The Innovation 50: 2015

Once again, PRWeek recognizes the rising stars of tech PR and digital communications in the agency, in-house, and social media sectors.

Go here for individual profiles of these innovators.

Greg Apple
Head of marketing, HelloGbye
Greg Apple intends to grow HelloGbye into "the world’s most loved travel brand" when it launches in the fall. And given his talent for launching new products to market, he’s likely to succeed.

Apple is spearheading the go-to-market strategy and managing the customer experience team to ensure the app, which helps users book and organize travel itineraries, is best in class. His strong sense of understanding sales cycle management, negotiation strategies, and strategic marketing comes from years of sales experience.

Matt Basford
GM, New York, Beyond
Matt Basford is GM of Beyond’s New York office, where the digital consultancy has had its fastest and most impressive period of growth over the past couple of years. Growth is so promising the team recently moved into a new studio.

A star within parent company Next Fifteen Communications Group, Basford is responsible for building a multidisciplinary team, driving business development, and ensuring client satisfaction. Facebook, Google, and Viacom are among Beyond’s clients. Before being picked to lead the office in 2011, he was at sister agency Bite Communications. 

Eitan Bencuya
Head of communications, DoorDash
At The Pramana Collective, Eitan Bencuya learned from three of the best tech PR pros in the consultancy’s heavyweight founders Sean Garrett, Brandee Barker, and Brian O’Shaughnessy.

Now Bencuya, who has also previously worked at Sierra Club and Google, has taken that education to DoorDash, a startup that uses a mobile app to partner with restaurants to execute deliveries in 45 minutes or less. The company has expanded from serving just one major US market to becoming available in 15 cities. Partners so far include The Cheesecake Factory and Asian Box.

Johnny Brackett
Head of comms, Shyp
Johnny Brackett oversees comms for Shyp, a tech startup that picks up, packages, and ships items on-demand. Brackett, who previously worked at Square and TaskRabbit, is responsible for Shyp’s corporate and product comms and executive and customer comms.

His recent work has included leading the external and internal messaging around the company’s decision to transition its couriers to W2 employees, an initiative applauded by Shyp’s marketing head Lauren Sherman.

"Johnny is the sharpest strategic communications pro I have ever met," she says. "He approaches everything in a strategic way."

Obele Brown-West
VP, account management, Piston
After 10 years working across multiple disciplines ranging from marketing to journalism, Obele Brown-West joined digital agency Piston. In just one year, she was promoted from account director to VP, account management.
Brown-West is responsible for leading Piston’s client services group. She has worked on everything from global brand relaunches to SEO projects for major brands such as United Airlines, Mattel, and Marriott.

Prior to joining Piston in 2013, Brown-West was an account director at creative firm McGarryBowen in New York.

Paul Cafiero
Senior manager of corporate communications, Mashable
Paul Cafiero is responsible for growing the presence of Mashable "for the connected generation" in trade and business press.

He was promoted to his current role in March and "has been instrumental in growing Mashable’s presence in the marketplace," says Lexie Riegelhaupt, VP, brand and communications. "He has a great ability to be flexible and forward thinking in a constantly evolving space."

Cafiero was previously at RLM Finsbury (now Finsbury), where he specialized in brand development and crisis communications.

Krista Canfield
VP of communications, Gogobot
When Krista Canfield joined LinkedIn seven years ago, the company had only 200 employees – it now has 6,000. Canfield worked her way up to senior manager, corporate communications for mobile product, before leaving for a company that leverages something she is also passionate about: crowdsourcing.

Gogobot’s travel app helps create a personalized travel planning experience for its 16 million users by combining recommendations and reviews. Canfield is responsible for overseeing media relations, social media, corporate comms, and Gogobot’s Pro program.

Arun Chaudhary
Partner, Revolution Messaging
As the first official videographer for the White House, Arun Chaudhary traveled extensively with President Barack Obama capturing events and behind-the-scenes footage, as well as packaging presidential output for the Web and TV.

Washington-based digital firm Revolution Messaging hired him as senior VP, comms in 2012, where he developed clients’ digital and broadcast plans, trained staffers on constructing messaging for their campaigns, as well as creating videos for clients in his unique way. Two years later, Chaudhary made partner for the creative agency.

