Born: New Ash Green, UK, followed by an early childhood in Amman, Jordan
Worked in: Shanghai and London
Name an innovative idea or business solution for which you are most proud. I was fortunate to developing an exclusive relationship with the Design Lab — the commercial arm of St. Martin’s College of Art and Fashion, as part of our Communications Planning offering. We did this 18 months ago, as we realized that to be constantly innovative we needed expertise from a wide range of places — fashion, architecture, animation, etc and the Design Lab gives us that.
Why do people see you as an innovator? I think that being an innovator is a given for anyone involved in Communications Planning. We are not in the old binary world of media anymore, which focused on black-and-white answers. The new world is all about questions and fresh curious perspectives. I also believe that innovation is a collective responsibility – it’s less about having individual “innovators” but more about making sure the right people, tools and processes are in place to drive innovation everywhere.
What role does innovation play in your area today? Innovation is critical to every single element of Communications Planning: we are judged on our outcomes, the solutions we create for clients. But to make these happen, one needs innovation at every stage – the way we brief, our relationships with clients, the way we find insights, choose people to partner with, etc.
What is the biggest challenge you face in applying thinking to international projects? Making sure it can be implemented! There’s no such thing as a “great strategy” on paper. I believe it can only be judged when it has worked on the ground. And in order to make that happen, it’s about collaborating with local markets — making sure local insights are fed up the chain, and making sure our thinking is based on their business realities — not a global, idealized detached view of what needs to be done.
How would you characterize innovation in the work you do? For me, innovation is ultimately about ideas that create value for brands AND consumers. Creating value for consumers was less important in the past — as an industry we used to focus on “Will they get it?”, “it” being the message. Great communications today need to be beneficial to both the brand and consumer. We need to ask “What will they get out of it?” instead.
Other International Background: I speak Chinese, which is how I ended up in advertising. After graduating with a Chinese degree, I went to Shanghai — supposedly for a couple of months
I ended up getting a job at JWT teaching English, and then translating focus groups. I eventually became a junior account planner there and stayed for three years.