Adrian Ma | Innovator 25 EMEA 2022

Adrian Ma

Fanclub PR/Humankind


“Make sure you're on the right side of history. If you're going to innovate, make sure it's for everyone's benefit, including future generations.” 

Adrian Ma is the founder of not one but two PR and digital agencies: he started Fanclub PR in 2012, followed by digital and technology specialist Humankind in 2021. A comms agency lifer, he has more than 20 years’ experience working with consumer, B2B and corporate clients, from some of the world’s most recognised brands to niche business service specialists, on earned media campaigns which shape markets and win global industry awards. As a PR professional, Ma ticks pretty much all the boxes of what an empathetic, innovative agency leader – should be in 2022: as well as being committed to the craft of PR, and doing exceptional, data-led creative work for clients, he focuses on broader marketing strategy, spends time working with clients to help them inspire positive social and environmental impact, and works to create greater inclusion not only in his own businesses but in the wider PR industry.   
How do you define innovation?
A new and effective solution to a problem. The effectiveness part is important to the survival of any innovation, and often the methodology that sits behind the innovation is what drives the effectiveness. A methodology is likely to have been honed by centuries of understanding, which is why it's important to understand the fundamentals of our craft.

What is the most innovative PR or marketing initiative you've seen over the past 12 months?
It's a long way off being perfect, but I think that the metaverse is going to be a massive opportunity. Already we're seeing brands investing into virtual worlds. I'd question the reach of these campaigns currently, but I do think that it's a one way street into the metaverse.

In your opinion, which brands and/or agencies are most innovative in their approach to PR and marketing?
For me, it's not the brands. It's the founders. I'm guessing I won't be alone in citing Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the founders of Ben & Jerry's who sued their owner Unilever over a disagreement about selling its products in Israel and Patagonia's founder Yvon Chouinard, for 'gifting' his company to fight climate change.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider to be innovative.
I'm of a particular vintage where at the start of my career, I was faxing press releases. The moment we could email press releases was a revelation.

Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation?
For me, some of the most important work going on in our world is the research being undertaken by Binet and Field. They're not perfect, but their research has helped create a framework for effective marketing and communications.

How do you get out of a creativity rut?
There's an old book by a guy called James Webb Young called, 'A Technique for Producing Ideas', which I base my creative method around. TL:DR - read around the topic, then go out for a walk or a run.

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
You're in a privileged position. Make sure you're on the right side of history. If you're going to innovate, make sure it's for everyone's benefit, including future generations.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing your current job?
In an ideal world, I'd be travelling the world with my family, hitting the best surfing and snowboarding spots.

Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has provided inspiration over the past year?
I work to music. In fact, I have music on every waking moment. For me the highlight of the year was watching Haim play at the O2 Arena. It was the most incredible gig; they're so talented as musicians and story-tellers. Everything they played was so moving. And Taylor Swift was a surprise special guest!

How would you like to see work culture, and the role of the office, evolve?
After all these years, office life just isn't set up for our basic needs. We remain wedded to an economy based on a time when people needed to be supervised on the factory floor to serve machines. I want to help build a more inclusive and understanding office culture, where new parents are supported in coming back to work, and where there's a greater understanding of things like menopause or mental wellness.

How can the PR and communications industry harness innovation to make more progress on diversity, equity and inclusion?
It's simple. Do the right thing.