Mollie Chen
Editorial director, Birchbox
Former beauty editor Mollie Chen left Condé Nast to become the voice behind Birchbox, which was founded by Hayley Barna and Katia Beauchamp. Birchbox sends its subscribers a box of four to five carefully selected samples of makeup or other beauty-related products monthly.

Chen found herself managing everything from marketing to editorial work for the New York-based online subscription service. She oversees the brand’s online magazine, YouTube channel, social media voice, and marketing copy, and is responsible for management and guiding overall strategy.

Mike Conlow
Technical director, Blue State Digital
Mike Conlow has worked in Democratic political technology since 2006, so it makes sense he joined Blue State Digital as technology strategist a year ago – the agency is dedicated to galvanizing communities around nonprofits and advocacy groups.

There, he designs custom technology solutions for clients, and works closely with Blue State’s national political clients. While serving as deputy CTO for President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, he designed the revenue process that raised over $1 billion for the campaign.

Alan Cooper
Head of communications, Earnest
Former colleagues and clients at LaunchSquad – where Alan Cooper led PR, content marketing, and social media for the agency – rave about his expertise and positive work ethic. Eventually, one of the agency’s clients recruited him as Cooper joined San Francisco- based Earnest, a startup that is shaking up the finance industry by providing low- interest loans to people with little or no credit, in particular recent graduates and young professionals. Cooper recently led messaging around a new student loan refinancing product.

Patrick Evans
Senior marketing manager, (Red)
Formerly an executive in American Express’ digital division, Patrick Evans is seeing red these days – as in (Red), the nonprofit dedicated to helping fight AIDS. He manages the NGO’s Web development and social media agencies, and works with social media content creators and influencers. Evans also collaborated with Apple for Apps for (Red), which integrated (Red) items into apps such as Angry Birds and Clash of Clans. Prior to the nonprofit, he freelanced on digital projects for L’Oréal, TripAdvisor, and YouTube.

Kristine Fasnacht
Head of community management, Reddit
In July, Reddit’s popular no-holds-barred Ask Me Anything sessions – which have attracted newsmakers from actor Channing Tatum to President Barack Obama to many Fortune 500 CEOs – were handed over to Wynter Mitchell. During the AMA blackout process, users were redirected to community manager Kristine Fasnacht, known to the network’s aficionados via the username "krispykrackers."

Her new responsibilities within the organization see her acting as a liaison for all moderators on the platform. Fasnacht served in her most recent role at Reddit since March 2014. Before that, she was a manager of client relations for more than three years.

Darius Fisher
President, Status Labs
Who do you call when you’re facing a digital reputation crisis? Darius Fisher of Status Labs, an Austin, Texas-based online reputation management, digital marketing, and PR firm. Since launching four years ago, the agency has opened up offices in São Paulo, and most recently, New York. As well as delivering second chances to public figures, politicians, and executives, Status Labs serves more than 1,500 clients in 35 countries, polishing up their search results and enabling them to grow sales via effective comms strategies.

Erin Fors
Partner and president, Cutline Communications
Cutline Communications – under the leadership of Erin Fors – has been on fire in the last year, working with some of the coolest Internet brands, such as Yahoo, Polyvore (recently acquired by Yahoo), Yik Yak, and Pebble. The firm supported Pebble’s $20 million Kickstarter campaign this year, the most successful campaign in the crowdfunding platform’s history, and it worked on the launches of Yahoo’s Livetext and Daily Fantasy. Fors not only oversees the New York and San Francisco offices of Cutline, she also acts as head of client service and the agency’s chief culture officer.

Aliza Freud
Founder and CEO, SheSpeaks
Adaptability is what made Aliza Freud and her company SheSpeaks so successful. Launched in 2007, it set out to help brands better understand female consumers and what motivates them. After it began attracting influential bloggers, Freud moved the company beyond providing insights to helping spread the word about products and services. Her base of 250,000 women now helps clients such as Procter & Gamble, Pepsi, and American Express build powerful user con-tent and mass-scale awareness for products in categories from haircare to food.

