Armand David | Innovator 25 EMEA 2022

Armand David

Corporate Affairs Director, Digital
BT Group


“The real power for brands is in acknowledging the things that make you strong tomorrow will likely be the things that made you strong yesterday, which are the things that maintain your strength today"

After 18 years at Brands2Life, most recently jointly heading up the technology practice, Armand David swapped agency life for in-house, joining telecoms giant BT as corporate affairs director for BT Digital in January this year with a remit to help build the culture, communities and market momentum to transform one of Britain’s best-known tech firms.

Just eight weeks in the role, he’d transformed investor briefings and less than a year into the job, he’s overseen an upsurge in media coverage of the digital unit to more than 200 clippings from a baseline of nearly zero.

David says he’s bringing the disruptive, problem-solving mindset he developed at Brands2Life to BT’s 190-strong corporate affairs team, acting as a key advisor to the leadership team, shaping guidance on community engagement, advocating for culture and community building and shaping key moments for BT’s 4,000 digital colleagues in the UK, India and further afield.

He’s also involved with the Taylor Bennet Foundation programme, supporting the Gender Equality Network and leadership mentoring programmes to encourage diverse talent into the industry. For the latter, he’s also something of a role model himself.
How do you define innovation?
Finding novel way to solve problems. Not necessarily net new tactics, but possibly remixed approaches to tackling business problems in new ways.

What is the most innovative PR or marketing initiative you've seen over the past 12 months?
Is it trite to give an example that isn't really a PR or marketing initiative, but is just a phenomenal story and authentic act by a brand? I'mma gonna cheat anyway: Patagonia, giving itself up "for planet Earth" was an incredible story, and will doubtless drive so much equity for the brand over time it's unreal.

In your opinion, which brands and/or agencies are most innovative in their approach to PR and marketing?
There's a general challenge for most brands (and agencies) that innovation *implies* doing something entirely new, year on year. Whereas I think the real power for brands is in acknowledging the things that make you strong tomorrow will likely be the things that made you strong yesterday, and which are the things that maintain your strength today. Innovation in brand promotion and comms should come in creative ways of telling the same stories, not necessarily in finding new stories to tell, thus building and reinforcing a reputation consistently over time. Agencies, poorly managed by brands, will commonly deliver the 'faster horses' instead of finding a way to persuade brands to invest in a car. I have a lot of time for brands that have and continue to double down on a simple, accessible, well-understood promise, be that Ben & Jerry's, Patagonia, Sony Playstation, and the rest.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider to be innovative.
Most of the last 9 months at BT Group. The scale of transformation here is so rapid that I'm challenged on a daily basis to lend my thinking of how comms can play a role in driving a shift in perception in the market, and a change in behaviours internally. It's awesome.

Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation?
Mark Ritson. Because he understands the interplay between tactical creativity in execution and strategic innovation at a brand level. Him and Sun Tzu, man, they know where it's at.

How do you get out of a creativity rut?
With people, and structured discussions/brainstorms. Having a wide range of minds applied to a problem, and building solutions collaboratively - with careful orchestration - is a really fast, really exciting way to get out of a rut.

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
The way it was done yesterday isn't necessarily the way it should be done today. Step back from the problem and build solutions from first principles every now and again. You may be surprised at where you land.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing your current job? Two ways to answer this.
First, the practical answer; I'd be elsewhere in comms. Possibly at my former (fabulous) employer, or another corporate somewhere, trying to drive innovation in comms to drive social impact.
In a dream world, I'd be working on some kind of sci-fi or fantasy epic novel series, TV and comic book adaptations and possibly political-satire-musical of some description. Which, oddly, is my brother's career in a nutshell.

Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has provided inspiration over the past year?
My two favourite sources of inspiration this year have been my podcast selection - particularly BBC Newscast, which has been a reassuring anchor to the chaos of everyday life... and TikTok, which is - alongside all the randomness - a home of incredible creativity and culture. Absolutely love seeing creative takes on complex storytelling on that channel, despite how old I look as a grown man scrolling through TikTok.

How would you like to see work culture, and the role of the office, evolve?
I'd like to see LEADERSHIP behaviours evolve, where people are thoughtful about how and where they bring teams together with purpose to get the most of our time together, and our time apart. I don't think it's as simple as "concentrate at home, collaborate in the office," though that is part of it. But there's so much more to collaboration in a workspace - building foundations of intimacy, finding avenues for having fun, finding new ways to be considerate of a diverse colleague base - all things we need to learn how to actually engage with proactively in a flexible working world.

How can the PR and communications industry harness innovation to make more progress on diversity, equity and inclusion?
By embedding inclusive thinking into the way we build and run communications moments and campaigns; whether that's building in accessible thinking into an event or presentation or ensuring we have representation across communities and cultures on our panels, in our spokesperson and leadership benches, and in our teams. Working with my internal comms team has been a continual source of learning and inspiration for me on this front.