Rod Cartwright | The Innovator 25 EMEA 2023

Rod Cartwright

Rod Cartwright



“True innovation tends to be markedly more iterative than creating something 'new', involving taking something that already exists and imaginatively improving it.” 

If you think innovation is the sole preserve of the young, Rod Cartwright is testament to how flawed that misconception is. A seasoned global PR professional for nearly 30 years, via senior UK, European and global roles at GCI, H+K Strategies, Ketchum and Text100/Archetype, Cartwright’s commitment to driving ethical standards and best practice, not to mention his intellect, is as sharp now as an independent consultant in his 50s as it was in his agency days. One example is this year’s report, 'Trust, Risk and Resilience: Where are We Now and Where Next?' that he shared with the global PR community, summarising and analysing five major reports published pre-Davos on the state of trust and risk, from The World Economic Forum, Edelman, Ipsos, The Page Society and the Conference Board. With ‘red thread’ conclusions and practical recommendations for action, Cartwright’s report was an invaluable act of synthesis and counsel. The common denominator between his periodic gifts to the industry is the generosity with which Cartwright shares them. He has initiated several groups, including in support of Ukraine, chairs numerous boards, regularly delivers free webinars for organisations and agencies – including chairing the expert advisory board for Cardiff University’s MA in International Public Relations and Global Communications Management – and, as a special advisor to the CIPR’s crisis communications network, has led events on topics ranging from generative AI and crisis communication; bridging the gap between crisis comms practice and academia; and resilience building and caring for teams in crisis situations. He is also part of the PRCA’s Future Leaders Programme, where he runs a course on ‘Mastering the Art of Leadership Communication in the New Abnormal’. As fellow industry veteran, David Gallagher, says: “Rod is always the first to step up and the last to give up. There are few who match his generosity, passion and collaborative spirit, and he is a unique asset to our industry.”

How do you define innovation?
People tend to view innovation as automatically being about creating something ‘new’. Although that can be the case, in my experience, true innovation tends to be markedly more iterative and involves taking something that already exists and imaginatively improving it.

What is the most innovative PR or marketing initiative you've seen over the past 12 months?
The methodology that Blurred launched in April for measuring an organisation's ESGP 'impact gap' is pretty impressive and underlines the extent to which the agency is genuinely straddling communications, sustainability and management consulting.

In your opinion, which brands and/or agencies are most innovative in their approach to PR and marketing?
Lego, Adobe and Greggs all stand out as innovative in their marcomms. From an agency perspective, Lynn, Milk & Honey, Don't Cry Wolf and Razor PR in Johannesburg all make a consistent mark with their NPD/offer development and its marketing.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider to be innovative.
I'm proud of some of the agency thought leadership I've been involved in conceiving and leading over the years, particularly the 'Think Human' platform we developed at Text100/Archetype and the 'Ketchum Leadership Communication Monitor', an annual, global study into public perceptions of effective leadership and effective communication.

Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation? 
It might not sound like innovation in the classic sense, but Russell T. Davies' consistent brilliance as a writer and producer is pretty impressive.

How do you get out of a creativity rut?
A colleague at Ketchum, Ruth Yearley, used to run a brilliant creativity training session on “watching more telly”, consuming more diverse culture and “developing sticky legs like a bumblebee to gather more creative pollen” Inspired by that metaphor, getting away from my desk is the only reliable way to break creative deadlock.

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
I've heard it said that in stand-up comedy, there are no new jokes – just old jokes re-combined. I often think that PR innovation is similar. So rather than obsessing with creating something ‘new’, think about how you can creatively evolve and build on what – and who – has gone before.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing your current job?
I'd ideally be splitting my time between being a film critic and a restaurant critic!

Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has provided inspiration over the past year?
I've recently re-read 'Homo Deus' by Yuval Noah Harari and had forgotten how incredible it was. I'm also a bit of a BBC Radio 4 podcast obsessive, so am constantly plugged into one of 'Analysis', 'The Briefing Room', 'The Long View' or 'The Rest is Politics Leading'.

How can the PR and communications industry harness innovation to make more progress on diversity, equity and inclusion?
At its heart, DEI is about listening and understanding. Innovatively deploying some of the social listening and employee engagement tools that we use with clients in our own backyard should probably be even more of a focus than it currently is.