It’s our 50th anniversary year in the UK at Hill+Knowlton Strategies and, in celebration, we recently spent a morning at the British Library holding our Creativity+ symposium; this year themed around the word ‘Opportunity’. With over 200 of our clients, friends and colleagues, as well as our new global CEO AnnaMaria DeSalva and Mark Read, the CEO of WPP, we lost ourselves in fresh, diverse, inspiring and forward-thinking stories told about opportunity and its ability to transform business, society and people’s lives.
This was not a symposium many might imagine from one the UK’s biggest PR agencies – there was no mention of the future of media relations, the changes that influencer marketing is driving into communications, nor any kind of vortex about the future of the UK post Brexit. No, this was different. This event encouraged us to consider how every challenge can be turned into an opportunity, with a truly diverse variety of voices sharing their emotional stories of how they had done just that. These inspirational individuals reminded us of what PR really is: storytelling. Today’s PR expert is the agile partner helping brands grow, evaluating risk, building reputation and ultimately, telling their stories in a changing world.
Mark Read spoke of the opportunity to transform the future of brands by thinking like the creators who have dared to imagine and build gardens in the sky, like New York City’s High Line. Our panel from Spotify, DAZN, Activision, Snapchat and Dolby debated the future of technology and the coincidence of content and entertainment allowing consumers to live their passions. We imagined the future of storytelling using AR, VR and XR as we announced REALITY+, our new partnership with technology firm Happy Finish. And our emotions were tugged as Ben Ryan, father and the founder of Ambionics, took us through the story of how he battled for and invented an extraordinary new prosthetic arm for his son, which he is now taking to the wider world.
Our symposium culminated with a session around transforming your own life – and the opportunities set before us even through ongoing uncertainty. Louise Troen spoke articulately about personal brand and how she lives day-to-day as the personification of Bumble. We were also joined on stage by Charlie Martin, the transgender professional racing driver, who told her story of endeavour and success to Jon Holmes, homepage editor of Sky Sports.
This section of the morning really made me pause and take stock. Society is evolving, the workplace is changing, and organisations are striving to ensure that diversity, equality and chances for all flourish as quickly as possible. At H+K we have defined this through our EquALL programme, probably the most passionately attended and advocated programme inside our UK business. It was here in these sessions at Creativity+Opportunity that I realised our agency really is living and breathing a more diverse and more equal culture; something I’m incredibly proud of and committed to developing even further.
And finally, we celebrated our own 50th year project, Doors of Opportunity. A project in which we had commissioned 12 female artists to paint the doors of our meeting rooms to tell stories inspired by the lives of the authors the rooms are named after. There, debating feminism in art and the growing but still underrepresented group of female artists in the world, were art critic Naomi Polonsky and three of the young female artists who had so positively and creatively brought our meeting room doors to life. A physical project with a strong metaphorical message – that opportunity is available to all and that the doors of opportunity in business, society and life are there for all those who wish to push them open.
The emotional electricity in the room all morning was palpable. Here was a symposium that showed the changing and confident nature of PR, now developing as one of the most agile, dynamic and valuable forms of communication across marketing services. I was not only proud, I was simply blown away by the conversations, the intensity and the sense of opportunity that was manifest in the room. Creativity, that undeniable notion of a spark or a great idea, had combined with the future direction of our society and given us the opportunity to define an even better future as we look ahead to the next 50 years.
Watch this short film to learn more about our Doors of Opportunity initiative in celebration of H+K’s 50th year in London.