Dustin Chick | The Innovator 25 EMEA 2023

Dustin Chick


South Africa


“It is very easy to hop onto the innovation bandwagon, it is less easy to progress – and this is where the real magic is.” 

Dustin Chick is a rare exception to our rule that individuals can only appear once in the Innovator 25, but his achievements since he last featured in 2019 in his previous role at Ogilvy are too notable to ignore. Chick, who set up Razor within M&C Saatchi South Africa in 2020, has become nothing less than a fire starter in the PR industry, not only in his native South Africa, but around the world, challenging the global comms community to do better on governance, ethics, measurement, PR education and more. In the space of one week recently, he launched Razor’s open source AI governance framework and announced a global alliance with Lynn – founded by another former Innovator 25 alum, Shayoni Lynn, in 2019 – to blend the two agencies’ strengths in misinformation, behavioural science, strategy and creativity. Razor, one of the fastest-growing agencies in the world last year, was named as one of PRovoke Media’s EMEA agencies of the year in 2022 – an extremely unusual accolade for a new agency –  and has featured in our Global Creative Index. Energetic, passionate and committed, Chick himself was named as a recipient of the PRO PR Globe Award 2023 for his contribution to the global PR industry. Chick advises C-Suite leaders, government ministers and community organisations on reputation, issues and crisis management, and led the team who worked with mining giant Anglo American to launch a world-first hydrogen powered mine-haul truck, addressing the question of how the mining industry can meaningfully combat climate change. The campaign – endorsed by leading energy transformation and environmental bodies – won our EMEA Diamond SABRE award for superior achievement in reputation management this year. 

How do you define innovation?
Being the creator of trends, or finding a clear open space in new trends in a way that drives them forward. It is very easy to hop onto the bandwagon, it is less easy to progress – and this is where the real magic is. For example, our work around AI. The question is not how we use it (that's common cause) rather, it’s how do we govern the use, and then how do we make this industry best practice. Innovation is asking the right questions (and often the hard ones). And then actually doing something about it.

What is the most innovative PR or marketing initiative you've seen over the past 12 months?
I am really proud of our work around AI. Equally, how we have collaborated with agencies that would seemingly be a competitor, to drive best practice. When you suspend your agenda, you see innovation happen naturally. Outside of Razor, I am deeply impressed with how PR agencies seem to be driving an ever-increasing level of bravery in their creative: not just ideas, but also about how we use this to create powerful business outcomes. Two campaigns specifically stand out for me: Anglo American's work around the energy transition and its commissioning of the Economist to drive independent research for Sub-Saharan Africa; and the work done around women’s masturbation in the US by DoorDash [winner of the Cannes Lions PR Grand Prix]. It is exactly this level of creativity that speaks exactly to how PR can connect on issues and connect these to business. Gone are the days of “we’ll see what we can do”. 

In your opinion, which brands and/or agencies are most innovative in their approach to PR and marketing?
I am really impressed by the work being done by our sister agency Levergy (M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment) around wine and tasting notes for their client Nedbank. It uses science and smell, to create work and ideas that trigger conversations in spaces a bank would normally not find itself. The work is not just creative, it’s smart, and it’s had impact and results.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider to be innovative.
When we decided to launch Razor. This sounds a little self-serving, and it’s genuinely not meant to come across like that. When I wrote the original business plan for Razor, I was clear about an agency that would consistently do things differently and would relentlessly focus on being a better place for our people and our clients. By its very orientation, it is about innovation for our whole industry and championing change that must see PR show up more than ever before. It was a defining moment in my career, because I was given license to do just that: create an agency model that breaks the mould.

Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation? 
Rod Cartwright [another Innovator this year] has taken the most difficult part of comms – issues and crisis – and literally turned it on its head. Beyond grey bear counsel (which is important), he has brought smarts and real understanding to sometimes solving the most impossible issues. He has taken a career of learning and being a trusted advisor and innovated around fresh thinking and fresh ways of managing the “hard stuff”.

How do you get out of a creativity rut?
My partners at Razor are unreal. Literally unreal. Smart people, huge hearts and just natural problem solvers. We carry each other on the bad days, and we challenge each other on the good ones. Good enough is never enough, and it shows in the work and some (very) heated debates around ideas. It’s people that get you out of a rut, and I could not do it without them.

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
Stop standing in your own way. So what if it fails, so what it if is wrong? Stand up and run to the fire, because the choice to not is likely even worse.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing your current job?
Hard question. I would love to be travelling more, seeing the places and cultures that you normally only see on TV or online. That said, I truly don’t want to be doing anything else.

Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has provided inspiration over the past year?
As part of our work as a senior team we embrace a culture of coaching and learning. The best book recommended to me in this is ‘Daring Greatly’ by Brené Brown.

How can the PR and communications industry harness innovation to make more progress on diversity, equity and inclusion?
I would say we need to stop talking about it, and actually do it. Inclusion does not come from meetings, it comes from giving that young intern a chance, it comes from sponsoring that person that needs to finish their degree, it comes from giving that person wanting to change career mid-stream a shot at it. Then do the right thing. It's always the right thing to do. It isn't a debate.