Joan O'Connor | The Innovator 25 EMEA 2019

Joan O'Connor

European Brand Communications Director


“PR needs to leave behind complexity and move towards the simplicity of a creative idea – and being able to scale that content through multiple earned channels.”

Joan O’Connor has more than 25 years’ experience in consultancy and in-house roles, but she’s spent most of her career at the Coca-Cola Company, including her latest step-up from PR director for the soft drinks giant’s Western Europe region to brand communications director across the whole EMEA region last year. She’s a huge advocate for the power and effectiveness of earned media within an organisation known for its iconic advertising, and works closely with her agency partners on a “pull vs push” approach to connect with consumers and the media with creative, memorable content. O’Connor has been involved in some high-profile product launch and brand-building campaigns, including Share A Coke, Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, Glaceau Vitamin Water and Smart Water, Honest Tea and Fuze Tea and most recently the launch of the company’s first range of specialist mixers for dark spirits, Coca-Cola Signature Mixers. She’s also responsible for protecting Coca-Cola’s reputation and underlining its sustainability and corporate responsibility commitments.

In what way(s) does PR/communications need to innovate the most?
Leave behind complexity and move towards the simplicity of a creative idea and being able to scale that content through multiple earned channels.

How would you describe the communications/PR industry's level of innovation compared to other marketing disciplines?
More innovative than other marketing disciplines.

Where is the PR industry's greatest opportunity for taking the lead on innovation?
Integrated marketing.

How do you define innovation?
Innovation is rooted in cultural, societal and economic trends that anticipate where consumers are heading and anticipate what they need or want before they know what they need or want.

In your opinion, what brands and/or agencies are most innovative around PR and marketing?
Ikea, Nike and Kith.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider innovative.
The approach we had for the launch of Coca-Cola Signature Mixers earlier this year in Europe – the first time we have tinkered with the secret recipe. The concept and product was created in collaboration with some of the world’s leading mixologists who brought their insights and trends in mixology to the table to help us create a unique product and kick start the trend in the rise of mixing with dark spirits. It was a fully integrated team and everyone's skills made a big impact on the final concept, product, design and communications strategy.

Most underrated trait in a PR person? 

How do you get out of a creativity rut?
Talk to people, hear other people's perspective, get more ideas and input.

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
Be bold, be confident and bring the external world in.

What are you thinking about most these days? 
A looming election, my daughter reaching 18 and climate change.

What one movie, book, TV show or podcast do you recommend to rent, read or stream tonight?
Dublin Murders. I was hooked.