Gen Kobayashi | The Innovator 25 EMEA 2023

Gen Kobayashi

EMEA Chief Strategy Officer
Weber Shandwick



“Innovation comes from different perspectives and is borne from difference. Without diversity we cannot continue to innovate.” 

Gen Kobayashi, who joined Weber Shandwick in June 2022, has always sought to innovate within his career. Driven by new challenges, he has moved between industries, from media and engagement strategy to brand and advertising and into PR, always taking with him best practice with which to drive change in his next role. Since joining The Weber Shandwick Collective, Kobayashi has been instrumental in developing and implementing a singular approach to strategic planning across the network – a first for the agency. He has transformed the agency’s EMEA strategy community by bringing together a previously disparate group of strategists together into one integrated team with data and analytics at the heart. Super-bright, amiable and with the ability to take a true umbrella view, he has also taken the lead on forming a council of effectiveness leaders within the Weber Shandwick EMEA business, to ensure the agency delivers for clients. Kobayashi has also been a key member of the team that has transformed the way in which the agency and the industry look at earned communications, driving the global launch of the Earned Effect Study in conjunction with the IPA, which he discussed with PRovoke Media on a Little Black Book panel at this year’s Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity. Before taking the earned media world by storm, Kobayashi held senior strategy roles in advertising agencies including Engine, Ogilvy, The Brooklyn Brothers and Adam&eveDDB. 

How do you define innovation?
Ideas that help people progress.

What is the most innovative PR or marketing initiative you've seen over the past 12 months?
Our work for Iberdrola, ‘Turnstile Turbines’. 

In your opinion, which brands and/or agencies are most innovative in their approach to PR and marketing?
Nike, Apple and Airbnb.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider to be innovative.
Realising that creating digital content on behalf of a brand that people actively sought out could be more valuable than interrupting people's experience with paid-for advertising. I created one of the first pieces of 'branded content' for Nike before 'branded content' was even coined as a term, back in 2004.

Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation? 
Herbie Hancock was an innovator through the combining of music with science and technology, and pioneered early innovations from the use of early synthesisers, vocoders and early use turntables and record scratching. He wasn't afraid of mixing art with science.

How do you get out of a creativity rut?
Read fiction, watch films and listen to music.

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
Be prepared to try things, but accept not everything we try will work.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing your current job?
Working in some capacity for Arsenal Football Club.

Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has provided inspiration over the past year?
The Bear. A prime example of how creativity and innovation comes from obsessing over the details. Details matter.

How can the PR and communications industry harness innovation to make more progress on diversity, equity and inclusion?
Innovation comes from different perspectives and is borne from difference. Without diversity we cannot continue to innovate, so I would argue we can't have one without the other.