Troy Bilsborough | The Innovator 25 Asia-Pacific 2023

Troy Bilsborough

Founder & MD


If there’s anything that politics has taught me, it’s understanding that progress doesn’t happen without opponents and outliers changing their positions.”

Troy Bilsborough’s work at Provocate has not just wowed judges at consecutive SABRE Awards shows, but also led to fundamental behavioural change across some of Australia’s key issues, including health technology assessments, ESG and organisational development. Driven by the firm’s pioneering approach to data and insights, the most visible recent example of this is the Suicide Prevention Australia Community Tracker, which spans data-driven organisational strategy development through to public, policy and political relations executions, winning five trophies at the recent 2023 Asia-Pacific SABRE Awards. But there have also been notable campaign highlights in aligning business, government and NGOs on ESG policy, and in changing the debate on medicine, med tech approvals and pricing. 

How do you define innovation?
PR and media professionals are the world's best data analysts, not just storytellers. With the numbers at our fingertips 24-7, we could rule the C-suite.

What is the most innovative PR or marketing initiative you've seen over the past 12 months?
Discovering 3D billboards. I could watch them all day.

In your opinion, which brands and/or agencies are most innovative in their approach to PR and marketing?
Asian markets in general - where practical public problems, as opposed to political ideologies, require research-driven innovation as a necessity, not a nice to have, as has been the great challenge in Australia the past decade.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider to be innovative.
Provocate's Sabre-winning work with Suicide Prevention Australia to create the nation's go to community sentiment and health tracker and using its rapid data to advise the nation's Reserve Bank and Treasurer on the human, not economic, impacts of their monetary decisions on a cost-of-living crisis in real-time, with real results. This is where data-driven storytelling transforms into meaningful measurement.

Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation?
Musicians like David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Madonna and Lady Gaga have always fascinated me as the true marketing leaders of our time. Their ability to not only create a new craze, but have the foresight to continually evolve at the height of their popularity, rather than wait until their star is on the fade, is what great innovation is all about. Modern politics and policy makers could learn a lot from them.

How do you get out of a creativity rut?
Stop trying to be creative. And, as Jack White of the White Stripes says, set a deadline. Nothing gives me anxiety me more than the thought of coming up with a ‘big idea’ on demand, and yet the minute you let go of the need to be ‘creative’, it just becomes another ordinary task, often with extraordinary results. And, if all else fails, mow the lawn, as one of Australia’s great ad gurus once taught a young me. Works every time.

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
Most PR's now claim to generate data-driven storytelling. But what about owning and generating the data itself - and being able to use whenever, wherever we want, instead of waiting on someone else.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing your current job?
Stay-at-home dad. Where I could tell stories all day long to a literal captive audience.

Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has provided inspiration over the past year?
Trainwreck about the ill-fated Woodstock '99. And how not to run an event or handle a crisis... And that Limp Bizkit should be booked as entertainment for next year's APAC Sabre Awards.

How can the PR and communications industry harness innovation to make more progress on diversity, equity and inclusion?
If there’s anything that politics has taught me, it’s understanding that progress doesn’t happen without opponents and outliers changing their positions. And acknowledgement (no matter how seemingly trivial or pandering) of them is just as critical to policy success as advocacy and admonishment. Otherwise, you risk greater division and disadvantage than when you began. You only have to look at Australia's Voice Referendum for proof.