Anda Gansca
Cofounder and CEO, Knotch
Anda Gansca’s organization, Knotch, is out to revolutionize the way branded content is effectively measured. Knotch aims to replace digital measurement tools such as surveys with a visual interface based on color that gauges consumer sentiment, and then turns responses into data clients can use to track the impact of brand advertising. The company, which is now in beta with companies including Netflix, has raised $4 million from investors such as Greylock and Stanford University, as well as former Facebook US sales chief Tom Arrix.

Josh Ginsberg
CEO and cofounder, Zignal Labs
Josh Ginsberg is a political and public affairs veteran of three presidential campaigns – including a stint as deputy political director for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2006 re-election effort. Leveraging his vast experience, he founded Zignal Labs in 2011 and has grown the company into a leader in delivering insights from big data analytics, real-time media monitoring, and business intelligence. Zignal’s growing list of global customers includes Fortune 50 companies and, last year, the firm secured $10.7 million in Series B funding to continue to create big data solutions for communications professionals.

Ali Grant
Founder and director, Be Social PR
As the founder of boutique agency Be Social, Ali Grant is one of San Diego’s top entrepreneurs. The four-year-old firm represents beauty, lifestyle, and fashion brands such as T3 Micro, Skinfix, prAna, Hello Hair, and ViX Swimwear. Her agency also has a digital influencer management division, which branched off from its core competency in PR and social media about a year ago. It helps bloggers and social media personalities manage their careers and forge brand partnerships.

Callan Green
Director of social media, L’Oréal
Fearless and passionate are just a few adjectives colleagues use to describe Callan Green, the newly minted director of social media at L’Oréal. At the global cosmetics brand, she leverages her experience gained most recently as director of digital strategy for 7th & Wit, J Public Relations’ digital firm that specializes in luxury, lifestyle, beauty, and hospitality. Green’s contributions included optimizing content and editorial voice, managing all client and agency budgets, and hiring and managing a digital team, while developing relationships with new influencers.

Jill Hazelbaker
VP of communications and public policy, Snapchat
It’s been almost a year since Jill Hazelbaker left Google for Snapchat. Her unique experience and political savvy gained at the Internet giant will prove a real asset at the photosharing app as Snapchat plans to curate photos and videos from 2016 presidential candidates while they are on the campaign trail and promote the content to users.

Before Hazelbaker returned to Los Angeles for the Snapchat job, she was in London, responsible for Google’s PR and international comms across Europe, the Middle
East, and Africa.

Rachael Horwitz
Director of technology comms, Facebook
In May, Twitter’s former comms director, Rachael Horwitz, joined social media rival Facebook as director of technology comms. She spent more than four years at Twitter,
during which time the micro-blogging platform launched new services such as video-sharing app Vine and had its much-hyped IPO.

In her role, Horwitz also led the consumer, media, and product PR teams. She will have no shortage of news to promote on behalf of Facebook; the social media giant has
several product launches in the pipeline.

Joakim Leijon
Founder and CEO, Whispr Group
Joakim Leijon took a risk starting Whispr, selling his apartment in Sweden to launch the social intelligence company in New York in 2009.

Since then, the innovator, known for his ability to inspire others and a sixth sense for sales and strategy, has expanded with offices in DUMBO, Oslo, and Stockholm. In March, he merged his firm with Scandinavian analysis company Mediapilot.

Whispr now has more than 100 clients including global brands Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and Mercedes, as well as NGOs and state agencies. Leijon is now spreading the love by lending his experience to startup Tipster as an adviser and investor.

Jeremy Levy
CEO, Indicative
Despite the analytics space being a crowded marketplace, Jeremy Levy cofounded Indicative, a Web and mobile platform that offered a simplified user interface to tap into sophisticated data and a palatable pricing model for clients.

Just one month after its public launch in 2014, the company sewed up $2 million in financing. Turning innovative ideas into reality is Levy’s forte. He cofounded and was CTO of MeetMoi, a mobile dating company with a user base of 10 million, which was acquired by

Olivia Mannix
Cofounder, Cannabrand
Startup comms agency Cannabrand – which is dedicated exclusively to marketing marijuana – is headquartered in Colorado, one of two states that legalized recreational marijuana in 2012. The challenge cofounders Olivia Mannix and Jennifer DeFalco face is how to rebrand the entire pot industry and appeal to successful people of all walks of life, and they’re doing it one project at a time.  

