Gail Heimann | The Innovator 25
Charting the future of public relations
Gail_HeimannThe Innovator 25:

Gail Heimann

President, Weber Shandwick
New York

Management

For being the driver behind Weber Shandwick's formidable digital and creative muscle that has resulted in groundbreaking work like Mattel's #Unapologetic PR effort and Fisher Price's "Best Possible Start" 

Where does the PR industry need to innovate the most?
Feel pretty strongly that real innovation in the PR industry happens when there’s a powerful mash-up of all of the above and an insistent and persistent examination, reexamination and evolution of the approach to fusing the disciplines we deploy to engage people meaningfully.

How innovative do you think the PR industry currently is?
More innovative than other marketing disciplines. When the media world shifted and digital-living became the norm, PR was faced with two choices: innovation or extinction. Most of us chose the former. 

What is most important for the PR industry to do to foster more innovation?
It takes all of the above.  But the lynchpin is people.  Innovation happens when catalysts – courageous thinkers, brave – and loud – voices, relentless challengers-of-the-norm get the leeway and authority to drive change.  So our model, hiring, service offerings and culture need to shift to attract and accommodate “the force for innovation.” 

The most innovative PR/communications campaign in the last 12 months.
Lots of innovation this year.  And it’s always tempting to shower love on the campaigns that use the shiniest new technologies fastest and best. But…I’m partial to innovation born of flipping around convention: a campaign for Salta Beer in Argentina moved to win the hearts of rugby playing beer drinkers by offering to replace the teeth inevitably lost in rugby warfare with beer bottle opening implants.  Innovative dentistry for sure. And a compelling way to create brand love and – dare I say – word-of-mouth.  I also love the less cheeky “Love has no labels” campaign the Ad Council created – for the simple “aha”-invoking idea and its profound statement on humanity. 

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider to be 'innovative.'
Not sure there was a moment or an hour or a day, but – I would say – sometime mid-career I may have had an innovation epiphany of sorts while thinking about a campaign for a [Quick Service Restaurant].  I realized that my highest purpose at that moment was to push for biggest, boldest, most cataclysmic and new idea, I could.  The QSR category remains one that demands challenging the ‘status quo’ to succeed.  I recommend everyone spend a bit of his or her career thinking about burgers, pizza or tacos. 

How do you inspire innovation within yourself or to your team?
Two things:  1) full-on immersion in all things mind-altering aka don’t observe culture, stay in it and 2) listening.  1) We have to immerse ourselves in innovation – and ideas – in whatever form it exists; we’ve got to pull our heads out of the everyday business “stuff” and be part of culture: soak up visual and performance art and music, science and technology. 

And we’ve got to marry the “stuff” we’re seeing and experiencing with what we’re trying to solve for our clients.   2) And we’ve got to listen to the people around us and in our social sphere.  Innovation is irrelevant if it doesn’t touch people’s lives meaningfully.

In your opinion, what's the most innovative place in the world?
I am pretty jingoistic about NY.  There are places and spaces that bespeak innovation around the world – Shanghai pulses with ideas and palpable energy for all things new; Tel Aviv is an intoxicating mix of ancient culture and ritual and no-holds-barred creativity and invention.  But – at the end of the day or night – there is no place that stimulates, drives and embraces change better or faster than NY.

What's your favorite time of day and why?
Early morning.  With our pugs (the most innovative of dog breeds IMHO).   The calm  -- at 6:30 am-ish -- is good for reflection.  And the pugs are super supportive of all my ideas.