Jan Warp | Innovator 25 EMEA 2022

Jan Warp

MD Digital Innovation and Integrated Communication, Europe & Africa 
BCW Global 


“Innovation will not happen by chance. Leaders need to create a culture and a framework that motivates all employees to constantly question the status quo and develop new ideas."

Described as spearheading the digital transformation of BCW in Europe & Africa and leading the agency to embrace a data-driven, agile future, Jan Warp has brought a new dimension to the WPP agency. One of his top priorities is helping large organisations become more consumer-centric by unlocking the full potential of consumer voices through results-driven, insights-oriented analytics programmes.  

With a strong background in digital strategy and execution, including social media, BCW would seem to have the right man for the job. Warp headed up social media for home appliances giant BSH within the company’s global digital transition group, and spent a total of seven years at the brand. He’s also worked for BCW’s sister ad agency Wunderman Thompson as German social media lead and strategic digital planner. Since the very beginning of his career, he says he’s been inspired by technological innovations, complex products in need of explanation, and the direct exchange between large organisations and his customers – all at the forefront of his role at BCW. 
How do you define innovation?
I would describe innovation as the continuous striving for new, better solutions. In a nutshell, innovation requires two things: a) curiosity b) a tried and tested way to turn ideas into reality. Especially in large organizations, innovation will not happen by change. Leaders need to create a culture and a framework that motivates all employees to constantly question the status-quo and develop new ideas.

What is the most innovative PR or marketing initiative you've seen over the past 12 months?
I am a huge fan of PR and marketing activities that make a real, lasting impact. The time of marketing stunts is definitively over. And I am fascinated by smart usage of technology and data. This explains why “Data Tienda” for WeCapital by DDB Mexico is one of my absolute favourites. This campaign shows that data can become a force for good and that communication can support female small- business owners in developing countries. Another great example is the work of our Swedish team for the insurance company Trygg- Hansa. For the third year in a row, our colleagues have found a smart and creative way to address the risk of drowning among small children. This time with temporary tattoos showing CPR instructions.

In your opinion, which brands and/or agencies are most innovative in their approach to PR and marketing?
There are some brands that immediately spring to my mind when I think about innovation. Like Nike when it comes to emotional storytelling and the innovative usage of technology. Take the 50th anniversary spot in which, with the help of AI, Serena Williams from 1999 plays against a 2017 version of herself. Or Apple when it comes to product marketing. Apple is one of the very few companies that knows how to turn a product weakness like a notch into a desirable feature, through the power of marketing and by giving it a catchy name like “Dynamic Island”. But I would like to add one more thought: I am really impressed by all companies that are successfully managing transformation processes by reinventing their way of working, their business model or both. Looking at our industry, the big challenge is to finally break down all silos between communication disciplines and to start planning communication in a truly integrated and agile way. Luckily a lot of our clients accepted this challenge, initiated a transformation process, and allowed us to consult them on this journey. This is “applied innovation” and it makes me really happy to be part of the transformation.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider to be innovative.
In my role, it’s not about a single moment or a one specific innovation. Innovation is a key part of my job description and I need to deliver it each day and everywhere. Leaving your comfort zone must become a routine. Clear ways of working and an institutionalized knowledge-exchange with my international colleagues help me to combat my weaker self and to reignite curiosity for innovation.

Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation?
My former bosses, Volker Maiborn and Holger Wolff, had a very strong influence on me, when it comes to innovation. Right after graduating, they founded a software company that has become one of the leading players for customized software solutions in Germany. What fascinates me most, is that they have established a very strong company culture that empowers all employees to take responsibility and actively grow the company. Today, the company has dedicated departments for all technical innovations from DLT to Mixed Reality to IoT. All these departments were founded on the initiative of motivated employees. Volker and Holger understood early on that the best thing they can do is to let go and create an environment that fosters ownership and a spirit of innovation. This might sound easy, but I would say that it is one of the most complicated things to achieve. I learned a lot from Volker and Holger and my ways-of-working and my leadership style are strongly influenced by their example.

How do you get out of a creativity rut?
There are two things that reliably help me to get out of a creative rut. 1) Stop thinking about the specific task for a moment and focus on something completely different. Spending time with the kids (best case: in nature) always helps. 2) Actively inviting colleagues from our network (best case: with a different cultural background) to challenge existing thinking, brainstorm together or simply chat about latest trends and technologies.