Mindful, a network of dispensaries, hired Cannabrand to modernize its brand. Mannix is also strategic director and cofounder of Marca Strategic, a full-service marketing agency.

Mike Manuel
Senior manager, content marketing and social media, corporate communications, LinkedIn
In his decade-plus at Porter Novelli, Mike Manuel became known for pioneering social media strategy and integration into overarching comms programs.

Some of the clients for which he managed social media content strategies and media production included PlayStation and Yahoo. Less than a year ago, he joined LinkedIn to beef up the social network’s content marketing and social media chops.

Now, Manuel orchestrates key strategies and collaborates with business groups and partners on content ranging from LinkedIn intra-network promotions to media relations.

Joe McCaffrey
Head of social media, Huge
Joe McCaffrey first got his training in social media on the road – quite literally. In a past life, he traveled the globe as a guitarist, and leveraged social platforms to help build buzz about his music. It worked: His band won Yahoo Music’s Who’s Next? competition.  

In 2010, he joined Huge, one of DUMBO’s biggest employers, and has spearheaded social strategies for the likes of Audi, Pepsi, and Samsung. Prior to joining the digital agency, he led influencer outreach at rival DUMBO agency Cake.

Maura McGreevy
SVP, corporate communications, IMG
Maura McGreevy moved over to WME from creative agency Droga5, several months after the former bought a minority stake in the firm in 2013. McGreevy works in corporate communications at IMG, which became an industry behemoth across sports, entertainment, media, and fashion following its purchase in 2014 by WME. Her career initially took off when she joined Thomson Reuters in 2008, where she was quickly promoted through the ranks, ending up as head of the office of the CMO.

Joseph McKeating
President, Pulsar Strategy
Joseph McKeating’s career was on the fast track at agencies such as Rubenstein PR and Prosek Partners.

But after years spent advising friends in the New York startup community, he ventured out with his own digital marketing, PR, and business development firm. Since launching Pulsar Strategy two years ago, he has had no reason to look back, thanks to a full client roster.

McKeating is also a thought leader on startup strategies via teaching stints at
New York University, the Fashion Institute of Technology, and University of Dayton.

Hilary McQuaide
Director of communications, Yik Yak
As an analyst for a venture capital firm, Hilary McQuaide used to hear pitches from startups. Now she helps young upstarts tell their story to various audiences, including potential investors.

After two and a half years as communications lead with Dropbox, she left for Yik Yak, a location-based social messaging app available to about 1,500 college campuses in the US and a handful in the UK, Australia, and Canada. With the $62 million in funding Yik Yik recently raised, it hopes to expand internationally and among post-grad users.

Amanda Miller Littlejohn
Founder, Mopwater Social PR
Amanda Miller Littlejohn is hailed as a powerhouse who moves past the traditional notion of PR professional into the realm of trusted adviser and coach. She has successfully positioned herself as a leading personal branding coach, and her unique home study system, The Branding Box, has been dubbed "PR in a Box."

The former journalist is also CEO of Mopwater Social PR, where she pursues publicity, Web, and social media exposure, and public speaking opportunities for thought leaders, CEOs, and authors.

Jen Nedeau
Director of strategic communications, Bully Pulpit Interactive
At Bully Pulpit Interactive, an agency that has worked for President Barack Obama’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee, Jen Nedeau drives marketing, cultivates new clients, leads business operations, and expands the footprint of the firm’s New York and Washington, DC, offices.

She also operates her own consulting firm, Nedeau Strategies, for venture capital firms, new companies, startups, and nonprofits. Previously, she was at Time Inc., where she worked on digital strategy and PR for Time, Fortune, CNNMoney, and Money.

Erica Orthmann
VP, head of content, LaunchSquad
Since launching a video service in 2008, LaunchSquad’s content marketing and services group has quickly grown, now accounting for 20% of its $14 million revenue.

That is in no small part due to the veteran skills of Erica Orthmann, who has headed up content for the agency since 2011, overseeing a team of editors, writers, and social media marketers across three offices. She is also a VP in the Boston office, running b-to-b and consumer tech accounts.

