Zaheer Nooruddin | The Innovator 25 2016
ZaheerThe Innovator 25:

Zaheer Nooruddin

Head of digital

Hong Kong

"It's really the smaller, boutique agencies that do the most innovative thinking"


Nooruddin joined Shiseido after a decade at the forefront of digital communications, involving senior roles at a number of public relations agencies. Most recently, he was executive director and head of digital innovation at Golin. Before joining the IPG firm in 2014, Nooruddin led digital practices at WE Communications, Burson-Marsteller and Edelman, and has also worked at OgilvyOne and Proximity. He takes on a newly-created, cross-functional role as head of digital for Shiseido in Hong Kong, charged with overseeing digital transformation and communications innovation.

How do you define innovation?
I tend to like Richard Lyon's simple definition: "Fresh thinking that creates value."

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

I like companies that go for systemic innovation rather than the more tactical, campaign-driven type. Companies and brands that link their innovation efforts directly to creating real value for their customers are the winners, for me. I liked Red Roof Inn's impressively innovative "Finding a roof to sleep under" program from last year that used mobile geo-location very effectively. Companies that go real-time and that tap into mobile, geo-fencing smartly are also Innovation winners in my book.

What brands and/or agencies are most innovative when it comes to marketing/PR?

The usual companies pop up - Nike of course. Marriott and hospitality brands have been doing some good work, exploring how to extend the customer experience with innovation. On the agency side, Edelman Digital has been trying to push the needle in certain cases. But it's really the smaller, boutique agencies that do the most innovative thinking, as they have more flexibility, more creativity of thought, and much less to lose. It really comes down to brand, corporate or agency leadership. Unfortunately in Asia, still, in most cases (at most brands or agencies), this innovation-minded leadership is not present.

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

I've been fortunate to have had many opportunities to innovate for brands that I've worked with. Planning from scratch, designing and developing BMW's first-anywhere online/mobile social platform for its customers in China was a hugely innovative program for the company. It linked directly into the customer experience and used digital in a way that BMW had not done so previously. I am still very proud of this innovation and my leadership with it in collaboration with the head of e-business at BMW China. I have also helped companies like Starbucks and Marriott test real-time marketing programs to boost customer satisfaction and to promote new products. Real-time requires sophisticated analytics and, when done well, is extremely innovative for companies, adding value to customers' lives at the same time.

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

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?
Planning & analytics.

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

Who is your mentor and why?

Peter Drucker, because he wrote the book on modern management and innovation.

How do you find inspiration?

Reading as much as I can, watching the world progress around me, thinking about what it all means for real people (consumers) and for business.

Advice for people seeking to bring new ideas, ways of doing things to their organizations?

Find a strategic framework that works within the context that you are operating in. This takes time but it's worth doing. Then stick to it, but don't be afraid to iterate constantly. Never lose sight of what's important and the power of ideas. Understand modes of disruption and fear these.

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

India? Because you have 1.3 billion people who are literally always innovating (Jugaad-style) everyday to survive. I was just back there, and it's powerful to see. And inspiring. I hear Tel Aviv is an innovation hotbed too, around artificial intelligence and deep learning, which will change everything.

What’s your favorite time of day and why?
I like early evenings because there's happy hour.

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