Kelly Johnston

Kelly Johnston

Chief Operating Officer, GM Southeast Asia
Sandpiper Group


Take time to get the balance right between leading and jumping in too quickly.”

Kelly Johnston has been a driving force in Sandpiper’s emergence as a multiple Agency of the Year winner in Asia-Pacific, emerging as a passionate champion for innovation to steer the firm’s exploration of new ideas, new sectors and new services. Earlier this year, Johnston devised and launched the world’s first global research study into AI and communications, while also establishing Sandpiper’s AI offering, including a new product suite. Johnston’s focus on research and insights is no accident; over the past three years, she has led the development of Sandpiper’s crucial research arm, helping to quantify the value of reputation capital. And Johnston also designed and launched Sandpiper’s Voice Your Vision pro-bono communications training programme, to help better equip public representatives of non-governmental and not-for-profit organizations to tell their story and engage audiences and key stakeholders with their cause.

How do you define innovation?
Using creativity to solve problems.

What is the most innovative PR or marketing initiative you've seen over the past 12 months?
Correct the Internet by DDB for Team Heroine is a great example of a campaign that taps into very current themes around AI bias and gender equality in a clever and creative way, with engaging execution.

In your opinion, which brands and/or agencies are most innovative in their approach to PR and marketing?
B2B brands, and the inhouse and agency teams supporting them, who take chances, push boundaries, and invest in creativity.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider to be innovative.
Working with a global technology leader to design, build and launch a world-first Index to assess the cybersecurity readiness of companies globally. Leading new communications industry research projects into ESG and sustainability communications in 2019, reputation measurement in 2021, and AI in communications in 2023.

Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation?
I admire anyone involved in leading ESG and sustainability strategy and communications in organizations that are at the start of these journeys, particularly in developing markets where the stakes are high, best practices and regulations are still forming, and an innovative approach and mindset is being required to overcome the many obstacles. I also have great respect for Sandpiper’s operations team who enable our business and one global P&L model to operate seamlessly for the benefit of our people and clients every day.

How do you get out of a creativity rut?

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
Take time to get the balance right between leading and jumping in too quickly.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing your current job?

Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has provided inspiration over the past year?

How can the PR and communications industry harness innovation to make more progress on diversity, equity and inclusion?
Incorporating better use of data and processes to manage and reduce unconscious bias.