Thomas Bunn | The Innovator 25 North America 2020

Thomas Bunn  

EVP, Managing Director, Integrated Solutions Lead 

New York City

“As an industry, we pride ourselves on creativity, agility, innovation and being solutions-driven for our clients, but it is not showing up in the way we recruit and develop talent.  It requires us rethinking not only what skills, but what mindset, identities and aspirations are needed to deliver the most exciting work and effective client solutions.”

In a time where D&I is of the utmost importance, Thomas Bunn has emerged as a strong proponent of diversity and inclusion at BCW. He has steered BCW’s diversity offerings, serving as executive sponsor of the agency's African American ERG, as well as being a big advocate of the LGBTQ+ community. He previously held the position of Managing Director at Zeno Group New York, where he co-launched “The Human Project”: a joint initiative that uncovered the psychological and emotional drivers that compel people to engage with brands, which accelerated the client’s approach to integrated marketing and employee culture at all levels of the company.

Where is the most urgent need for innovation within the PR/communications industry? 
While the industry has certainly progressed in its use of data to inform communications strategy, it is still not where it needs to be in terms of moving away from the concept of measurement to the practice of optimization and performance. Data literacy is crucial in most areas of business today, and key to driving innovation in our industry. While there has been a lot of innovation in terms of tools and technologies that make the adoption and application of data easier, the industry needs to show that it has to put data at the heart of everything we do, not relying solely on these tools but building its own solutions for uncovering the right intelligence to solve any business challenge, however complex. That’s how we will win the attribution game, not just demonstrating the full power of earned communications and influence, but breaking out of the silo we often put ourselves in. Not only should we be the experts at crafting the stories that matter, but we can also be the ones who understand

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?
Integrated marketing

What is the ideal working scenario for innovation?

Conventional wisdom tells us that being in a room with a team is the optimal way do drive new, innovative ideas, but today’s circumstances have proven that innovation can happen remotely, too. In a matter of days, our Data and Performance team developed a COVID-19 data intelligence solution for clients that provides real-time insight into the impact of various factors, including public health information on social conversations and media stories, helping inform decisions around planned earned and paid activity. Remote efforts require a different kind of discipline, and technology becomes critical to building and collaborating, but it proves that the chemistry and brain power needed to push innovation works just as well virtually.

Has 2020 changed the way you define/approach innovation? How?
In 2020, innovation has been about adaptation in every aspect of our personal and professional lives. The acceleration happened at lightning speed, with media and consumption behaviors changing like never before. That certainly affected the way I define innovation. Prior to this year, as an industry we were very focused on innovation to advance and progress the services and solutions we can offer clients, focused on roadmaps to expand our remit into new areas and the adoption of new technologies. That mindset shifted swiftly earlier this year to innovating smartly and quickly to help our clients adapt to unprecedented circumstances and challenges. Clients need greater visibility than ever before to navigate the unknown, and partners who understand how to deploy effectively across the channels and technologies their stakeholders are adopting. Innovation has become less about expansion and more about doing what we do with even greater agility and impact.

What is the most innovative comms/marketing initiative you've seen this year?
The creative ways in which brands, organizations and even political candidates have inserted themselves into Animal Crossing, that has quickly become a cultural and gaming phenomenon during lockdown. In the absence of in-person events, PETA staged a virtual demonstration against the way it treats animals and even the Biden/Harris campaign is offering players the option to deck their virtual yards with signs. Smart ways to drive conversations at the intersection of technology, entertainment and culture.

What is the most important lesson you've learned this year?
At work, we have the ability to thrive in these challenging moments because our teams are built for agility and our expertise has always been to lean into cultural, social and behavioral shifts to create compelling, purposeful stories.  On a human level, I realized  our teams are incredibly resilient and can rise to the challenge for clients in smart and creative ways, all this despite the distance that has kept us apart for months.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider innovative.
Opening a global communications RFP for a major tech company a few years ago with a handful of slides of pure, unfiltered data, rather than the traditional lead into a pitch. Clearly a big risk to show the prospect all the missed areas of opportunity and media inefficiencies that were holding them back from reaching their ambitions. But, certainly a disruptive, powerful way to show a client that the best ideas, the most compelling narratives mean absolutely nothing without real defendable intelligence. It was also an invitation for them to rethink what success looks like. With complete visibility, it was an opportunity to be completely channel- and discipline-agnostic – simply demonstrating that the team was expert at promoting and protecting brands across channels by harnessing the full power of the internet like no creative or media agency can.

Any habit/activity that you have added to your life during Covid-19 that you hope to carry with you when the pandemic subsides? 
I have struggled without my commute, albeit a short one, as a time to disconnect. Cooking meals that require focus and imagination have become my substitute for the commute home, and hopefully I can keep the kitchen skills going and keep using it to switch off.

How can the PR industry make real progress in diversity, inclusion and equity? What is the biggest roadblock standing in the way?
There are so many things roadblocks that need to be tackled simultaneously or real progress will not be made. One of the biggest roadblocks I see over and over again is the way managers and employers are assessing and recruiting based on talent criteria that is often biased, rigid, linear and unimaginative. I keep hearing there is a pipeline problem in our industry when the real issue is the way we are evaluating talent, trying to fit people into certain molds.  We pride ourselves on creativity, agility, innovation and being solutions-driven for our clients, but it is not showing up in the way we recruit and develop talent.  It requires us rethinking not only what skills, but what mindset, identities and aspirations are needed to deliver the most exciting work and effective client solutions.

What are you thinking about most these days? 
Inclusion and equity.  And what more I can do every single day to ensure we have a thriving industry workforce that represents the diverse, rich and dynamic polycultural society we live in.

Bold prediction for 2021 
As brands and companies are expected to move from social purpose to social activism, as they navigate the disruption of turbulent economic and social events that put reputations at risk and as budgets evolve, communications will be put in the driver’s seat across marketing disciplines.