Rob Davis | The Innovator 25 North America 2022

Rob Davis

Chief Digital Innovation Officer

New York

“Step out of the past and claim leadership in innovation. The industry is too conservative and bound to tradition, which leads to missing opportunities."

Interactive industry veteran Rob Davis landed his first role at an internet start-up in 1994, setting him on the path that would ultimately lead him to be appointed the first chief digital innovation officer at Publicis Groupe agency MSL in 2022. Along the way, he’s launched MTV’s webRIOT, the world’s first play-at-home interactive TV game show, won a gold Cannes Lion for IBM online Guinness world record-breaking film A Boy And His Atom and developed Merck’s Periodic Odessy partnership with Minecraft, using the iconic video game to teach children about the periodic table. 

During his career, which spans Gannett, MTV Networks, IFC & AMC Networks and Ogilvy, his view of innovation has changed from just hardware/software to the emergent convergence points between technology and consumer behaviour. This has led him further down the path of reinventing how brands and agencies connect with audiences, and moved further from their TV advertising roots. It’s an interesting pivot, given that he spent a decade developing the TV industry’s approach to the new possibilities of interactive multimedia, and his last task at AMC before joining Ogilvy was launching Mad Men. 

Although his era at MSL is only just beginning, Davis has already made his mark, upgrading key areas of the tech stack and stepping in to lead the agency’s influencer racial equity efforts. 

How do you define innovation?
I take a 3-18 month view of looking for the next convergence points of new tech/experiences and audiences. Why not focus on 5 years down the road? Because most clients don't. We live in a quarter by quarter world and pragmatic innovation needs to address that.

What is the most innovative PR or marketing initiative you've seen over the past 12 months?
WWF's oceans metaverse

In your opinion, which brands and/or agencies are most innovative in their approach to PR and marketing?
Coke, Inspire, Steak-Ums (really)

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider to be innovative.
Developing Merck's "Periodic Odyssey" for Minecraft

Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation?
Steve Jobs

How do you get out of a creativity rut?
Go for a long drive.

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
Step out of the past and claim leadership in innovation. The industry is too conservative and bound to tradition, which leads to missing opportunities.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing your current job?
Creating sound and visual art.

Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has provided inspiration over the past year?

How would you like to see work culture, and the role of the office, evolve?
Less office time, more thinking time. We are limited by legacy expectations of how we work.

How can the PR and communications industry harness innovation to make more progress on diversity, equity and inclusion?
Wake up. It's not hard, it just requires opening our eyes, hearts and minds. DE&I is good for business and humanity.