Mary Osako
SVP, global communications, Activision Blizzard
"I am here to build a world-class communications capability for the company," Mary Osako told PRWeek when she joined videogame developer and distributor Activision in September.

If anyone can do it, it’s Osako, who spent almost five years at Amazon, where she managed comms issues around financial, policy, M&A, and litigation to advertising, operations, and Amazon’s Prime Air drone-delivery service. Reporting to Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, she oversees global communications, ranging from corporate positioning to executive and financial comms.

Patricia Parra
SVP and head of marketing, digital enterprises, NBCUniversal
Former Hulu and Shazam exec Patricia Parra has been tasked by NBCUniversal to lead the marketing, branding, and customer-acquisition strategies for its digital enterprises unit, which is developing direct-to-consumer services.

"Patricia’s insights and leadership will be key to building the new content experiences we hope to offer the next generation of media consumers," said Evan Shapiro, NBCUniversal’s executive VP of digital enterprises when he hired Parra last month. At Shazam, she drove brand vision and crafted marcomms strategies for the music-delivery app.

Chris Penn
VP, marketing technologies, Shift Communications
Self-described as a marketing technologist, Chris Penn started Shift’s marketing technology group and grew the unit by seven staffers.

He prides himself on thinking across different disciplines to develop fresh ideas and insights. So whether he finds creative inspiration from the dojo floor – he’s a martial arts fanatic – or lessons from World of Warcraft, he aims to help clients understand how earned media impacts their marketing efforts.

Penn is also responsible for many of the inbound marketing and lead-gen programs at the agency.

Alan Philips
SVP, brand experience, WeWork

As CMO of Morgans Hotel Group, Alan Philips oversaw branding and marketing for its Delano, Mondrian, Hudson, and Originals brand hotels, including 13 locations across the US and one in Istanbul, Turkey.

He was also responsible for the marketing of food and beverage, as well as managing 15 agencies globally. He’ll be putting all this experience to good use as SVP, brand experience, at WeWork, which he joined in June. The breakout rental provider of shared office space to small companies and technology startups is valued at $10 billion.

Victor Pineiro
VP, social media, Big Spaceship
He may characterize himself as a "reformed screenwriter and documentary filmmaker," but Victor Pineiro leads the content and social media practice at Big Spaceship in DUMBO, with clients including YouTube, Samsung, Google, and Skittles.

He co-created and evolved The Rainbow Skittles’ voice on social media, writing almost every Facebook and Twitter post for its first three years and helping grow Skittles’ audience on Facebook from 3 million to 20 million. As a filmmaker, he is best known for the award-winning documentary Second Skin.

Kevin Platshon
Head of social and content marketing, GoFundMe
Kevin Platshon’s forward-thinking stance made him a 2014 finalist at The Cojones Awards, a global competition that celebrates those who have disrupted the status quo and embraced the role of modern marketer.

He held two roles within camera manufacturer GoPro: senior manager of digital and social marketing and senior manager of CRM and engagement marketing.

Platshon recently took his skills to GoFundMe, where he oversees social media and
content marketing for the crowdfunding platform. Prior to his stint at GoPro, Platshon led digital marketing for Levi Strauss.

Ivan Ristic
President and cofounder, Diffusion
As a PR specialist for the consumer, media, and tech industries, Ivan Ristic is driving
Diffusion forward in the US with client and award wins.

He first launched in his native London in 2008. Three years later, he opened in New York. The firm has had some big client wins, including financial management app Moven and Elemental Path for its CogniToys line. The agency has also helped relaunch, position the Financial Times as a serious digital player, and drive blogger engagement for CNBC.

Win Sakdinan
Global client lead, Twitter
The CPG industry got a shock in July when the longtime Procter & Gamble marketer turned associate director of comms and social media announced his departure to Twitter.

Win Sakdinan spent 21 years at P&G, spending time at its European headquarters as external relations manager for laundry products, before moving back to the US for his most recent role. As Twitter’s global client lead, the challenge Sakdinan faces is a big one: How to generate more dollars without alienating users with too many ads.

Andre Sala
Head of content strategy, Vine
Vine, the video app owned by Twitter, hired André Sala as head of content strategy more than a year ago – and the decision paid off pretty quickly. Vine Kids, launched in January, was his idea. The app offers short videos of animated characters kids can watch without parents having to worry about the content.

