Vanessa Ho Nikolovski | The Innovator 25 Asia-Pacific 2019

Vanessa Ho Nikolovski

Managing Director & Global Client Lead

Weber Shandwick

“Turbulent times call for challengers to the status quo”

Of Weber Shandwick’s top 10 clients in the region, 70% have been retained by the agency for ten years or more, with some of the most enduring being such blue-chip brands as Mastercard, General Motors, Emirates, Nestle and Exxon Mobil. And much of the credit for that retention and growth goes to Vanessa Ho Nikolovski, who has developed a collaborative, multi-market ecosystem for client relationships that has helped her firm outperform the market. That has seen Ho Nikolovski spearhead a shift from a practice-led approach to one that revolves around communities, helping align talent to clients more effectively and driving more integrated work that spans creative, digital and data. Ho Nikolovski’s 28-year tenure at Weber Shandwick has also seen her oversee new approaches to talent, training and knowledge management — thanks to what Asia-Pacific CEO Baxter Jolly describes as an “unapologetically client-centric” focus on innovation. 

How do you define innovation?
Innovation is going beyond. It means always thinking deeper, broader, further. It harnesses curiosity, imagination, ideas and creativity to solve problems and create value for all stakeholders

What is the most innovative comms/marketing initiative you've seen in the last 12 months?
Turbulent times call for challengers to the status quo; the power of marketing/communications to address gaping holes, and speak the minds and hearts of the audience has spotlighted many game changing campaigns in the last 12 months: Nike and Colin Kaepernick standing up for what they believe no matter the sacrifice – a big business win in the end. Mastercard also stood up for greater inclusion, when it launched True Name, which allows people to choose the name they relate to on the front of payment cards. This eased a major identity pain point for the transgender and non-binary community as they transact in their daily lives. It gave credence to Mastercard’s support of Pride Month showing how 'doing well by doing good' meant championing not just payment acceptance but acceptance as a larger socio-cultural need.

In your opinion, what brands and/or agencies are most innovative around PR and marketing?
Nike, Mastercard, KFC, Grab, Tencent - some stalwarts, some breaking new ground

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider 'innovative.'
As an agency lifer for the past 28 years, I can say we're always called on to up the ante, push the envelope, innovate for our clients. There have been many great moments when it's come together. I think innovation is born from the rigour of bringing diverse views to a pinhead of collective strength. That's how good agencies amplify individual talent and create great work. My latest explorations have been focused on trying to create the flexible, empowering, mindful workplace for our talent today and tomorrow, as well as evolving our client experience to be the best partner for brands and companies as they solve their challenges.

Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation? 
For breaking ground and bringing the world along for the ride: IM Pei, Rei Kawakubo, David Bowie, Martha Graham, Dan Barber (food sustainability and waste philosophy).

How do you get out of a creativity rut?
I talk to people, listen to music...and scour the web for great work to get an inspiration infusion.

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
Don't sit still--be eminently curious. Look outward not inward--other industries can spark new thinking for ours. Diversity is strength--partner and be inclusive to truly solve.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing your current job?
Traveling the world as a restaurant reviewer - you get to the heart of people and culture through food.

Favorite book/movie/podcast/article that's not related to PR/marketing/business?
Book: The Rainbow, DH Lawrence. 
Movie: just binged on The Handmaid's Tale TV series — prescient and spine-chilling. 
Podcasts: BBC's Unpopped which illuminates pop culture moments from David Foster Wallace to Bridget Jones, One Direction and conspiracy theories.

What's your favourite time of day and why?
I'm the consummate night owl. All my ideas and epiphanies emerge during the hours of starry-skied tranquility.