Julian Obubo | The Innovator 25 EMEA 2020

Julian Obubo


Manifest London

“There isn't a boundary on where PR can go, and that space allows us to be agents of innovation in many areas."

Julian Obubo’s star has been noticeably on the rise in 2020, not least as the driving force behind Manifest being named as the first agency to achieve the Blueprint diversity standard. After joining the agency as an intern eight years ago, Obubo has quickly risen to become a partner and Manifest’s brand strategy director, as well as heading its diversity and inclusion programme. As the focus on DE&I has gathered pace, Obubo has become more vocal about racism in the PR industry, saying at PRovoke Media’s EMEA summit: “The conversation needs to be about covert racism and prevention of inclusion, which prevent Black people from coming into the industry or thriving. When we broaden our idea of the problem, we can start to make change.”

Where is the most urgent need for innovation within the PR/communications industry? 
I think we still have a long way to go in demonstrating how PR and comms shape public opinion. For me, there’s no question that we do have a profound impact, but I think most agencies and practitioners largely aren’t conversant and comfortable with the tools to track, measure and analyse the effect of comms on the wider public.

How would you describe the communications/PR industry's level of innovation compared to other marketing disciplines?
Lagging, but rapidly improving. I like to think as the new frontier being less about digital natives vs digital immigrants but more data natives vs data immigrants. I think the industry is still in the data immigrants phase. 

How have the events of 2020 impacted innovation in the PR and communications industry?
A very basic, but important revelation is that journalists enjoy (and might even prefer?) virtual briefings. Pre-pandemic, there was such an emphasis on getting out to lunch and having real-world engagement with key contacts, and while I’m certain that will return in the future, I’ve noticed that journalists do enjoy the freedom to be able to tune into a client’s event from the comfort of their sofas or to hop on a quick Zoom call for a face-to-face exclusive interview. The pandemic has made PRs in particular more comfortable with online only activation. It no longer plays second fiddle to print and physical events.

Where is the PR industry's greatest opportunity for taking the lead on innovation?
Our greatest opportunity is in our creative ideas and the innate multidisciplinary and multifaceted nature of our industry. There isn’t a boundary on where PR can go, and that space allows us to be agents of innovation in many areas.

What is the ideal working scenario for innovation?
A healthy disregard for the impossible.

Has 2020 changed the way you define/approach innovation? How?
It has opened my eyes to how easy collaboration can and should be. When all you have is your screen and nowhere to go you start connecting with amazing people from all over the world. 

What is the most innovative comms/marketing initiative you've seen this year?
Spotify Wrapped continues to be one of the simplest and most effective user-generated marketing campaigns. Most people are excited to share their interests and quirky tastes and I’m sure it compels many who are not on the platform to want to join in the fun too.

What is the most important lesson you've learned this year?
That most people are natural optimists. It’s been such a dark year in many ways, but people are still finding moments of levity and mirth.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider innovative.
Launching and hosting the Manifest podcast, ‘Fresh Meet’.

Any habit/activity that you have added to your life this year that you hope to take forward post-pandemic?
I’ve become a lot more accustomed to taking very long walks across London. I’m definitely going to be doing that post-pandemic.

How can the PR industry make real progress in diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) and what is the biggest obstacle?
Two important things need to happen concurrently: a thorough engagement with and unlearning of history and histories of racism, and embedding accountability at the highest levels of every business. Enthusiasm for change without accountability will always yield sub-par, short term results. 

What are you thinking about most these days? 
Ensuring a clear delineation between work and rest.

Your bold prediction for 2021…
There will be a surprising rush to get back into physical offices.