Catherine Blades | Influence 100
Charting the future of public relations
catherine-blades-2019-influence-100

Catherine Blades

SVP, Chief ESG & Communications Officer
Aflac
US

 

 

Aflac’s rise from a relatively obscure Atlanta insurance company to a household name owes much to its savvy marketing approach. Just as important, though, is its commitment to an authentic purpose, underpinned by its 24-year focus on paediatric cancer and best illustrated by the My Special Aflac Duck toy robot — which has so far helped more than 4,300 children battle through cancer, by providing emotional support and helping kids open up and communicate through a troubling period.

That campaign, which took Best in Show at the 2018 North American SABRE Awards, is just one example of how Catherine Blades has reshaped Aflac’s purpose strategy, through a series of initiatives that have not been without risk. In the process, Blades has emerged as one of the corporate world’s more thoughtful voices on brand purpose and social good, while helping to deliver impressive business results.

Blades joined Aflac in 2014, after senior roles at Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Flextronics.

Can you share a moment in your career when you saw PR's direct impact on business performance?
Every day!

What do you love about this industry?
The people!

What most frustrates you about this industry?
The lack of understanding/awareness of the complexity of what we do by others.

What are the communications industry's biggest challenges and opportunities?
Tying the successes of the function to business successes.

How do you relax or change pace when you're not at work?
Oh dear - if only I knew how to do that!

Can you share a book/movie/TV show/podcast that teaches a valuable lesson about PR?
On a plane recently, I recently a documentary on Elizabeth Holmes of Thernos and it touched on everything anti-PR that will destroy a business, including a lack of authenticity, an absence of ethics, and a complete disregard for transparency.

If I wasn't working in marketing/communications, I would be...
Is there anything else?