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
Always question the status-quo, actively break down information silos within the agency and test new, more inclusive ways of working. Sounds good but too theoretical? Let me give you one example of what this might mean in practices. In most agencies creative ideas are delivered by creative couples. This can lead to fantastic results if you bring the right people together and if the topic of the project matches their interests. But let’s be honest, way too often the results delivered by creative couples are no more than average. Thanks to our Executive Creative Director in the UK, Pete Way, we have introduced a more collaborative and iterative process to develop creative ideas in cross-functional teams. And technology experts always have a seat at the table. We can even go further and invite influencers, customers, patients, stakeholders etc. to co-create in a well-structured, easy-to follow process that gives everyone a safe space. It’s a huge mistake to think that strict rules and processes automatically kill creative thinking. The opposite is true – as long as you establish a strict but lean framework that supports people. This, by the way, is one of the core principles of all agile methodologies like SCRUM.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing your current job?
I truly love my job and I haven’t thought about this question that much. Probably something completely different. One of my other interests is natural wine. Natural wine is pure craftsmanship and – if it is done well – you can really taste the little details characterizing a specific terroir. Owning my own vineyard and creating something truly fascinating with my hands has a great appeal for me. Given my background, running marketing and communication for a winery would probably be a more realistic option.

Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has provided inspiration over the past year?
I am German, unfortunately this also means that most of my tips are German - sorry for that.
Social Media Watchblog and T3N are my daily sources of information for all things digital.

Besides this, I am a huge fan of the fantastic interview podcast “Alles Gesagt” by Christoph Amend and Jochen Wenger. They interview one remarkable guest per episode. And there is one golden rule: only the guest can end the podcast with a specific code word when everything has been said. This means that the podcast can last two minutes or 10 hours. The reason why I like this podcast so much is that they always invite fascinating guests, that I always hear something that stimulates my thoughts and that it never gets boring, even after several hours.

Last but not least, I would like to mention the newsletter Block Stories, which gives me a quick and easy-to-consume overview of the latest trends and developments in the crypto and web 3.0 space.

How would you like to see work culture, and the role of the office, evolve?
I am truly passionate about international collaboration. Meeting colleagues from our offices around the world and learning more about their perspectives, interests and needs motivates me every day. And research shows that working in more diverse teams is not only more fun, but also delivers better results. Obviously, this requires a certain level of remote work, as we cannot meet in one office each day. This also means that the role of the office needs to change. In my vision, the office of the future will be a place of meeting and exchange rather than focused work. Sitting alone in front of a laptop working on a strategy concept works well from home, and video conferencing solutions offer a good way to facilitate regular exchanges with colleagues. But it’s also worth mentioning that we are not 100% there yet. Tools like Teams, Zoom or Slack are incredibly powerful but can be overwhelming and exhausting too. We are constantly testing new tools to improve knowledge-exchange and collaboration and it will be interesting to see how Mixed Reality will improve human interactions in a remote environment. Obviously, culture plays a key role in any transformation process and culture is again largely determined by the leadership team and the respective leadership style. “Servant leadership” is a concept that I really like. Ultimately, it is our responsibility to create an inspiring and empowering work culture that helps all colleagues realise their full potential. This starts with basic, but important things: Let’s trust our colleagues and empower them to make decisions. It simply doesn’t make sense to control everything. Common sense is a good guiding principle when delegating decision making to your team. Or as one of my former bosses used to say: what would you do if it was your company? This also means that it should become a rule to always hire people who are smarter than you and can bring something new to the table.

How can the PR and communications industry harness innovation to make more progress on diversity, equity and inclusion?
Technology and innovation can play a key role in creating a more diverse and inclusive environment. For example, algorithms can be used to identify non-inclusive, biased language in communication and marketing materials and automatically suggest better alternatives. VR-based diversity trainings can enable colleagues to experience the world through different eyes. Virtual collaboration tools and on-demand content can help to make working hours more flexible. Initiatives like the Unstereotype Alliance also play a key role in educating our industry and eradicating harmful stereotypes in communication and marketing materials. Just to list a few ideas. But in the end, it is all about clear rules, role models and change management.