President, PHD New York
Worked in: UK, Australia, United States
Key Clients Include: Sony, HBO, Starbucks, Elizabeth Arden, Havaianas, Enterprise Car Rental, Vonage, Economist, Guardian, GSK, Gap, Old Navy, Hyatt, Footlocker, Hiscox.
Why do people see you as an innovator? People see me as an innovator because I love playing outside the rules and exploring stuff. My brand promise is delivering energy and imagination through cultural leadership.
What role does innovation play in your marketing strategy today? At PHD, innovation and idea development are not purely in the domain of one person or small team. Ideas are not owned or created in one room, at one time, by one person. For us, innovation is about talent collaboration and iteration. Ideas and innovation come through a restless and obsessive approach to finding a better way to create a difference to a client’s business. Innovation needs to solve a business problem, not be for its own sake. It’s not about jumping to the first or most obvious thought. We like to iterate on a thought or idea, at scale, across our global network. We believe that innovation comes from curious minds, courageous thinking, and an optimistic outlook. Innovation is a mind-set. It’s about having vision beyond the horizon.
What is the biggest challenge you face in applying innovative thinking to international projects?
I think the challenge - but would prefer to say the opportunity - is around applying collective and connected intelligence. Giving people time and permission to be bold is critical. At PHD, we think collectively and globally. We aim to be fast and prolific in idea generation. Nurturing a culture of innovation is at the foundation. My and our business responsibility is about convincing people to consider a new approach, to break away from the comfortable, the reliable and the familiar to embrace the disruptive, the different and the unknown. In a world where people are connected everywhere, all the time, with new platforms, technologies and devices continually fragmenting (and yet, at the same time, connecting) our communication ecosystem, ideas are better when co-created. Collaboration wins. If your idea or thought is good enough, it’s simply a question of translating it and scaling it, fast.
Name an innovative idea or business solution for which you are most proud. Shortly after being named CEO of OMD in the UK, we launched the Influence Planning philosophy and proposition. At the time, it was one of the first and certainly most significant initiatives dedicated to understanding consumer behavior patterns across both analogue and digital platforms and channels. We created the UK’s largest ever (proprietary to our agency) consumer panel to understand the path to purchase. Coming at the dawn of the big data/analytics era, it was a significant point of differentiation for the agency. It fueled five years of double-digit growth for our business, and provided the strategic foundation for our class-leading effectiveness and creativity awards record. This drove tangible business results for clients and our business. This was not about me, it was about us. We created this philosophy together – thanks go to Toby Roberts and Jon Gittings. [Note: OMD in the UK picked up the Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes Media Lions.]
Dictionary definitions aside, how would you characterize innovation in the work you do? We are in the business of creating work that captures the imagination and transforms business performance. We are in the ideas business. We blend the art and the science. There needs to be an end game – in our business, it’s driving change and re-imagining what is possible, and then being able to execute the idea, flawlessly. On this basis, for me, innovation means playing outside of the rules to get to exceptional ideas. Innovation is about ignoring convention. Not looking in the mirror. Looking forward, and not back. Thinking big and bold. When someone says: “really, could we make that work?” – you are on the right track. Ultimately, in our business, innovation is about business growth
Any other interesting aspects to your international background? I make it a point to be an active supporter – judge and participant - in as many of the key industry awards shows (globally) as my schedule allows, since they are terrific showcases for innovation and creativity. These events are great learning experiences. To that end I am frequent judge for key events both regionally and globally (Cannes Media Lions, Festival of Media, M&M Awards, Campaign, Media Week, IPA, Irish Effectiveness, Clear Channel Outdoor Awards,etc.). I also co-lead Omnicom Media Group’s internal initiative for global creative innovation and excellence, the LIGHT Team. For more info on where I've been and what I've done there -- http://www.linkedin.com/pub/steve-williams/3/ba5/b9a
I love energy and speed - in business and life. Today is faster than yesterday. Tomorrow will be faster still. I have a belief that speed liberates ideas. We like to think and create in the moment – fast and prolific. I love to drive fast bikes, cars and cycles – Italian ones. It helps me think