Ian Cohen | The Innovator 25 North America 2021

Ian Cohen

Senior Director, Global Creative Strategy & Production, Corporate Affairs



Hometown: Boston 

“We no longer need to just pitch ideas that might work. We can say with confidence if we have the right insight that this idea will work in the media and on our channels."

Ian Cohen responded to the Covid pandemic's impact on business by championing content creation. He inspired a global giving program and spearheaded more than a dozen PayPal global newsroom launches to form an internal global media company. He also created a campaign for PayPal’s QR Code availability at CVS with Neil Patrick Harris; boosted the use of consumer insights to improve brand reputation; and transformed traditional PR into an engagement engine. Through the PayPal It Forward campaign, 3,845 employees recognized a total of 4,483 Unsung Heroes in more than 30 countries, who received gifts totaling $200,000 from PayPal.

Do you think the global pandemic has made the industry more innovative? If you would like, please elaborate on your response.
More innovative. We were already at peak content and now with more people at home on devices it has forced brand content to work even harder. This has made understanding your audience who consumes your content so much more important.

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of? 
While the world was dramatically changing last year, PayPal wanted to enable greater impact opportunities for global employees already displaying incredible generosity – of time and resource – in the face of the pandemic. This translated into a global giving campaign, launched just weeks after widescale quarantine lockdowns were put in place, which allowed employees to celebrate Unsung Heroes in their local communities with gifts of thanks funded by PayPal.
Building on existing giving efforts – from enabling global employees to donate volunteer hours to double matching contributions to the causes they care about most – and leveraging the company’s core capabilities, PayPal introduced #PayPalItForward in April 2020. The unique program allowed employees to support individuals or small businesses in their local communities stepping up to help those hit hardest by the pandemic. Through an ongoing awareness campaign across multiple channels, the company encouraged global employees to recognize and identify their personal pandemic heroes – be that a first responder or healthcare worker, a local business owner who continues to serve the community, or the grocer who is making sure that everyone has access to the essentials they need – to receive a payment from PayPal with a message of thanks from the employee community.
In empowering employees around the world to determine where a portion of the company’s COVID-19 response funds were directed, PayPal engaged their workforce and harnessed the power of the company’s payments platform to deliver meaningful local impact at a global scale.

We're at a pivotal moment on the future of the office and how we work. How would like to see 'office/work culture' evolve?
I think we need to use physical office space to help the communities our offices are located in. Can we utilize space to allow employees feel a deeper connection to the mission of where they work vs just going in to sit at a desk? We are seeing some brands do this and I think offering space to relevant customers or organizations could make sure the communities in which we work thrive and excite employees about going back to the office.

How can the PR industry make real progress in diversity, inclusion and equity?
I think mentorship programs can be hugely valuable if the right resources and time are put behind them. Of course, making sure the right people are around the table and leading relevant work streams. Lastly, add wellness thinking to the commitment-hiring diverse talent is one thing-but once in the door, making sure the mental health is at the center of the employee is critical.

What makes you most excited or proud to be part of the PR industry? 
Three things. 
First, owned channels with the right content is now driving comprehension for our audience so that by the time they visit a product page they have arrived with a decision of what they want vs then trying to convince them all over again.

Second, the power behind insights. We no longer need to just pitch ideas that might work.We can say with confidence if we have the right insight that this idea will work in the media and on our channels. Data if done/used right creates qual and quant outcomes that isn’t just cold numbers but warm moments. 

Lastly, the idea of employees as influencers of our brand. It’s no secret influencers have gained even more traction during the pandemic but instead of trying to attach someone for a big name can we use our own employees to drive awareness and consideration for products they believe in and work on everyday.

What are your fears/concerns for our industry? 
That people still measure impressions as the main measurement KPI. Full stop.

What inspires you? This could be a person, place, activity, etc.
All my managers and mentors in my career since I entered communications. I still call former bosses to get a POV and call my current boss to make ideas better almost daily. It’s inspiring to a build a network where you can constantly not think alone.

What are you thinking about most these days? 
Besides Covid and my kids health, I am constantly thinking about the mental health of the team.

What is your idea of happiness?
Spending time with my family in Cape Cod.