Michael Yaeger| The Innovator 25 North America 2022

Michael Yaeger

Director of Mobile eXperience Public Relations
Samsung Electronics Americas

Ridgefield Park, NJ

“Stop following the playbook and get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

Michael Yaeger’s multi-faceted transformation of the way Samsung Mobile handles PR paid off big last July with the most recent Galaxy Unpacked product launch. The majority of its Samsung.com preorder affiliate sales stemmed from media outlets and creators engaged with the Samsung PR team, and top execs lauded the function’s storytelling. That success capped a year during which Yaeger methodically implemented a new proactive earned media coverage strategy for his internal and agency teams. The refined comms plan included solidifying relationships with key media and influencers, who had access to product messaging, detailed briefings, executives and devices – all geared toward driving content for the Galaxy launch. The strategy guaranteed key messages were delivered to priority outlets, with the hope that they would cover the story. The effort was coordinated with Samsung’s marketing team. In the time since, Samsung Mobile has increasingly seen its messaging pull through priority earned outlets and been able to tie its earned media efforts directly to product sales. 

How do you define innovation?
The most compelling kind of innovation to me is grounded in something measurable and tangible. It’s not just about innovation for innovation’s sake. Those who I find to be the most innovative are able to keep the ultimate objective in focus, understand data to inform decision making, and ensure measurement and KPIs are in place to capture the value of the innovation. That way you know what you’ve done is not only innovative, but also effective.

What is the most innovative PR or marketing initiative you've seen over the past 12 months?
Mattel and Warner Bros did an outstanding job with the Barbie movie and its supporting campaigns. They took a beloved generational brand and made it even more impactful and meaningful to a new generation, while staying true to where they came from. That’s an incredibly difficult line to walk. Seeing their ideas come to life and the way they executed at such a high-level around the globe and across so many platforms was fun to watch. I was very impressed by all the teams and agencies involved.

In your opinion, which brands and/or agencies are most innovative in their approach to PR and marketing?
I’m very proud to work for a company like Samsung, where innovation is central to everything we do. Outside our walls, I’m always impressed by Nike's PR and marketing efforts. They really understand their audience, and are so good about delivering their brand messages in creative and compelling ways across marketing, advertising and PR.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider to be innovative.
I’m fortunate to work for a company that allows and encourages me to try new things. Most recently, as many media outlets embrace affiliate sales, we have been able to connect the data between earned media coverage and sales in a way that hasn’t been done before. Not only has this ensured PR strategy and messaging are working together with other marketing team efforts for a qualitative results, it has also allowed us to see quantitative value as well. Additionally, by expanding our storytelling to include other kinds of content creators from earned perspective, we’ve been able to meet new generations of consumers on the social platforms where they want to get their information like YouTube and TikTok. It also allows everyone involved to maintain authenticity and credibility that results in incredibly powerful storytelling.

Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation?
José Andrés, who wears many hats: chef, restaurateur, philanthropist, humanitarian. He is a true innovator in all aspects of his work, including the amazing World Central Kitchen.

How do you get out of a creativity rut?
It may sound counterintuitive since my career has focused on technology, but stepping away from the computer. I get motivation and energy from physical activities like landscaping, gardening, running, cycling and golfing. Giving my mind and body a chance to focus on accomplishing a physical task helps reframe my mindset. I find it gives me the space and time to think more freely. There is a sense of accomplishment those activities provide that I feel the brain requires to stay fresh.

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
Stop following the playbook and get comfortable being uncomfortable. That starts with planning. If you continue to recycle your plans year after year, don’t expect to achieve anything more than incremental results. This can be a crutch. Don’t simply rely on muscle memory for strategy and tactics. Challenge yourself and your team to try new things. Be okay if sometimes things don’t work out, but make sure you spend the time to understand why. Success will present itself as you reflect on what worked and what didn’t.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing your current job?
I think I’d still be in a position that challenges me to do better and think differently when presented a problem to solve. That’s the reason I chose a PR career focused on tech. Over the past 20+ years there has been no lack of innovation and exciting products and services to learn about and support.

Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has provided inspiration over the past year?
Finishing Ted Lasso was bittersweet. The show hit at the right time with the right messages of eternal optimism, seeing the best in people, and personal growth to become the best versions of ourselves, mixed in with some good humor.

How can the PR and communications industry harness innovation to make more progress on diversity, equity and inclusion?
The benefits of a diverse workforce are well-documented. And it’s not just the right thing to do, it’s good for business. Research shows that diverse teams perform better. It’s great to see the investment companies are making on DEI, but it depends on everyone, at every level, to understand the impact of our actions and to create a workplace and industry of respect and fairness.