I was thrilled last week to be included in a prestigious list of PR and comms people who are innovating in many different ways to effect change in our industry and beyond. Every year global communications publisher The Holmes Report produces rankings for the Americas, Asia and EMEA and the EMEA #Innovator25 list includes several people I have been lucky enough to meet during my career, and some (Greta) who I will always admire from afar.
Here is the profile which accompanies my place in the list. I credit my inclusion to the work that my co-founder George and I along with our partners in the business have achieved.
Nicky Regazzoni had worked at several big London agencies, including running global accounts for the likes of Philips, Hitachi and Sun within Citigate Dewe Rogerson’s tech practice, before she met George Blizzard, then also a tech PR specialist at Bite. The pair clicked instantly, wanted to work differently, and spotted an opportunity to service clients through a new kind of agency model by creating a network of senior independent communications professionals managed through a central hub. In 2005, The PR Network – the first global “virtual PR” agency – was born. The network now extends to more than 1,800 senior freelance consultants across 30 countries, working with brands such as SoundCloud, Dropbox, Toyota, Lexus, Sophos, Snapchat, Patagonia, Vodafone, Western Digital and Zipcar, as well as working with entrepreneurs and start-ups such as Peak Labs. Three-quarters of The PR Network’s clients work with Regazzoni and Blizzard in multiple countries. In 2018, the pair – both passionate advocates for flexible working and female leadership – launched and co-chaired a new working group with the PRCA to champion virtual agencies as a credible choice for clients.
In what way(s) does PR/communications need to innovate the most? "There’s a huge amount of innovation already in terms of creative concepts and new platforms. I’d like to see more innovation in the area of measurement – finding a universally accepted way by which to calculate and demonstrate value. Current methods of evaluation are either too basic (crude back of fag packet), or too expensive (third party platforms) which most clients aren’t willing or able to pay for. We are all tired of shunning AVEs and yet having no popular alternative. AMEC is doing good work here, led by industry leaders.
How would you describe the communications/PR industry's level of innovation compared to other marketing disciplines? About the same as other marketing disciplines.
Where is the PR industry's greatest opportunity for taking the lead on innovation? Industry diversity and equal pay.
How do you define innovation? Monitoring socioeconomic and cultural trends and innovating around them in terms of initiatives or platforms that your agency or brand can become known for, rather than one-off campaigns for a short-lived splash.
What is the most innovative comms/marketing initiative you've seen in the last 12 months? The HSBC campaign (Weber Shandwick & That Lot) using deepfake tech, where a “fake” Rachel Riley claimed she was bad at maths to show consumers their risk from identity theft. Personal finance isn’t the most sexy topic, but the concept was so clever in using technology as an integral part of the PR campaign to convey a message.
In your opinion, what brands and/or agencies are most innovative around PR and marketing? Unilever. Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” remains one of the best future-proof brand PR platforms. This year Dove launched Project #ShowUs - a photography campaign encouraging women and non-binary individuals worldwide to send in their selfies to kick against stereotypes of conventional beauty. This was in response to research suggesting over 70% of women don’t see themselves represented in advertising. There are now over 5,000 images in the #ShowUs library.
Describe a moment in your career that you would consider innovative. 2004, when George and I conceived the idea to connect amazing out-of-agency talent with clients when they need it. The PR Network was founded one year later on the back of significant client and industry support.
Most underrated trait in a PR person? Humility. I know so many incredible PR people who don’t even know how bloody good they are at their job. If they realised this and stopped overworking to compensate and prove themselves, I really think we could see a big reduction in the mental health problems caused by work stress, which are pervasive in our industry.
How do you get out of a creativity rut? Never try to force it. I find being outside running or gardening is great for inspiration. Annoyingly, I also often have “big ideas” in my sleep! Whether I can remember them in the morning is another matter…
What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation? I grew up in the tech world where companies are starting, listing, being sold for billions and/or going bust every day. The fast pace showed me that if you have a fresh idea about how to change the way things are traditionally done – or for a new product or service – what’s to lose? This mindset helped George and I go for it when we decided to launch a disruptive agency into a crowded market full of amazing PR firms.
What are you thinking about most these days? Like most of us, the planet. In terms of how climate change is going to affect our children and what we can collectively do to help. In terms of business, we are currently looking at how we can innovate as an agency to minimise our own impact.
What one movie, book, TV show or podcast do you recommend to rent, read or stream tonight? The Freakonomics Radio podcast series from the author of the Freakonomics books, Stephen J. Dubner. Like the books, each episode uncovers weird and wonderful off-piste insights into all manner of topics."