Seth Duncan | The Innovator 25
Charting the future of public relations
SethThe Innovator 25:

Seth Duncan

Managing Director and Chief Analytics Officer, W2O Group
San Francisco

Planning/Research/Analytics
Recognized for applying analytics to a broad set of use-cases, spanning product development, design, content and media relations. And for helping to build one of the most forward-thinking analytics offerings in the industry. 

Where does the PR industry need to innovate the most?
About the same as other marketing disciplines. There seems to be a false-belief that PR is behind other disciplines when it comes to integrating data and technology to make their practice more modern. The truth is that every discipline is struggling to make sense of their role in a world where anyone can be an influencer and people consume content at their own convenience (just watch how advertisers are struggling with declines in linear TV viewership).  

When it comes to my own specialty, research & analytics, I think that the PR industry has an innovative edge in that there aren’t many entrenched models to disrupt. It’s harder to be disruptive in traditional advertising right now than it is in PR, for example. Impressions and GRPs served advertising pretty well for a few decades.

I’m less sure that anything has ever worked that well for PR from an analytics or measurement perspective. Consequently, nearly everyone in PR is open to new ways of thinking about how data and analytics can help them with their job.

How innovative do you think the PR industry currently is?
To think outside of the boundaries that PR has traditionally lived within and not be afraid to overlap with or step on the toes of marketing, advertising, consumer insights, etc.

What is most important for the PR industry to do to foster more innovation?
Change the industry culture.

The most innovative PR/communications campaign in the last 12 months?
I think that the most innovative work in PR is happening below the surface of, or even across campaigns (e.g., in public affairs or in developing strong influencer –content syndication networks).

That being said, I like campaigns that leverage social trends in creative ways. The Salvation Army’s Black and Blue campaign and Kingsford’s #PayEd campaign are my favorite examples on opposite ends of the important/impactful  ridiculous/entertaining spectrum.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider to be 'innovative.'
The first few times that my team and I used digital/web analytics to address earned media strategies for B2B companies like FICO, Cisco and Sybase stand out to me (this was back in 2008-2009). We were doing all of these complicated site tagging technologies to understand what types of websites, audiences and content were driving business value for these companies through unpaid means. 

It was completely bizarre to PR folks back then but has slowly become mainstream.  These projects were by no means the most innovative work that I have done. They didn’t have massive long-term impact on these businesses and you have to have impact to be innovative. 

It was a defining turning point for my career in PR, however, and it set my standards for innovation moving forward. It was when I learned that, to get my clients where they need to be, I’d have to ignore unnecessary boundaries that exist PR and other marketing functions.

How do you inspire innovation within yourself or to your team? 
I cheat by surrounding myself with people that don’t know any other way to be.

What’s the most innovative place in the world?
The San Francisco Bay Area. This place has a long history of disregarding convention to solve big problems. I think it’s in the soil here.

What's your favorite time of day?
Right around 3:00 or 4:00 PM Pacific (my local) Time, when the East Coast starts winding down. It’s a really peaceful time in my office and easily my most productive time of the day.