Jeri Ward | The Innovator 25 Americas 2017
Charting the future of public relations

2017 Innovator 25 Americas - Jeri WardThe Innovator 25:

Jeri Ward

SVP/Chief Communications Officer 
Audi of America
Herndon, VA 

“We will see more industry innovation in the next decade than in the last 100 years.”

Two years ago, Ward became the first female SVP/CCO at Audi of America. Earlier this year, Ward was at the helm of communications when the brand put a stake in the ground around gender equality with the "Daughter" Super Bowl ad that unleashed unexpected backlash. Ward navigated the stage as Audi looked to take a stand on an issue that would certainly define a generation in the era of #MeToo. 

How do you define innovation?
At Audi, we say: we don’t innovate because we need to; we innovate because we want to. We innovate because we know there’s a better idea out there, and we want it to come from us. I define innovation as the unrelenting desire to always challenge the status quo.

What is the most innovative comms/marketing initiative you've seen in the last 12 months?
My PR agency of record PMK*BNC created of the more inspiring stories I've seen in the past year. Through social media and influencer relations, the team found a young couple whose vehicle had broken down on the side of the road hundreds of miles from their wedding destination. Through teamwork, we rallied in less than 12 hours and hand delivered them an all-new Audi Q7, allowing the couple to arrive to their wedding on time. The story was covered by national news outlets and exploded over social media. It was a reminder that a simple act of kindness and an authentic connection to a brand can drive millions of impressions. And do some good, too!

In your opinion, what brands and/or agencies are most innovative around PR and marketing?
The integrated agency group we have at Audi of America is one of the most innovative teams in the business.  Together, they work across digital, social, traditional and new media, to bring fresh thinking and award-winning campaigns. Having a great product doesn’t hurt, of course! But they constantly push us to think bigger, think differently and never settle. That’s innovation.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider 'innovative.'
Right Now!  We are changing the conversation about our industry. As we enter what some call the “third wave” of the technological revolution, the auto industry again finds itself at the center of it all. What fuels and drives mobility and how we interact with our vehicles as they interact with the world around them is all being redefined. We will see more industry innovation in the next decade than in the last 100 years. To continue this pursuit of progress we have to maintain a flow of new and different ideas, as well as relevant and engaging ways to communicate this great change.

Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation? 
I admire my good friend Jim Platzer. His story still inspires me today. After a medical condition left him blind, Jim didn’t give up – he has continually reinvented.  Jim innovated his way around his misfortune and came out on top. I’ve been fortunate to work with him on the Creating Audi Fans dealer program, and witnessed how his story inspired thousands. Since, Jim has run marathons, drove an Audi R8, and even flew and landed a plane. Innovation comes from problem solving, and often, how one reacts to adversity.

How do you get out of a creativity or productivity rut? 
I stop looking for answers and instead live the question. When you live the question and embrace the possibilities and the uncertainty, then creativity has space to come to life. If everything is already certain and determined, then there is no room for creativity.

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
Reaching your target audience has never been more diversified. You can no longer reach everybody with the same message. To be successful today, you have to understand the niche audiences that exist, not only in media, but on the ground where people work, live and play. Connecting with people on a personal level has never been more important. PR must find ways to authentically resonate individually with audiences while also supporting the national brand message.

In your opinion, what's the most innovative place in the world? 
A children's mind. The imagination, creativity and innovation of children never ceases to amaze me. As adults, many have built up so many walls in our minds based on constructs and assumptions, that we limit our ability to innovate.

What's your favorite hobby that's not work-related? 
Besides running or training at the gym, my current obsession is my log cabin in Virginia. Learning to chop and stack wood, exploring the Shenandoah National Park on hiking trails, reading by the fireplace, no internet! – back to the basics.  It challenges me in a whole new way and forces me to reflect and recharge.