Previously, as director of digital content syndication and mobile development at Showtime Networks, he built up a portfolio of projects including webisodes for TV shows including Dexter and Homeland.

Smita Saran
Head of corporate communications, StubHub
Since 2013, Smita Saran has managed and driven all strategies related to product, technology, and corporate issues for StubHub, an online marketplace for ticket buyers and sellers owned by eBay.

She came to StubHub from contacts app Brewster, which she joined nine months prior to its public launch to build a brand identity, messaging, and marcomms strategy. Her PR career got off the ground at Edelman, where she worked as an account executive for almost five years.

Emily Schildt
Cofounder, Bitten
What started out as a passion project for Emily Schildt and Naz Riahi quickly became a huge success. Bitten, a creative marketing firm and conversation platform for innovation in food, held its inaugural conference in 2015 and garnered more than 50 million media impressions. That’s because of the innovative TED Talks-style model dreamed up by cofounders Schildt and Riahi.

Previously, Schildt served as director of digital engagement at Chobani, where she created and led the social media team, which acted as an internal agency for the brand.

Matthew Scott
SVP, strategic development, Crowdtap
Forbes named Crowdtap one of its Most Promising Companies two years running for the organization’s marketing software platform that helps brands interact with
social media followers via online games, surveys, and contests.

And its SVP Matthew Scott is one of the tech industry’s most-promising young
talents, says the company’s cofounder and former CEO Brandon Evans. Scott leads all revenue strategy and operations, including sales, business development, and strategic partnerships. Prior to Crowdtap, Scott was part of the founding team and business development lead at AdSafe Media (now Integral Ad Science), a display advertising technology platform.

Katie Soo
Head of social media strategy, Hulu
As head of social media strategy at Hulu, Katie Soo is a leader of digital innovation. She is best known for her proven track record in launching large-scale, data-driven campaigns to power brand initiatives and drive customer acquisition.

At Hulu, she hired a team to scale up its social media vision and oversees multimillion-dollar budgets for operations and creative development. Previously, she worked at Dollar Shave Club, where she built a social media and digital marketing roadmap that included creating a video to explain the brand’s purpose, which garnered over 7.6 million views.

Alex Taub
Cofounder, SocialRank
Alex Taub is the mastermind behind SocialRank, launched two years ago, which helps companies understand their social media followers. It gives them three key metrics about their followers on Twitter and Instagram, including "most valuable," "most engaged," and "best followers."

With a tech mind and business acumen, it’s no surprise Taub previously led business development and partnerships for online integration at payments startup Dwolla, as well as Aviary, another startup that provided a photo-editing API for Web and mobile devices, which was later acquired by Adobe. He’s also an adviser for Vaizra Investments, a seed stage VC fund.

John Yembrick
Social media manager, NASA
John Yembrick left a director’s position at the space agency’s Ames Research Center to lead NASA’s social media efforts.

He has leveraged emerging technologies to help advance the organization’s outreach activities and reach new audiences. One of his big ideas includes creating NASA Socials, which provides active social media users with an in-person experience that goes behind the scenes.

He also leads a team of social media specialists across 10 NASA field centers that oversee almost 500 social media accounts.

Paull Young
Strategic partnerships, Instagram
Paull Young joined Instagram in January 2015 and he works with strategic partners to create activations on the social-sharing site in categories such as media, fashion, and art. His new position ended his five-year tenure at Charity: Water, where he pioneered a peer-to-peer fundraising effort that generated more than $37 million in donations.

He was also responsible for the charity’s Web, social media, and mobile channels. Young left Sydney in 2007 for the US, after having launched one of Australia’s most influential PR and marketing blogs, Young PR.

Katy Zack
Communications director, xAd
Katy Zack has often worked on the cusp of emerging technology such as online video and social media.

At xAd, she is immersed in mobile advertising for the late-stage startup, which has so far provided its location-based technology platform for such brands as Columbia Sportswear, Toyota Scion, and Pinkberry.

New York-based Zack manages a multidisciplinary team that oversees PR, marketing content, company messaging, online campaigns, and social media. She previously had stints at Critical Mass and AKQA.

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