Safiya U. Noble | The Innovator 25 Asia Pacific 2018
Charting the future of public relations
Innovator 25 NA Safiya Noble

Safiya U. Noble 

Assistant Professor     

University of Southern California   
Los Angeles    

“I think people are compelled when they see social progress, rather than when they are distracted with campaigns that generate mindless consumption.”
At a time when PR crises have become synonymous with poor corporate ethics, there’s increasing pressure on CCOs to take a more active role as an organization’s change and empathy agent. Amid this, Safiya Umoja Noble has sounded the alarm that doing this might be even more difficult because emerging technologies, like artificial intelligence, mean that people no longer have the agency to make good ethical decisions. Her recent book Algorithms of Oppression, shows how negative biases against women of color are embedded in search engine results and algorithms.

In what area(s) does the PR need to innovate the most? 
Diversity, management 

How would you describe the communications/PR industry's level of innovation compared to other marketing disciplines? 
More innovative then other marketing disciplines 

Where is the PR industry's greatest opportunity for taking the lead on innovation? 
Industry diversity and equal pay  

Who most influences how innovative a brand's engagement is? 
Advertising agency 

How do you define innovation? 
I find the most innovative people to be the most in tune with society and a range of complex problems that have yet to be solved. I think people are compelled when they see social progress, rather than when they are distracted with campaigns that generate mindless consumption.

What is the most innovative comms/marketing initiative you've seen in the last 12 months?
#MeToo #BlackLivesMatter #WomensMarch #MarchForOurLives

In your opinion, what brands and/or agencies are most innovative around PR and marketing? 
I think intersectional grassroots community organizations are doing the most interesting work in the world right now

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider 'innovative.' 
I worked in public relations and advertising for nearly 15 years before leaving corporate America and going back to school to earn a Ph.D. I think learning how to both critique my former career, and train the next generation of communications professionals based on my experience is one of the most innovative career moves I've ever made.

Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation?  
Ava Duverney

How do you get out of a creativity rut? 
I drink wine with girlfriends or I have a power-writing session with a trusted colleague.

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation? 
I think the industry is often looking up to leadership for approval, rather than speaking to people most affected by a company. I think we should talk to people who are harmed or experts and critics to learn and improve, rather than hold them at arms’ length and pretend they don't exist. The best learning comes through careful study and difficult conversations. The industry does not allow for enough time for professionals to remain engaged in life-long learning on difficult topics, and you cannot innovate for a lifetime when there is no time to read research, fiction, and discuss to sharpen your mind. I've seen a lot of people stop learning and try to implement ideas based on an education that is out of date and inconsistent with the times.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing your current job? 
I would likely be working in the entertainment industry.

Favorite book/movie/podcast/article that's not directly related to PR/marketing/business? 
Books: Naomi Klein's "No Logo," and "The Shock Doctrine, and I'm currently reading Brittany Cooper's "Eloquent Rage" Films: "The Matrix," "Black Panther," and the documentary "We're Not Broke"