The Innovation SABRE Awards — North America 2020
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Edouard Fillias’ entrepreneurial mindset and passion for digital technology has not only led to Jin becoming one of the relatively rare agencies that start in mainland Europe and expand worldwide, but also to the firm making the equally unusual move of developing its own IP that supports clients beyond traditional public relations. The agency was co-founded in 2012 by digital, social and SEO specialist Fillias, Alexandre Villeneuve (chief performance officer) and Romain Boudre (CTO). Earlier this year, Jin – which now with bases in Paris, London, Berlin and New York – raised €3 million in funding as part of its ambition to grow into Europe’s leading digital agency. Fillias co-founded Pitchboy, an artificial intelligence pitch training tool developed by Jin’s Startup-Studio, which has also developed digital monitoring solution Plugr, and Jervis, a news assistant to keep clients informed. Always immersed in the impact of digital on business, Filias is the author of ‘E-Reputation: Digital Influence Strategies’ and is vice president of French think tank Generation Libre and co-founder of Code3, another think tank dedicated to advising on technology policies in France and Europe.
Where is the most urgent need for innovation within the PR/communications industry?
AI is rapidly breaking through and it's going to create a huge shift in business in general, especially within our industry. Of course, it will not replace the element of understanding information or shaping a message, however, it will guide us and help us prioritize what matters. We see AI as a key component of the next-gen PR professional, and this is why we launched Jervis this year: it is the first step towards a smart assistant that can read news and social networks to identify what is most relevant for you at that very moment. In the future, Jervis will be able to offer you connections, opportunities, language elements, on the spot.
We also believe in augmented reality for replicating the "conditions" of a conversation, event, or situation (simultaneous AR) – incredibly interesting for PR. In terms of building an event strategy or a training strategy, AR is way more powerful than VR, especially in our scope of business where we need fluid interactions.
How would you describe the communications/PR industry's level of innovation compared to other marketing disciplines?
PR is catching up because it has to embed digital marketing in everything it does. Some of the best social media marketing operations accelerated through SEA activations and smart data analysis, are now done by PR agencies. Generally speaking, it is still way behind. We need to accelerate the transformation of PR to enable ‘augmented PR’ to be the new standard: the permanent combination of online/offline, leveraging best-in-class tech in AI, VR, and marketing.
We believe there are four key influence channels: social is the backbone, supported by corporate comms, media relations, and digital marketing. So it is time to focus on how to deliver real-time PR operations bridging both online and offline constantly, with zero silos in agencies' organisation.
How have the events of 2020 impacted innovation in the PR and communications industry?
2020 massively accelerated the rise of augmented PR. Jin published a European report on tech and Covid, as well as a guide on how to build an online event. We learned that there has been a massive shift; audiences have been more connected than ever before. Also, as there is more time and need to share news, media has been doing well, even traditional. Let me put it this way: prior to Covid-19, social and tech could be seen as a waypoint on the journey to shifting opinions. After Covid-19, it is now the highway that everyone will need to take as a starting point. It has become the connecting matter all around us that delivers meanings and impact, because everyone is compulsively connected. Conversely, we also learned about the negative elements associated with tech and social. For instance, we are seeing a huge increasing global demand to tackle fake news and protect user privacy.
Where is the PR industry's greatest opportunity for taking the lead on innovation?
Too often, data analysis and reports are regarded as useless elements in the client/agency conversation. It is time to focus on how to take some serious learnings from social data to increase campaign and messaging efficiency. As an industry, we are on the frontline, because we are facing real-time, round the clock conversations and have to manage them. How do we bring solid solutions to read, understand, connect in a positive and sustainable way with people?
What is the ideal working scenario for innovation?
Innovation is about getting things done, not having a great idea. At Jin, we have always developed innovation with our CTO, Romain Boudré, starting from a proof of concept version, which we then sell to our clients, with all required disclaimers – they would be well aware that they are beta clients, of course. This has enabled us to improve quickly on the field through co-working with clients and teams to build a product that is actually useful and works well. We’ve always believed innovation is about going to the workbench, trying things and finding support with early stage clients as a starting point.
Has 2020 changed the way you define/approach innovation? How?
This may not be something that is easy to say in these Covid days, but I don't believe in remote work for innovation. Full remote slows down the process of inventing and creating something together. We need to reconnect back in real life to spend time together, build and destroy together. Innovation is always that two-way street).
What is the most innovative comms/marketing initiative you've seen this year?
I would have to say it has been with our very own tech venture, Pitchboy, and project Theo, which won a SABRE award. Pitchboy is a virtual reality sales training tool and we have seen tremendous progress this year. We have been delivering this tool to Christian Dior, Sixt, Carrefour, and even the French military with outstanding success. In the future, we would like to develop a version to help people to train in VR.
What is the most important lesson you've learned this year?
People are the core of everything. Going through a crisis as an agency means, first and foremost, focusing on the team and ensuring they are resilient.
Describe a moment in your career that you would consider innovative.
Twelve years ago, with Alex Villeneuve, I wrote a book named "E Reputation: online influence strategies". Back in those days, professionally managing your digital footprint was a new concept. I think we were among the first to develop methods and specific know-how in that field of work. Today, it is still a major concern for organisations and leadership.
Any habit/activity that you have added to your life this year that you hope to take forward post-pandemic?
We started a buddy system at Jin. Everyone is assigned a buddy, which rotates on a bi-weekly basis, and they have a daily five-minute call just to chat, which doesn’t always need to be work-related. I think it is a wonderful system and a great way for people to get to know each other in the agency.
How can the PR industry make real progress in diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) and what is the biggest obstacle?
There are behaviours that should not be tolerated anymore. I believe agency owners should promote women’s leadership and diversity, not only because it is the best way to build an agency that is reflective of society, but also because it is the best guarantee to avoid the return of the ‘Mad Men’ spirit in boardrooms.
What are you thinking about most these days?
I am thinking about how to sustain our clients' satisfaction in order for them to renew their contracts for 2021. My focus has always been people, clients, then finance, because I know that if you do it the other way round it simply does not work.
Your bold prediction for 2021…
Look, now that we have a vaccine, I know it is going to be a tremendous year, because once the agenda is clear, it is likely that the V curve will return, similar to how it did in September. People have saved a great deal of money during lockdown. Businesses will want to catch up with their plans. Life is back and this is a sheer joy, we will all celebrate. I am extremely confident. We are ready to support this positive wave.
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