Richard Walker | The Innovator 25 Asia Pacific 2018
Innovator 25 EMEA Richard Walker

Richard Walker  

Managing director 

Iceland Foods Group
Deeside, UK

“You can’t help clients innovate really effectively without being in the boardroom and without relating your work to business strategy”

Richard Walker is the only non-comms leader in our Innovator 25 EMEA this year, and he richly deserves his place, as the brains and heart behind Iceland’s #TooCoolForPlastics campaign with Weber Shandwick, the Holmes Report’s global campaign of the year. He had a career as a chartered surveyor and property developer in London and Poland before joining the family firm, established by his father Malcolm Walker, who is still the chairman of the supermarket chain. He worked from the ground up, stacking shelves before various head office jobs, and was then made MD of Iceland and its large-format sister The Food Warehouse in August 2018. He’s taken the lead on sustainability since 2017, stepping up Iceland’s reputation as being a disruptor in the industry, with initiatives from becoming the first major retailer globally to commit to eliminating single-use plastic packaging from its own label range, to campaigning on palm oil.

How do you define innovation? 
Alternative, contemporary thinking that brings new and meaningful value, not just to the business but to the lives of our customers.

What is the most innovative comms/marketing initiative you've seen in the last 12 months? 
A simple, minimum budget one. I love the "Bridge the Gap" anti-suicide campaign that has left messages of hope and inspiration from ordinary members of the public on 20 motorway bridges. And it works.

In your opinion, what brands and/or agencies are most innovative around PR and marketing? 
I particularly like Lush and their move into social and environmental justice. Their art activism campaign with the Sumatran Orangutan Society that saw a chainsaw-wielding team carve a giant SOS distress call into a Sumatran palm oil plantation was pure genius.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider 'innovative.'
The decision to remove plastic completely from Iceland own-brand packaging. We remain the only supermarket in the world to make such a promise. It was driven by public demand and is a radical move that has inspired huge collaborative innovation to meet the challenge.

Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation?
Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia, whose commitment to environmental activism alongside great product has energised product innovation, grown brand awareness and built sales. The more it invests in its beliefs, the better Patagonia performs.

How do you get out of a creativity rut? 
Go climbing or surfing. 

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation? 
You cannot help clients innovate really effectively without being in the boardroom and without relating work to business strategy. Creative people and planners look at things from a different perspective and add value, but the real impact comes when innovation works within the business plan and can be led from the top.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing your current job? 
Professional surfer, not that I’m good enough!

Favorite book/movie/podcast/article that's not related to PR/marketing/business? 
Yvon Chouinard’s book “Let My People Go Surfing”. I bought a box of them and gave them out to my senior team.