The Innovation SABRE Awards — North America 2020
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Since he was given a Sinclair ZX81i computer aged 10, Anthony Basker has been fascinated by technology, and he has spent the past 25 years embracing tech innovation to help clients solve problems, transform their businesses and correct outdated systems and processes. Basker – described by one colleague as being “a rare blend of ultra-logical and inspirational” as both a client partner and a team leader – was already a member of the Flipside management team when the mobile-first consultancy was acquired by Weber Shandwick in 2016 and since then has played a crucial role in the integration with the agency’s practices in London and beyond. Over the past year, he and the Flipside team have launched a dedicated healthcare practice and developed new offers around virtual events, the Internet of Things and AI, and worked with Cancer Research UK, Mondalez, Novartis, Reckitt Benckhiser, Unilever and the UN, on projects including clinical trial recruitment, internal communications, a business process improvement app and a new online experience designed to rally international support around climate change.
How would you describe the communications/PR industry's level of innovation compared to other marketing disciplines?
I would say that we are ahead. Building on our legacy and learning in the digital space over the last 20 or so years, combined with our innate understanding of earned and keen focus on analytics, we are in a strong position to leverage and apply innovation for brand reputation and growth.
How have the events of 2020 impacted innovation in the PR and communications industry?
The pandemic has resulted in companies of all sizes implementing new, often technology-based business solutions in an effort to adapt. From the local pub becoming the local shop and discovering e-commerce, to the brewery shifting gears to produce hand sanitiser and embracing a direct-to-consumer strategy, this is an unprecedented time of change for almost everyone. Our role has been to counsel businesses and organisations on all aspects of the raft of technical solutions designed to maintain and increase viability and support growth.
Where is the PR industry's greatest opportunity for taking the lead on innovation?
Having an insatiable curiosity and appetite for tech will be key. We need to truly embrace technical innovation in order to continue to turn new corners and deliver a great experience – and genuine value – for clients. When it comes to the opportunity, we now need to be in the business of identifying and correcting norms, systems and processes that are no longer relevant in the modern world. The opportunity and potential is vast and truly exciting.
What is the ideal working scenario for innovation?
I believe that change stems from continually pushing at being better than you are today and key to that are partnership, ambition, flexibility and keeping an open mind. I encourage clients not to think too big; start small and nimble, get the project out there and then pivot as and when required for accuracy and efficiency.
Has 2020 changed the way you define/approach innovation? How?
Nothing has really changed for me in terms of my approach. My key observation is the sheer amount of change our clients have had to face, and I have loved helping them navigate this challenge.
What is the most important lesson you've learned this year?
That the days of blind adherence to preconceived ideas are well and truly over.
Describe a moment in your career that you would consider innovative.
Since the age of 10 when I was given a Sinclair ZX81i, I have been fascinated by the opportunity presented by technical innovation. My entire career has been steeped in innovation from replacing typewriters with computers, developing software that streamlined business processes, working with well-funded start-ups to bring their ambition to life, through to developing our own livestream product, Conference+ this year. A recent highlight included transforming the hotel experience by helping to create the UK’s first fully automated hotel.
Any habit/activity that you have added to your life this year that you hope to take forward post-pandemic?
At the start of the pandemic I missed great coffee from artisan shops. The instant variety just didn’t cut it and I invested in my own professional espresso machine, grinder and toolkit and have learned all about beans, weight, grind size, temperature and texture. I’ve yet to master latte art but am improving every day. Post the pandemic, I would love to attend coffee courses and barista training. Making coffee is now a key morning ritual.
How can the PR industry make real progress in diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) and what is the biggest obstacle?
I believe we all demonstrate bias, either consciously or sub-consciously – it’s something we need to address through training, constant awareness and willingness to be challenged. Complacency is no longer an option.
What are you thinking about most these days?
From a work perspective, I try to keep abreast of new technologies so that I can continue to present new ideas to clients. From a personal perspective, it’s how to make better latte art.
Your bold predictions for 2021…
Businesses will continue to innovate, developing new service lines that in turn will drive more automation, more cloud-based services and more innovative ways to attract customers. This year we have worked on a few behavioural change applications and I predict more of this nature coming online during 2021. Ethical AI and cyber security will also feature heavily next year as more of our lives go online. You purchased your most recent beer online, yes? Whatever happens, it’s going to be challenging and hard work but every day I am thankful to be in a sector that has kept moving.
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