Meet: Marian Salzman, CEO of Havas PR North America

She’s the “Carrie Bradshaw of PR.”

During her two decades in the business, world-renowned trendspotter Marian Salzman has always been leaps ahead. Do you know what “metrosexual” means? You have Marian to thank for that. She also co-founded Cyberdialogue, the world’s first online market research company, and was the first advertising professional to use online focus groups.

Now the CEO of Havas PR North America, Marian leads the agency in deciphering what the future holds and helping craft the next headline for clients. The team is also known for publishing a closely-watched annual trends forecast.

We sat down with Marian in the hopes of cracking the trendspotting code.

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The Mag: How does someone become a trendspotter? Tell us a little bit about your background.

MS: I worked directly for one of the greatest trendsetters in marketing history, the iconoclast Jay Chiat. In essence, Jay taught me to see and think differently, to be one of those “crazies” who has no respect for the norm. Jay was a trendsetter, which I don’t consider myself, but his outlook helped me hone my trendspotter skills.

I plunged in headfirst, talking face to face with trendsetters and recruiting them to work alongside the brands we consulted with, to provide upfront and personal feedback. I married that with routine quantitative studies, always searching for the numbers that popped from the data sets, to help me start painting a story of new directions in consumer attitudes, beliefs, values, and brand and media preferences. Then and now, it is about identifying when and where to anticipate change—and to invent desire.


The Mag: As one of the world’s leading trendspotters, what’s your process for scouting trends and pinpointing which ones will have a significant impact on the industry and society in general?

MS: Good strategic trendspotting requires not only tracking things that are on the radar now, but also developing an intuition about what’s just off the radar. It requires a combination of focusing on what’s front and center and maintaining a constant awareness of what’s flitting in and out of your peripheral vision.

The two parts of trendspotting depend on each other. Part one is defining the trends that will have relevance for 10, 20, even 30 years—the “Future Headlines,” as I call them—such as the “ations”: individualization, globalization, hyperlocalization, digitalization, miniaturization, etc. Part two is packaging the predictions, which is probably where most great trendspotters make their mark. These predictions fuel the story of the future; they are our hunch about where we believe or hope we’re headed.


The Mag: The “ubertrend” for 2016, as picked by Havas PR, is “uneasy street.” How can brands counteract this anxiety and help create a secure future for consumers?

MS: Familiarity feels safe, so watch for nostalgia as one antidote to fear. A second way brands reinforce their relevance to today’s nervous, highly emotive consumers is constant connectivity and a sense that there is safety in the crowd. Today, intimacy—real or faux—makes people feel safer, too, so watch as brands hug their targets and surround their customers.


The Mag: You’re the foreman of the PR Jury at the D&AD Professional Awards this year. What are your expectations for award-worthy PR work?

MS: We’ve seen some amazing storytelling in the past year, including Rogers & Cowan’s work with Caitlyn Jenner and Vice’s evolution from fringe alt publication into a must-read for the creative class.

Creativity is as sexy as ever, but it’s rooted in science: intelligence, data, and, yes, also the unique seductive ways that data can be harnessed. PR is really excelling in using tools to make sure brands and their audience truly connect. As I prepare for being a Pencil juror, I’m feeling pretty good about the creativity I’m seeing out there.


The Mag: Under your leadership, Havas PR has taken on a collaborative working style. What tips do you have for how agencies and individuals can successfully collaborate with one another?

MS: It’s more than just collaborating. It’s about living together. It’s about the PR attitude that our disciplines are a virtual village and we will all benefit from a coherent offer and a strong shared toolbox.


The Mag: You’ve spoken in the past about the fact that PR has largely been dominated by women. In a conversation with PRWeek you commented, “Just like we can’t have science being the domain of men, we can’t have comms jobs the domain of women.” How do you see the industry changing to counteract this gender imbalance?

MS: Life is better when it’s diverse, and this means all genders, races, religions, sexual orientations—you name it. The American PR industry has become so feminized and so politically correct that I worry about where the edge has gone. We have to go out and recruit a diverse workforce that represents the modern mosaic.