The Innovator 25 Liv Buli
Charting the future of public relations

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The Innovator 25: Phil Gomes

SVP of digital at Edelman since 2008
Chicago
Influence & Engagement for 12 - 20 years

"Public relations must adopt some elements of the hacker ethic if it is to remain at all vital or even important over the long term. This ethic that drove much of the creation of the modern networked age — a recognition of the limits of centralized, authoritative control — has yet to permeate our trade to any real degree."

For co-founding the Facebook Group Corporate Representatives for Ethical Wikipedia Engagement to steer the public relations industry towards responsible engagement on Wikipedia that’s actually community-centric. For creating the “Belt System” — like in martial arts — that puts people through a series of learning modules that covers everything from online conversations, search, basic online citizenship, planning and strategy (with earning a belt being tied to promotions). And for embracing open-source and hacker culture as a critical piece of PR’s future — including allowing information to flow freely, promoting decentralization and making communities more accessible.

 

In what area of marketing/PR do you see the most innovation?
Planning & analytics

How would you describe the communications/PR industry’s level of innovation?
The marketing/pr services industry, in general, needs to draw a distinction between “innovation” and merely “those moments when we show our own industry the right way to do things.” There’s no slouch in the latter at all; any company that shows others “the way” most certainly deserves to be recognized. However, I feel that the industry will become truly innovative when it starts to build and (as one should hope) own truly new categories that expand the role that communications and marketing plays.

Where do you see the greatest opportunity for marketing & PR to become more innovative?
The opportunities for innovation that most excite me are at the intersection of online culture, corporate communications, and regulated environments.

Who most influences how innovative a brand’s marketing/PR is?
I am a passionate proponent of Carlson’s Law, named for Dr. Curtis Carlson of SRI International (former client) and articulated by NYT’s Thomas Friedman: “Innovation that happens from the bottom up tends to be chaotic but smart. Innovation that happens from the top down tends to be orderly but dumb.” Productive innovation needs both perspectives.

"Some believe that a ‘mobile strategy’ can be solely executed on Facebook and Twitter. That’s fine advice if you’re comfortable with a social network’s executives and shareholders dictating the sole terms of your communications with your desired audiences."

How do you define innovation?
Innovation is a process (not an event or occurrence, but a *process*) by which a unique, non-obvious solution to a current or foreseeable problem is developed, deployed, and iterated.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider ‘innovative.’
In partnership with our MIS group, it was when we created a distance-learning curriculum and method for Edelman employees (and, eventually, clients) that blended open-source and commercial software, as well as some pretty interesting hacks. This experience transformed how the firm thinks about learning and inspired my “Hacking PR” approach, which has consumed quite a bit of my published output in the past several months.

How do you get inspired?
I read everything. It’s getting to be pretty ridiculous now. My brain is a kind of stomach for news and information. I also actively try to read opinion and commentary that I know I’m likely to disagree with, which only adds to my “stack.” Feedly, Instapaper, Yahoo Pipes, and my Kindle are indispensable.

Advice for people seeking to bring new ideas, ways of doing things to their organizations?
Combine total fearlessness with a focus on problem-solving, self-awareness and intellectual honesty. Force your organization to challenge its own assumptions.

In your opinion, what’s the most innovative place in the world? This could be a city, a venue, a neighborhood, etc.
I will always consider Silicon Valley my “career home,” though I kind of wish the storied region (and the press that covers it) would refocus on world-changing, foundational technologies. These days, I’m really intrigued by what Zappos’ Tony Hsieh is doing with The Downtown Project in Las Vegas. That’s not an endorsement–there’s certainly a lot to criticize as well as praise–but rather an expression of a deep curiosity about whether such a grand vision will work in the long term and what it could teach us about growth, renewal, culture, public/private partnership, innovation, and citizenship.

What’s your favorite time of day and why?
Our house has a small balcony just off of the kitchen. When I get home, my daughter sometimes yells “I call Deck Time!” and we spend some time on the balcony, sharing a small snack before dinner.