Gail Heimann
Weber Shandwick

By Gail Heimann, President, Weber Shandwick


You might have just missed THE NEXT BIG THING.

A technology sweeping up gobs and gigs of data and in mere seconds belches out a full-on genius idea.

An influencer with outsized sartorial gifts drives millions to buy a product that promises a perfect pout and a fairy tale lifestyle.

A popular health expert tweets that sunshine damages children’s eyes – causing panic and hordes of blindfolded children in the streets.

These are not just things to wonder or gasp about. As public relations professionals, we carry a responsibility: to push beyond simply bearing witness to change, to shun bystanding as these shifts happen, and to guard against clinging to past formulae.

Our position at the epicenter of change – in technology, media, geopolitics, the commerce infrastructure, generational attitudes and culture – affords us not just a vantage point but a launch pad from which to make a profound difference for clients and our teams.

But it’s tricky, because we can’t lose sight of the long game. Reputation and brand-building for clients takes years and our colleagues’ careers should be carefully nurtured over time.

I believe the vision of PR professionals has never been more vital or indispensable to business and society. But our success will come from finding a balance between the push of the everything-changes-every-nanosecond swirl and the pull of the long term play – the masterfully honed approach to building things that endure.

We are the new breed of futurist, fearlessly embracing and inventing the new while thoughtfully applying time-honored wisdom and insight to address significant challenges.

PR today demands “fearless futurism.” Here are its critical components:

Cerebral ambidexterity. It used to be ok to be right brained or left. But to understand and create the best team for a given situation, we’ve got to work all our brain muscles. This is not about clinging to the middle ground, but recognizing and nurturing the critical symbiosis between quantity and quality.

Ethics above all. New technologies beget new rules and new ways to breach them. Much has been studied and hypothesized about the erosion of trust and the proliferation of ill-intentioned content from questionable sources – human or other.

The PR profession must set and adhere to standards, work with clients to communicate those standards, educate and re-educate our teams, and support the media’s efforts to build public understanding about the ethical creation and distribution of news and information.

Inclusion is everything. We are super-powered when we create working environments in which everyone has a voice, everyone is part of the process and feels included.

We must pull apart anything that threatens true inclusivity and work relentlessly to ensure our teams reflect our diverse country. It takes planning and commitment. It means measuring our progress and holding leadership accountable. It takes vigilance. Our industry’s future depends on it.

Think. It seems obvious. But when speed is everything, acquiring knowledge sometimes gets shortchanged. Groupthink can develop, diluting strategy and muddying the hard edge of ideas, when we don’t encourage individual perspectives.

We need to model “thinking” behavior every day and remind our colleagues that it is the essence and the endgame of what we do and why clients hire and value us.

Do good. We have the advantage of existing in that part of a global Venn diagram where everything intersects. It gives us the distinct opportunity to observe, predict and, importantly, take action on some of the most significant issues in the world on behalf of our clients.

As our industry grows – and we work to move our clients’ and our own organizations forward – we should continue to try and make a positive difference in our communities and in the world around us.

We are thrust into the heart of the world’s most profound juxtapositions every day: humanity and technology; art and science, quality and quantity to name just a few.

It is an adrenaline rush and a privilege. It is the mission-critical balancing act that defines and propels the public relations profession. I, for one, am thrilled to be caught in the balance.

To hear more, listen to Gail Heimann’s episode on the Agencies of the Future podcast.