Alissa Gordon Heinerscheid | The Innovator 25 North America 2022

Alissa Gordon Heinerscheid

Vice President of Marketing, Bud Light Blue

New York, NY

“I believe routine follows strategy. You can’t say you want an innovative company, then not put the routine in place to facilitate that creativity, through meetings, through space, through dialogue.”

In July, Alissa Gordon Heinerscheid became the first woman to lead Bud Light, a milestone in the 40-year history of the US’s most popular beer. In the short time since, Heinerscheid has gone all-in, energizing marketing efforts with the likes of revolutionized digital capabilities. An eight-year veteran of parent Anheuser-Busch, Heinerscheid makes having an inclusive workplace a priority. The mother of three conducted the first-ever global parenting survey at Anheuser-Busch, which prompted the company to better support working parents.
How do you define innovation? 
Innovation is when you combine groundbreaking creative ideas but are able to deliver them in a simple and consistent way using modern technology to disrupt industry standards.  

What is the most innovative PR or marketing initiative you’ve seen over the past 12 months?  
It’s a young brand, but you have to admire what Liquid Death is doing. They’re literally making drinking water cool! I have been really impressed with everything that the brand has done since its inception a few years ago, but…I love Martha Stewart – who doesn’t love Martha Stewart!? Their new Halloween themed campaign featuring her is genius. Martha is relevant across multiple age groups and the way they seamlessly folded her into their Halloween program is both authentic to her and the brand; it’s just terrific.  

In your opinion, which brands and/or agencies are most innovative in their approach to PR and marketing?  
I have always admired the innovative approach to PR and marketing for so many brands. This includes many of Anheuser-Busch’s brands such as Budweiser, Michelob Ultra and Busch, just to name a few. Externally, I have always been impressed with how culturally relevant and impactful the marketing is for Nike. Also, as a parent, there is just something so wholesome and genuine about what General Mills does.  

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider to be innovative:  
Bud Light and HBO’s collaboration on the Game of Thrones Super Bowl ad is one of the most innovative projects I’ve been a part of throughout my career. It’s always hard being the “first” at anything. The first-ever dual-branded Super Bowl ad meant we had two clients, two directors, two creative agencies, two editors – truly uncharted territory. And we think a Super Bowl commercial is difficult under normal circumstances! But embracing the fact that we were doing something new, something groundbreaking, and drawing energy from that, rather than fearing it, was key. Moreover, communication, nearly constantly, was a bedrock of the success of the program.  

Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation? 
I believe routine follows strategy. You can’t say you want an innovative company, then not put the routine in place to facilitate that creativity, through meetings, through space, through dialogue. Beth Comstock, former CMO of GE and Vice Chair of Innovation at GE, is an idol of mine. She’s so good at putting processes in place to support innovation. In her early days as Vice Chair of Innovation at GE, she created “Imagination breakthroughs” which were start-up ideas within GE. She also talks a lot about how she had to shift GE’s thinking about how to protect innovators within her company, protect their ideas and protect them as a class of thinkers, with different incentives, to truly engage them and draw out that innovation.  

How do you get out of a creativity rut? 
Running. One foot in front of the other, very early in the morning when the sun is coming up. It grounds me in three ways. First, reminding me, just one foot in front of the other. That’s all life is, when you’re feeling stuck, just go, one foot in front of the other, and you will restart again. Secondly, it reminds me of the beauty of our bodies, that we live in one body our whole lives and it is strong and powerful and changeable and we have to feel respect and reverence for it and not beat ourselves up when we’re not producing the way we want to. And finally, the beauty of each day. Seeing life with gratitude helps me reverse course when I’m feeling stuck.  

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?  
Routine, routine, routine. If you want to embrace innovation, show me your plans on a page of how you’re doing it. Are you incentivizing the most innovative people differently? Are you creating space for their ideas? Are you starting with consumers and putting a structure in place to put their needs and wants at the forefront of your business?  

What would you be doing if you weren’t doing your current job?  
When I think about the hours that I spend away from my kids each day, those hours only feel worth it if I believe I’ve had some positive effect on others. I am at my happiest when I feel that colleagues, friends or clients leave our time together feeling a little more listened to, a little less alone and a little more joyful. When I co-founded Emerge, it was really about satiating this need. I was so very alone when I set out to do surrogacy 6 years ago. I knew no one and suffered through all these daunting questions on my own —  how do you watch another woman give birth to your child, what do you say to her when she’s in pain —  and I felt a compulsive desire to help others, to ensure they’re not contending with these questions on their own. And that holds true when I’m at Anheuser-Busch as well. When people are feeling overwhelmed or the day’s challenge feels particularly messy, I derive joy from helping break down the problem into parts, from helping ensure they don’t feel alone charting a way forward. If I wasn’t at Anheuser-Busch, I would be taking on more clients with Emerge.  

Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has provided inspiration over the past year?
Memoirs written by women, the stories of their survival through a loved one’s death or divorce or deception in these true, piercing voices – those were a bedrock of the pandemic for me. To name a few, Adrienne Brodeur’s “Wild Game”, Michelle Zauner’s “Crying in H-Mart”, Isabel Gillies’s “Happens Every Day” and Dani Shapiro’s “Inheritance” have inspired me over the past two years. I think what makes me keep coming back to these – almost subliminally – is each narrative imbues me with a reverence for the power of women, for us to move through tough things, to keep ourselves and our families together through sheer brute force. Those books fuel me, not only as I think about being a leader on Bud Light and future proofing this incredible brand for the next forty years, but as I think about bringing women along with me and inspiring the next generation of female leaders to keep moving forward and pursue careers in male-dominated industries.  

How would you like to see work culture, and the role of the office, evolve?  
Again, routines, routines, routines. What are the routines we can put in place to facilitate creativity in hybrid environments? We do no-work coffee chats on Thursday mornings that are zoom and we only talk about fun things – podcasts, life, tv shows. If you want to build culture even in a hybrid environment, routines are key.

How can the PR and communications industry harness innovation to make more progress on diversity, equity and inclusion?  
As the first woman in Bud Light’s history to lead the brand, my job is results, pure and simple. I am putting my head down to focus on driving results for this business to show everyone, including myself, that I am the right person for this job. But my path here wasn’t a clear, upward line.  

I am where I am today because a few key people, sometimes in spite of my own self-doubt, believed in me. They spent the time to coach and nurture me and I wouldn’t be here today without those professional cheerleaders. My goal is to pay back that debt along the way with the same coaching and care.  

One of my favorite quotes is this: Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.  

Give others your attention – people who maybe haven’t been given it generously and watch them blossom and encourage them to do more. That is how you can make progress.