David Ko | The Innovator 25 2016
David KoThe Innovator 25:

David Ko

Founder & MD

Daylight Partnership
Hong Kong

"Sometimes the best ideas demand a leap of faith."


David Ko led Waggener-Edstrom's Asia-Pacific operations with considerable success after selling his Hong Kong firm Shout to the US tech giant in 2005. After departing that position in late 2012, Ko resurfaced with a new digital marketing firm called Daylight, which brought to life his contention that the agency model is not set up to reward innovation. Since then he has focused on such areas as content creation, immersive storytelling and analytics, netting numerous clients and developing a range of innovative services and tools.

How do you define innovation?
Innovators build on other people’s ideas to discover surprising, sometimes disruptive ways to do things. Innovation isn’t always original; we all stand on the shoulders of giants. In our industry we place too much emphasis on being original, but there is no shame in deriving, if you always add something incrementally new. Facebook wasn’t the first social network, Tesla wasn’t the first electric car, they just did it better.

I don’t always strive to invent groundbreaking new ways to tell stories, but I will labor to generate original story ideas on platforms invented by others. For example, our immersive storytelling business (VR and 360 video) is booming, but we are not the first agency to use VR to build a brand or anchor a campaign. Market research has been around since advertisers built the first media plan, but we’re creating new predictive analytics products that help brands figure out how consumers connect to them, sometimes before consumers know. AR is poised to take off, we’re developing messaging bots, but I couldn’t tell you what will pique our interest in 12 months. That’s the joy of living in these messy, chaotic times.

What brands and/or agencies are most innovative when it comes to marketing/PR?
In Asia we still tend to be timid and traditional, so many clients and agencies try not to rock the boat. We’ve had many campaign ideas shot down because the client “will never understand it,” “it’s too risky,” or “no one’s done it before.” To be fair, being willing to step out and risk looking like idiots in front of your peers is daunting, but then we also don’t see many Asians taking home Cannes Lions.

For example, KFC’s fried chicken-flavored nail polish was a risky idea that in the end missed the mark, but I applaud the agency for taking the idea to the client, and more importantly, the client for letting them run with it. We’re entering a post-advertising world, and many of my peers say PR is already dead (at least the concept of PR that we grew up with), so finding interesting ways to create and amplify engaging content while respecting ethical boundaries is the holy grail.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider ‘innovative.’
I don’t have a grand innovative moment. If I can occasionally delight and surprise, it will be worth it. For example, in parts of Asia it is customary to send mooncakes to clients during Mid-Autumn Festival. One year, instead of gifting sugar and cholesterol bombs to our clients, we sent them a picture card of a mooncake smashed into a million pieces, with the message that we would make a donation to Youth Diabetes Action on their behalf. It was tongue-in-cheek, it was heretical (if you are Asian), but we loved it.

In what area of marketing/PR do you see the most innovation?
Content & creative.

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

About the same as other marketing disciplines

Where do you see the greatest opportunity for marketing & PR to become more innovative?
Content & creative.

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

Who is your mentor and why?
Anyone who is not afraid to be different.

How do you find inspiration?
I love case studies. I like examining the successes and fails of my peers so I can learn from them. Courage and foolishness inspire me.

Advice for people seeking to bring new ideas, ways of doing things to their organizations?
First, go work for an organization with leadership that welcomes change. Make sure they give you permission to fail. If you’re stuck in a team where you have to justify your ideas, persevere. Pick your battles, achieve easy wins early to build political capital. Begin with a smaller number of risky ideas, then gradually increase dosage. Selling an idea is a process. Take the time to lay the groundwork, underestimate your audience’s intelligence, and overcompensate with visuals and data. No data? That’s where political capital comes in, because sometimes the best ideas demand a leap of faith.

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

I still have to say Silicon Valley. The people and the culture they embrace make the place. In Silicon Valley, by and large, ideas are nurtured, failure is not just tolerated it’s celebrated, investors are generally open-minded. Optimism and naiveté prevails, mostly.

What’s your favorite time of day and why?