Lee Nugent | The Innovator 25 Asia-Pacific 2019

Lee Nugent

EVP & Regional Director APAC


“PRs can give up too easily. When you take an innovation to a client or your boss, believe in it”

After overseeing Nelson Bostock’s rise into one of the UK’s top firms, Nugent departed his comfort zone in 2016 to join Archetype (p/k/a Text100) in Singapore. Under his leadership, the firm has been named Digital and Southeast Asia Consultancy of the Year, attracting particular attention for Nugent’s ability to bring in non-traditional talent and drive access from diverse ethnic, social and educational backgrounds. 

How do you define innovation?
The application of ideas and creative thought that’s new, useful and delivers value/solves a real-world problem. And it’s application that’s key. Ideas that aren’t commercial, aren’t innovation.

What is the most innovative comms/marketing initiative you've seen in the last 12 months?
It’s hard to look past Nike’s ‘Dream Crazy’ Kaepernick activity for sheer impact, but I also loved The Female Company’s ‘Tampon Book’, which took a truly innovative comms approach to drive awareness of an issue we should all be ashamed about.

In your opinion, what brands and/or agencies are most innovative around PR and marketing?
I admire Airbnb’s ongoing commitment to localisation of ideas. They really understand that local knowledge, nuance and culture can drive effective marketing programmes that appeal to the audiences they need to reach. We work with them in Malaysia and they are a terrific client. I’m also constantly impressed by the work AIA has done in moving itself from being a financial services player to a real wellness brand, operating in tune with their customers’ lives. The approach permeates all that AIA is and all that AIA does.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider 'innovative.'
Honestly, I see myself as less of an innovator directly, and more of an enabler of innovation inside the organisations I’ve led. I pride myself on a long-term commitment to driving diversity of thought across agency teams. That manifested itself in a drive to recruit talent from diverse ethnic, social and educational backgrounds when I was an agency CEO in the UK, and while in Asia has seen Archetype bring on board talent from a variety of non-traditional disciplines. Giving these clever, talented individuals room to express themselves within a defined management framework has enabled my teams to deliver ever more creative, ever more innovative marketing programmes for clients. It’s this freedom that, combined with diversity of thought, unlocks the next big, workable idea.

Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation? 
Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. His turnaround of Microsoft is anchored in business innovation, marketing innovation and by reaffirming an employee culture of innovation. The business has itself become more innovative, more collaborative and more customer-focused under his leadership. And he’s ruthlessly focused.

How do you get out of a creativity rut?
I have four year-old twin daughters. I’m a firm believer that the most creative humans you will ever meet are children. They embrace play time; they constantly test and try ideas without embarrassment and their resourcefulness means they always find a way to achieve something. So, I colour in unicorns, I make flowers out of Play-Doh and I build Lego cars. And ‘Daddy, that’s not right’ is the constant soundtrack to my life. An hour or so of this, and my brain is clear, refreshed and unconstrained.

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
Listen to your customers. And listen to their customers. Like, really listen. Then be brave and anchor your idea against the value it will deliver. PRs can give up too easily. When you take an innovation to a client or your boss, believe in it. Fight for it. The ad guys do this all the time. We back away too easily, and too often.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing your current job?
I’d love to say I’d be a minor politician in the UK fighting Brexit to my last breath. But I’d probably be the electronics engineer that my university degree says I should be.

Favorite book/movie/podcast/article that's not related to PR/marketing/business?
Those who know me won’t be surprised by this answer. As a proud Manchester boy, from the red side of town, I regularly devour Alex Ferguson’s books, Managing My Life and Leading. For those that don’t know, Alex Ferguson was coach of Manchester United and one of football management’s greatest of all time. His books are a fascinating glimpse into how to manage high-performing teams to repeated success. They cover discipline, teamwork, motivation and dealing with failure. I’ve taken, and continue to take, many of his lessons into my non-football role!

What's your favourite time of day and why?
Morning, definitely. I think if I can start the day right – and get myself in order – then I’ve every chance of achieving what I need to do during the rest of the day, whether that’s work or fun.