Andrew Bleeker | The Innovator 25 North America 2022

Andrew Bleeker

Bully Pulpit Interactive  

Washington, DC

“It’s not about effort anymore — it’s about delivering tangible outcomes that impact the business, whether that’s increased sales, better retention rates or enhanced reputation.”

It’s been 14 years since Andrew Bleeker stepped away from politics – he was lead digital marketing strategist for then-Senator Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign – but he's still a big believer in  having to woo supporters, election season or not.  So it’s no wonder that today, as president of Bully Pulpit Interactive, Bleeker is leveraging campaign tactics in efforts to attract and keep talent – and supporting clients to do the same through BPI’s new offering: a Win the War for Talent practice. While the practice covers all the bases – thought leadership, employer branding and the like – it centers around the premise that employers need to communicate with talent like candidates would with voters, connecting with them in earnest to win their support. That kind of ingenuity in addressing problems head-on by unconventional means has been core to the success of BPI since Bleeker launched the firm, and its growth into the public affairs powerhouse it is today. 

How do you define innovation?
Finding new ways to solve problems.

What is the most innovative PR or marketing initiative you've seen over the past 12 months?
I’m really proud of the impact of Decibel, BPI’s competitive intelligence platform. It goes beyond just monitoring what competitors are doing in the marketplace. Decibel’s AI engine is able to analyze whether a given message is persuasive and with whom it resonates, providing actionable insights so our clients can optimize their campaigns to stand out in today’s overcrowded environment and actually shift opinions.

In your opinion, which brands and/or agencies are most innovative in their approach to PR and marketing?
Walmart, Goldman Sachs, and Spotify, three organizations that have one critical thing in common: they’ve realized that communications can no longer function in a silo and embraced a single corporate affairs leader. It used to be that different audiences cared about different topics. Investors cared about finances; customers cared about the product; employees cared about benefits. Today, the lines between audiences have blurred. There’s business critical issues — AI, privacy, sustainability — that everyone has a stake in. Walmart, Goldman Sachs and Spotify have all empowered a senior leader who can bring an integrated campaign approach across communications, government affairs, philanthropy, and thought leadership. This structural change is the future of our industry, and these three are already functioning at that level.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider to be innovative.
We knew we couldn’t win with traditional campaign tactics, so we had to find a new path. By adapting to the times and pioneering new strategies to engage voters, we broke new ground in political campaigning that has become a model for every campaign since. That level of innovation, with stakes that high – it was an incredible, energizing thing to be part of.

Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation?
Jensen Huang, the CEO of NVIDIA. He created a culture where both problems and great ideas come from anywhere and rise quickly to the top. From my view, that’s what has enabled the company to adapt and innovate quickly to stay ahead, which is especially critical in such a fast-moving industry.

How do you get out of a creativity rut?
My first move is always to get back on the road – seeing what our clients are doing at the ground level, understanding what challenges they’re facing firsthand, and connecting in person. Getting that exposure helps spark new ideas and emphasizes the impact our work can have.

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
PR metrics are killing the industry. We need to recognize that measures of engagement are insufficient. With today's data and analytics capabilities, we can and should connect to real business metrics.

It’s not about effort anymore – it’s about delivering tangible outcomes that impact the business, whether that's increased sales, better retention rates, or enhanced reputation. This will require adopting new tools and strategies, but the industry's future relies on our ability to move the needle on metrics that the C-suite and wider business care about.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing your current job?
I don’t know anything about manufacturing, but I’d love to start an electric boat company. Hydrofoils are the future.

Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has provided inspiration over the past year?
The answer that I should give is The Heart of Business by Hubert Joly. I keep coming back to the principles he offers and admire his efforts to change the way we train the next generation of business leaders.

But more recently, it’s been Jimmy Buffett’s discography. I have always been a huge fan of his, and I was absolutely crushed by his death. I’m always energized by his spirit of positivity – and growing older while not growing up.

How can the PR and communications industry harness innovation to make more progress on diversity, equity and inclusion?
I think there’s two things our industry can do here:

1. Embrace leaders from other sectors – government, non-profit, technology, etc. This can stop any complaints about a pipeline problem.

2. Follow the lead of organizations like OneTen and embrace skills-first hiring by dropping degree requirements.