Eva Rijser | The Innovator 25 North America 2020

Eva Rijser 

VP of Communications

San Francisco

“As someone who started their career in media relations, this experience has only strengthened my belief that a good story helps everyone.”

After a long international career at Edelman, Eva Rijser joined this fast-growing freight forwarding company at a time when US-China relations are fraught with issues. That became the crux of their communications strategy commenting on the trade war, the Trump effect and more recently the pandemic. Rijser has also been at the helm as Flexport has communicated that, via its philanthropic arm, has donated PPE at their own cost across the country to front line workers using its shipping and air and group transport vehicles.

Where is the most urgent need for innovation within the PR/communications industry? 
Communications manages the porous membrane between a company and its stakeholders, both inside and outside the company. It’s a big, gorgeous job. In a world where nothing feels certain, Comms practitioners need to have a steady hand in guiding the company and its leaders on how to navigate that intersection. As guardians of the space where our executives, employees, clients, partners and communities all come together, Comms needs to step up and help companies shine in that space - be respectful, listen, lead.

How would you describe the communications/PR industry's level of innovation compared to other marketing disciplines?
About the same as other marketing disciplines

How have the events of 2020 impacted the the industry's innovation?
More innovative 

Where is the PR industry's greatest opportunity for taking the lead on innovation?
Business/management practices 

What is the ideal working scenario for innovation? 
The ideal set-up is less about where you are and more about what mindset you’re in—people need to have the psychological safety and brain capacity to be creative, be resourceful, and to digest change and put it to work.

Has 2020 changed the way you define/approach innovation? How?
Yes, the most basic pillars of how we organize life and work were blown up in 2020 and it’s been hugely freeing to rethink everything. Flexport has always believed that good ideas can come from anywhere and this year I’m seeing an even greater openness among our leaders and other internal “clients” to experiment with new formats, meet with new people, and address new topics.

What is the most innovative comms/marketing initiative you've seen this year?
It’s been interesting to watch Zoom’s comms strategy this year. The company obviously underwent a huge growth spurt due to the pandemic. They kept the tone of their communications upbeat and positive, throughout the tough moments that can come with that pace of growth. Especially during a time that’s so stressful for everyone, I can appreciate the straight-forward, very personal tone of their messaging.

What is the most important lesson you've learned this year?
This year has reminded me over and over that the key pillars of external communication — reputation management, executive visibility, social purpose — start with internal communication. The only way for a company and its leaders to be credible is to start from the inside. It’s critical that leaders (on all levels) can confidently engage employees, because they are the company’s most important and most credible voice.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider innovative.
I can’t think of a more innovative time than this year, on so many different levels. Some of it was tactical: learning how to work remotely, how to create and maintain alignment across a team, what formats are most impactful for media and analyst engagement in a WFH world.

Some of it was strategic: Flexport operates at the intersection of technology and global trade, two spaces that saw unprecedented public interest and media scrutiny this year. I’ve been incredibly impressed with my team’s instincts in navigating those choppy waters.

And some of it was personal: I took over marketing at Flexport this year and have learned an incredible amount about the intersection of marketing and PR. We now have reporters joining and covering our webinars and using data from our Freight Market Update newsletter in their coverage. As someone who started their career in media relations, this experience has only strengthened my belief that a good story helps everyone.

Any habit/activity that you have added to your life during Covid-19 that you hope to carry with you when the pandemic subsides? 
One thing I miss from office life is running into people and keeping connections alive through chance interactions. In a WFH world we’ve all needed to become much more intentional about who we connect with and how. Do you dive right in or do you start with a vibe check, as we like to call them. I’d like to keep being thoughtful about checking in with people across my entire network vs waiting to run into them, which often resulted in just keeping the same folks close.

How can the PR industry make real progress in diversity, inclusion and equity? What is the biggest roadblock standing in the way?
PR should stand firm in the statement “Don’t talk about it, be about it.” As guardians of our company’s reputation, we control - or, at least, heavily influence - what’s said externally. That means we’re powerful in insisting on real change both inside and outside the company’s four walls, before we put that tweet or Instagram visual out.

What are you thinking about most these days? 
I spend a lot of my time thinking about communication in service of culture. Employees are the most important audience for the communications team at Flexport. What are the most impactful employee engagement levers to help preserve and positively evolve our culture in a WFH setting?

Bold prediction for 2021 
As soon as the option to return to the office is back on the table, a lot of people will be walking back their professed love for working from home. Magic happens when people get together—it’s the lifeblood of creativity for many of us.