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A year ago, Current Global CEO George Coleman launched Accessible by Design, a commitment to creating content that is accessible to all people, especially those with visual, hearing, speech, and cognitive disabilities. The move was grounded in personal experience: Coleman's father and uncle, who were identical twins, were profoundly deaf. In the time since launch, Coleman’s innovative initiative – the first of its kind in the industry – has gone beyond the agency and across borders: both the PRCA and PR Council are now producing free accessible communications guidelines for the global marketing industry, having invested in research to establish the size and scale of the issue. The Institute for PR and Current Global's parent group IPG Dxtra have also helped advocate and educate on how to make communications more accessible. The movement is gaining momentum: more than 40 organizations or individuals have requested information and the accessible communications guidelines are the most downloaded content on the PRCA website.
How would you describe the communications/PR industry's level of innovation compared to other marketing disciplines?
About the same. The communications industry is rapidly developing its creative tech chops, and fast catching up with other disciplines. Where it’s perhaps more advanced is in the innovative use of digital platforms and new channels to engage audiences. Our inherent agility and adaptability in crafting powerful stories that can earn attention across different mediums, formats and channels is a key strength.
Do you think the global pandemic has made the industry more innovative?
Yes. Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future. In the fog of uncertainty we find ourselves in due to the pandemic, we have to figure out how to sort between disruption vs long-term shifts, blips vs trends, temporary coping mechanisms vs new behaviours. That’s critically important for us, given how much our communications strategies rely on insight (and foresight, for that matter). The ability to glean insight from data has transformed our work and effectiveness. But we now have to ask ourselves, what happens when we can no longer necessarily rely on historical data as a guide to the future? The answer lies in having a deeply grounded understanding of real people and real lives. And this is where I see most innovation happening in the industry - complementing the use of analytics with ethnography, anthropology, and other social sciences to get a constant read out on needs and behaviours. That allows us to design human-centered communications campaigns that are inherently agile and adaptable.
Where is the PR industry's greatest opportunity for taking the lead on innovation?
Who most influences how innovative a brand's engagement is?
How do you define innovation?
Invention creates something new (a thing), whereas innovation creates something that sells (through introducing a new idea or method). The best innovation is always the most elegantly simple solution to a problem or need. In our industry, it's all about applying strategy and creativity to find the most effective and efficient idea to shift perceptions and influence behaviour to deliver key communications or commercial outcomes.
What is the most innovative comms/marketing initiative you've seen in the last 12 months?
I loved that the Biden inauguration was the most accessible ever. Firefighter Andrea Hall put accessible communications front and centre when she led the Pledge of Allegiance in both spoken and signed English. Live event streams also included captioning, audio description, sign language interpretation and cued speech transliteration (using hand shapes to describe speech sounds). I’d class this as game-changing innovation if it helps inspire the communications industry to be more inclusive of people of all abilities.
In your opinion, what brands and/or agencies are most innovative around PR and marketing?
Epic Games and its Fortnite franchise continue to drive some lovely innovation through their brand partnerships and collaborations. One of the latest features the launch of an exclusive collection of Balenciaga skins as well as a line of luxury clothing available through the fashion house’s stores and website. Great innovation at the intersection of culture, fashion and technology.
Describe a moment in your career that you would consider 'innovative.'
The 'a-ha moment' when I realized that technology had reached a point of maturity where there is simply nothing holding us back from making communications accessible for people of all abilities. We have everything need at our fingertips, from freely available tools in the Microsoft Office suite to accessibility features embedded in every major social platform. All we need to do is make straightforward changes to the way we work to be able to design accessible campaigns and content from concept to delivery.
Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation?
Given his sad, recent passing, it'd be remiss of me not to call out Sir Clive Sinclair. His innovations were instrumental in introducing personal computing to millions of young kids like me. It's said he didn't have a computer of his own because he felt it would be a distraction and get in the way of his curiosity. A little eccentric, perhaps, but removing anything that gets in the way of our own curiosity is sage advice for any budding innovator.
How do you get out of a creativity rut?
I get out of a creative rut by focusing on other things, so my brain can process ideas in the background. I find going for a long hike or spending the afternoon making pasta works wonders.
What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
My advice? Simple. Solve at the intersections of culture, technology and society.
What would you be doing if you weren't doing your current job?
I'm attracted to curious minds, so I'd probably be a teacher or researcher.
Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has helped you get through this year or provided inspiration?
I'm a history junkie, so have devoured Dan Carlin's podcasts. They've provided some wonderful escapism, and the way he brings ancient heroes and villains to life is simply wonderful. I'd particularly recommend the King of Kings series.
What's your favourite time of day and why?
Early morning before the rest of the family get up. It's a lovely window to think without distraction before the hecticness starts.
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