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As The Body Shop’s global head of PR, Sanjani Shah describes herself as having the “lucky job” of helping the company – which practically invented brand activism and social purpose – achieve its mission “to fight for a fairer and more beautiful world”. Pre-pandemic, she could be found on a small tea tree farm in Kenya hosting a press briefing, or in India, getting journalists to work hand-in-hand with waste-pickers to recycle plastic waste. In lockdown, Shah has spearheaded The Body Shop's most recent campaign around self-love, continuing the company’s long-standing reputation for trailblazing, empowering, innovative communications. Shah’s many admirers say she stands out for her blend of a sharp, strategic, analytical brain; an eagle eye for detail, while also being able to see the big picture; impressive creativity; and the ability to balance protecting and promoting the brand. Before going in-house, Shah worked agency-side at Edelman and Weber Shandwick, where she earned her PR stripes on flagship accounts such as Orange, Microsoft, Monster and P&G. Before stepping into the world of PR, she had spent a year working with The International Red Cross, helping reunite families separated by the genocide in Rwanda. Shah is originally from Kenya; she lived and studied in France and worked in Singapore for many years, and is now based in London. As such, she has a truly global perspective and all the cultural sensitivity that great global comms needs.
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?
The global pandemic has made every industry more innovative. Before the pandemic, I wouldn't have imagined running 100+ celebrity interviews completely virtually or running an online event where one panellist is in LA and the other in Sydney and I’m in London. Yet, we found a way to make these things happen! Pressure creates diamonds for sure.
Where is the PR industry's greatest opportunity for taking the lead on innovation?
Integrated marketing. I find myself working ever more closely with the marketing team. There are strong collaboration points across influencer marketing, content creation, social media, CRM and the web teams. It’s exciting!
Who most influences how innovative a brand's engagement is?
How do you define innovation?
Innovation is a state of mind. It can be applied to anything, from finding a way to make your diminishing budget work, to figuring out a way around red-tape, to coming up with the great new campaign.
What is the most innovative comms/marketing initiative you've seen in the last 12 months?
The IKEA ‘Tomorrow starts tonight’ sleep campaign stood out for me. The message was simple: going back to basics with getting a good night’s sleep. The timing was spot on, when the pandemic was playing havoc with people’s sleep. The visuals did a great job in challenging the fact that energy drinks, anti-ageing creams and vitamin supplements can’t beat a good night’s sleep. Clever!
In your opinion, what brands and/or agencies are most innovative around PR and marketing?
Oatly. It’s a brand that speaks with the same voice across everything, from their PR, marketing campaigns and packaging. It’s real, honest and relatable and always raises a cheeky smile.
Describe a moment in your career that you would consider 'innovative.'
I led a self-love campaign for The Body Shop this year. There was a risk of it becoming a glorified ‘self-care Sundays’ type of campaign. But we took it much deeper than that, with a genuine belief that the power to change the world starts from within. We created an Index that looked at the scale of self-love around the world and worked with a therapist who could give genuine advice to people who are struggling. We also worked with activist and actress Jameela Jamil who shared her special dose of no-bullshit self-love advice. The magic trio was an innovative way to stop us from falling into the usual self-love tropes.
Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation?
Anita Roddick, the late founder of The Body Shop. With her, necessity was often the mother of invention. However she was also fearless and turned the beauty industry on its head, challenging every norm and every code. She was the OG activist and campaigner for social change. Her book Body and Soul is utterly inspiring, full of innovative and daring ideas and so ahead of her time.
How do you get out of a creativity rut?
Talking to someone who does something completely different. Creativity gets trapped by conditioning and talking to someone who has no preconceptions can often unlock a new dimension.
What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
With the number of publications around the world dwindling, and new channels opening up, we have no choice but to innovate. We have to innovate around the stories we tell, how we tell them and where we tell them. We also have to embrace more diversity in the types of people we hire. The industry, especially in the UK, lacks diversity. How do you innovate (or even get things right) without different types of thinking?
What would you be doing if you weren't doing your current job?
Writing a book. Just waiting for that Eureka moment!
Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has helped you get through this year or provided inspiration?
Wim Hof a.k.a. The Iceman. He is so eccentric and such a breath of fresh air. I try to do his guided breathing everyday. He’s also changed my mindset about swimming. I grew up swimming in the Indian Ocean, so safely in the fair-weather swimmers camp. I’ve got a newfound love for cold-swimming although I’m not sure I’m brave enough yet for a full-on winter immersion.
What's your favourite time of day and why?
Mornings. Over lockdown, I changed my routine, and my mornings are for walks, or exercise or wild swimming. It’s precious time dedicated entirely to me and my wellbeing and I’m quite ruthless about safe-guarding it.
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