Ruth Jones | The Innovator 25 EMEA 2023

Ruth Jones




“The essence of innovation is doing something that your competitors are unwilling or unable to do. Ultimately, it’s about creating new value – and instigating a change for the better.” 

In 2021, seasoned B2B comms specialist Ruth Jones, the former MD of Team Lewis and a board director at Speed, set up 3THINKRS to challenge and transform traditional agency norms. Rather than competition, collaboration and the sharing ideas, resources and knowledge are key to her vision – not only within her own business, but with fellow agencies and newcomers to the industry. Putting this into action, Jones founded the Thinkrs and Inkrs Training Academy, bringing together a cross-agency cohort to explore and share learnings from the PR and marketing sector, discuss best practice and build networks. To date, sessions have been led by more than 30 practitioners across a broad range of PR and marketing disciplines have shared their knowledge, free of charge, and the academy has trained more than 200 individuals from 45 different agencies and in-house roles. In the same spirit of this open-source training academy, 3THINKRS – named as PRovoke Media’s EMEA new consultancy of the year for 2023 – recently launched an interactive B2B Marketing & Sales Events Hub: a resource to help marketing teams to meet their sales and business objectives.

How do you define innovation?
For me, the essence of innovation is doing something that your competitors are unwilling or unable to do. It might be reimagining the traditional approach to doing something. Or it could be launching a service that is truly the first of its kind. Ultimately, it’s about creating new value – and instigating a change for the better.

What is the most innovative PR or marketing initiative you've seen over the past 12 months?
Orange’s campaign to overturn prejudices in women’s football is a great example of the innovative use of technology in a marketing campaign. Ahead of the Women’s World Cup, Orange released a never-before-seen compilation of action, seemingly from the men's 'Equipe de France'. However, it quickly reveals itself to be footage of moves from the women’s ‘Bleues', retouched using visual effects. The campaign elegantly highlights a gender bias issue that needs addressing but does so in a non-confrontational way.

In your opinion, which brands and/or agencies are most innovative in their approach to PR and marketing?
Starbucks is one brand that stands out to me. Its innovation in customer experience and desire to create a ‘third place’ between work and home is consistently cascaded throughout its marketing channels. It’s the straightforwardness of its customer service and marketing ideas that I find quietly inspirational. For example, its signature concept of asking baristas to write customers’ names on cups was simple and easy to implement. Yet it’s an idea that continues to create talkability to this day. Similarly, its social campaigns – like #WhatsYourName – go viral because they connect directly to issues that matter to consumers.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider to be innovative.
Within our industry, there’s the perennial challenge of a mid-level talent gap. It’s an issue that every agency struggles with each year. And the lack of internships and entry-level programmes offered at the height of PR cutbacks during the pandemic has exacerbated the shortage even more. Most agencies grapple with the problem, but don’t think of investing in structured training programmes. I wanted to buck that trend at 3THINKRS and offer the best induction we could for our first and second intakes of new starters. I believed it was imperative for the training to be delivered by a deep bench of industry practitioners: strategists, writers, and creatives. And I thought it would be remiss if we didn’t open out this fantastic opportunity for the rest of the industry to benefit too. It was our way of giving back, and pushing against the closed-door approach that can stifle would-be newcomers to PR. We invited a wealth of agency and in-house leaders to join the cause – and the response was an emphatic “yes!”. Some even jumped in to help us with the organisation (big thanks to AxiCom and Fight or Flight!). Ultimately, more than 80 trainees across 37 agencies benefited. We supplemented the programme with a week-long onboarding bootcamp at Center Parcs for 3THINKRS’ second intake of starters. It was an ‘out there’ idea, but one that has illustrated how taking a different approach can result in a great working culture.

Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation? 
Our base in B2B tech means I get to collaborate with innovative leaders every day – most of them working to solve economic, environmental, and societal problems. It’s hard to single out one leader as more inspirational than the others! But I can say it’s an honour to be part of the journey for many of our clients. For example, Fundamentals is helping to electrify the grid. Informatica is bringing data to life with its AI-Powered Cloud Platform. And GoodShape is helping to solve the UK’s productivity problem with a data-led approach to occupational health.

How do you get out of a creativity rut?
I find that creativity arrives at unexpected moments. Most of my more off-the-wall ideas come when I am not supposed to be thinking about work. My ‘bonkers idea’ of how to onboard our new graduate intake came during a box fit class. I thought: “wouldn’t it be great if you could coach wellbeing, resilience, and PR skills all at the same time, in a setting that provides access to nature and outdoor activities…”. That’s when the idea to invite the team to Center Parcs for the first week of our six-month new starter training programme came to life.

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
If you are looking to change how you deliver client work, the quickest and most effective way to innovate is within accounts. Pick a handful of hero accounts, where the client lead and the agency lead are ambitious. Then use the results to encourage others to want the benefit of that change too. Trying to cascade a theoretical change is much harder.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing your current job?
I was forced to reconsider my career 15 years ago. I was advised not to spend a lot of time on computers due to a vertigo diagnosis. Back then, the options that came to mind were running a yoga retreat or a wellbeing fitness camp with my twin sister. I liked the appeal of something that challenges you physically, while being a vocation where you’d still get that ‘team’ feeling – like you do in the agency world.

Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has provided inspiration over the past year?
Three things: The Art of Saying No, Miracle Mornings, and the Guinness Book of World Records. My inspiration comes from how people have improved themselves. Or changed industries. Or broken new records!

How can the PR and communications industry harness innovation to make more progress on diversity, equity and inclusion?
Ideas like our academy will help here. By providing an open-door policy to training, you can ensure you will reach more people – and from more diverse backgrounds. Not only will the industry benefit from a better-trained workforce, and less skills shortage, but the untapped potential of a wealth of new ideas and perspectives.