Duncan Meisel | The Innovator 25 North America 2022

Duncan Meisel

Executive Director
Clean Creatives

Austin, TX

“To me, innovation is all about looking to the needs of the future and bringing them into the present.”

As executive director of Clean Creatives, Duncan Meisel has been at the forefront of high-profile campaigns calling on the PR and advertising industry to drop their fossil fuel. A longtime climate activist and digital strategist for progressive causes, Meisel has rallied 400-plus scientists and more than 100 celebrities and influencers to join Clean Creatives’ effort, prompting Edelman, the world’s largest PR firm, to rethink its work with Big Oil. 
How do you define innovation? 
To me, innovation is all about looking to the needs of the future and bringing them into the present. It requires a balance between urgency and pragmatism, understanding that we face absolutely astounding challenges in the environment and in public trust, and searching for the next best step to make addressing them a reality.  

What is the most innovative PR or marketing initiative you've seen over the past 12 months? 
I'm a huge fan of the dating app BLK's work on vaccination and voting. It just seems like an exceptional alignment of brand, culture,purpose, and impact. 

In your opinion, which brands and/or agencies are most innovative in their approach to PR and marketing? 
I'm a fan of Seventh Generation's deep and honest look at their approach to sustainability policy. I think they are leaders in using transparency to build trust, and talk about sustainability while admitting their shortcomings. 

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider to be innovative. 
My background is in building social movements. Often, the tone in those kinds of projects is a monologue: we're here to tell you what to do. With Clean Creatives we've tried to do things differently and prioritize listening to people in the community of professional communicators we're working with, and I think that dialogue has made our work stronger. We've re-written every word on our website and revamped our pitch decks more times than I can count. I'm so grateful to the communication professionals that have asked hard questions, offered feedback, and engaged us, because they've pushed us to make the pathway towards a fossil fuel free industry more accessible, and aligned with the values and needs of agencies.  

Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation? 
Solitaire Townsend, for how she uses hands-on expertise to inform visionary ideas about how the communications industry can operate in the future. 

How do you get out of a creativity rut? 
You have to listen to your body and be mindful. When it's telling you that it's time for a change of scenery, or a food break - listen! 

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation? 
Pressure from organizations like Clean Creatives is an opportunity for step-changes in your business. Sometimes it's difficult to grasp the urgency of systemic problems like climate change while focused on meeting the needs of clients. Feedback from regulators, social movements, or outside experts is an important source of information that can help you do your work better and take steps towards the future that might not always be obvious when dealing with the day-to-day. Sometimes it takes productive pressure to give systemic  problems the urgency they deserve, and I hope that our work can be taken in that spirit. 

What would you be doing if you weren't doing your current job? 
If climate change didn't exist I would be trying to write fiction. 

Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has provided inspiration over the past year? 
David Graeber and David Wengrow's The Dawn of Everything, which encouraged me to think of human history as the product of creativity, transformation, and collective choice. As always, I have some questions about certain specifics, but I am grateful for the overall challenge to think different about the past, and therefore the future. 

How would you like to see work culture, and the role of the office, evolve? 
As someone who has primarily worked from home, I hope that managers and executives can recognize the positive climate impacts of reducing commute times, and giving their employees a chance to stay closer to home. 

How can the PR and communications industry harness innovation to make more progress on diversity, equity and inclusion? 
The most important insight in my experience is to understand DEI as additive, rather than an obligation. Diverse teams have many strengths that mono-cultured teams do not, and hiring for additive perspectives rather than 'culture fit' can build much more innovative teams.