an industry, we are on the right way, but using different speeds and pathways. Exchanging ideas and best practices beyond the PR industry is key here.”

“Get closer to other industries. Meet media companies, creative agencies, filmmakers, musicians, gamers, writers, artists. There's a lot of people breaking through the clutter. Learn with them.”

“Everything you need is all around you. Inspiration can come from anywhere. Make like a sponge and suck it up.”

We also asked our innovators how they get out of a creativity rut, and the responses included taking a break for some fresh air or physical exercise (walking the dogs, running and cycling all made an appearance) to spending time with smaller innovators: “brainstorming with children,” “watching kids’ movies” and “I’ve had some of my best ideas building with Lego” being notable examples. Immersing oneself in culture and seeking inspiration from external sources – from reading a book to listening to new music to scrolling through Instagram to watching documentaries – was another top tip.

When it comes to where marketing and PR have the greatest opportunity to lead on innovation, nearly a third (30%) say creative ideas, and a further 26% say integrated marketing. Meanwhile, 18% say the industry could take the lead on innovating in the area of content creation, and 14% think the greatest opportunity for innovation is in business and management practices.

The two areas which were not seen as such strong opportunities for industry innovation were analytics and measurement (9%) and diversity and equal pay, where less than 5% of our list thought the industry could take the lead.

In terms of how innovative the industry is compared to other disciplines, the number who think communications is ahead rose to 22% this year, from a low of 16% last year. There was also a big drop in those who think PR is lagging behind – 22% compared with 37% last year.
  Which brands and agencies do our EMEA Innovators find most innovative? Nike and Ikea make a regular appearance in this list, and other big brands seen as innovative include Paddy Power, Guinness, Carlsberg, Lidl, Wendy’s, Volvo, Disney, Unilever’s Dove, Burger King, Netflix and Nando’s. 

A couple of multinational conglomerates, perhaps surprisingly, were mentioned, namely Unilever, Diageo and P&G. as well as more niche, disruptive brands such as Patagonia and Oatly.

And a new breed of direct-to-consumer brands – such as Glossier (beauty), Huel (nutrition) and Casper (mattresses) – were also noted by one respondent, who said: “They're digitally-native and own the customer experience end-to-end so can deliver something truly special. The best of them have managed to capture a massive amount of customer data that helps them shape their product strategy, laser-focus their marketing and acquisition, deliver better experiences and build community in the longer term.”

Some of the major brands cited as innovative in the past couple of years, however, are notably absent, including Adidas, Airbnb, Apple, Facebook, Red Bull, Sonos and Spotify.

You can read all the Innovator 25 Profiles, and explore their inspiration and advice, using the navigation menu on this page.