John Brown | Innovator 25 EMEA 2021

John Brown


Don’t Cry Wolf


PR’s greatest opportunity for taking the lead on innovation is coming up with creative responses to some of the world's biggest questions."

Former Hotwire director John Brown set up Don’t Cry Wolf in 2018, and it quickly became one of the first PR agencies to achieve B Corp status. This year, as his vision of building an agency that could make a real difference and the firm’s environmental and social change client base grew exponentially, Don’t Cry Wolf repositioned as “the brand activism agency”. It also strengthened its ESG credentials by taking the unusual step of inviting a client onto the board to improve governance, and introduced environmental measures that have led to a 45% drop in carbon emissions. Brown champions transparency, triple bottom line and carbon reporting, is a B Corp ambassador, a campaigner for the Better Business Act, and launched the PRCA’s B Corp and Misinformation in the Climate Crisis groups. He has also introduced some of the most progressive agency policies in the industry, from donating 1.5% of turnover to charity, to a menopause clause and support for IVF and those going through miscarriage. Under his leadership, the agency’s work has included Hairy Tales for Tangle Teezer, addressing the lack of diverse role models in children’s stories, and the Protect Pongo campaign by nut butter company Meridian, which highlights how palm oil production is destroying rain forests. All of which makes Brown sound terribly earnest, but anyone who has met him or heard him speak knows that he’s not only passionate and deeply knowledgeable, but one of the most irreverent, funny and bullshit-free people in PR. And his genuine commitment to helping brands become effective activists in their space is paying off in business terms: Don't Cry Wolf is on target to grow by 50% in 2021.

How would you describe the communications/PR industry's level of innovation compared to other marketing disciplines?
About the same

Do you think the global pandemic has made the industry more innovative?
Yes. We've seen new more meaningful organisations emerge to disrupt the industry and show that profit can be for both directors and the wider planet.

Where is the PR industry's greatest opportunity for taking the lead on innovation?
Creative responses to some of the world's biggest questions.

Who most influences how innovative a brand's engagement is?

How do you define innovation?
A relentless commitment to doing things better.

What is the most innovative comms/marketing initiative you've seen in the last 12 months?
Loving the product activism we've seen where organisations are not afraid to hack their iconic products, logos and identity to get across a message or support a cause.

In your opinion, what brands and/or agencies are most innovative around PR and marketing?
Ben & Jerrys and Patagonia.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider 'innovative.'
The moment we earned B Corp certification and then decided to re-write our entire policies and practices to improve on what we'd build already.

Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation? 
Sarah Waddington, someone who takes an idea and turns it into reality irrespective of the naysayers.

How do you get out of a creativity rut?
Read, read, read.

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
Look outside the PR industry and embrace your own vulnerability.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing your current job?
Applying for a job at Manifest

Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has helped you get through this year or provided inspiration?
How to Save a Planet podcast. Clear, insightful and inspiring content on climate change and how to combat it.

What's your favourite time of day and why?
When my kids jump in our bed for cuddles first thing in the morning.