Darren Burns | The Innovator 25 2016
Darren BurnsThe Innovator 25:

Darren Burns

President, China & chair, creativity & innovation, Asia-Pacific

Weber Shandwick

"Big ideas are easy to have — executing them is an art"


After making a name for himself with some acclaimed creative campaigns in Taiwan, Burns moved to Weber Shandwick Shanghai in 2006 and has not looked back, taking charge of national operations and being named to oversee regional creativity and innovation earlier this year. Under his leadership, Weber Shandwick has flourished, delivering dynamic growth and transforming from a traditional PR operation to a more integrated offering that works directly with CMOs. He has also spearheaded a rethink of the 'big agency' model, dispensing with practice groups, and has brought his passion for new ideas into a number of new products and tools, including Kloud and Content to Commerce.

How do you define innovation?
The Oxford definition is my favourite — 'make changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products.' In our industry it's really understanding the client's business and using our knowledge and resources to help them solve problems. All of our innovation has been delivered by looking at clients opportunities and building the team to be able to execute new solutions that solve them.

Most innovative comms/marketing campaign you’ve seen in the last 12 months?

Field trip to Mars (McCann). In addition, The House of Clicks (Prime).

What brands and/or agencies are most innovative when it comes to marketing/PR?
I'm constantly impressed by R/GA, AKQA, IDEO, Prime. They really have a great innovation culture.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider ‘innovative.’

Creating unique China offers that really drive our business - KLOUD, Content-2-commerce, etc. Then people outside China recognizing these innovations and wanting to roll them out. It was probably last year when a lot of our global colleagues woke up to China as an innovation hub. As a result our stock has gone up internally — big time. It was always my goal to get China recognized as a global communications innovation leader.

In what area of marketing/PR do you see the most innovation?
Social media & online marketing.

How would you describe the communications/PR industry’s level of innovation?

Lagging other marketing disciplines

Where do you see the greatest opportunity for marketing & PR to become more innovative?
Social media & online marketing.

Who most influences how innovative a brand’s marketing/PR is?

Who is your mentor and why?

I have many mentors and learn from each of them — both what not to do and what to do.

How do you find inspiration?
Beiing at the cusp of culture helps. I read a lot, listen to podcasts. I love many different styles of music. I also have a very mixed circle of friends — career and nationality. I think living in China these days is also a help. But I really do have the most inspiration when I'm away from the office — either on leave, visiting clients or our other offices. Or on a solo plane trip. Distance really does give your perspective.

Advice for people seeking to bring new ideas, ways of doing things to their organizations?
Make sure the culture values new ideas/innovation. Build credibility and your own reputation by executing. Not only by talking — our industry is full of bullshitters. Big ideas are easy to have — executing them is an art. Find a good boss who is willing to dabble in new areas. Find clients who value and reward new ideas.

In your opinion, what’s the most innovative place in the world?

You get lots of inspiration on the streets of cities around the world. The way they tackle their issues, interesting creative spaces, communities that form organically. I count myself as truly blessed that I can observe and engage firsthand. Whether it's NYC, London, Shanghai, Shenzhen or Stockholm there's so much to take away in each one.

What’s your favorite time of day and why?
Sunrise and sunset. Sunrise represents the prospect of a new, full and exciting day. Sunset is a time to reflect on what was and what could have been.

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