Pippa Misplon | The Innovator 25 EMEA 2023

Pippa Misplon

Managing Director

South Africa


“True innovation is about a mindset. Innovation means looking beyond conventional methods and constantly challenging yourself. Innovation is about being proactive, not reactive.” 

South African agency Retroviral – PRovoke Media’s Africa consultancy of the year for 2023 – turned 13 years old this year with an impressive teenage growth spurt, largely through the impact Pippa Misplon has had as managing director. Since joining the agency in 2021 from Ogilvy, Misplon has been a whirlwind of change – she has been described as “operational fairy dust” –  introducing and championing innovative processes and tools, including the thoughtful introduction of AI tools, that have benefited the team and its clients. She has taken the agency founded by Mike Sharman – who himself appeared in the Innovator 25 last year – to the next level and enabled it to produce work with real social impact, such as the Lil-Lets Be You campaign, which won the SABRE Africa Platinum award for Best in Show. Internally, she has already introduced a new employee engagement programme, a mentorship programme and a graduate programme, introduced recruitment and staff policies that ensure that Retroviral celebrates individuality and diversity, made significant operational changes and noticeably strengthened the agency culture. All of which has led to the agency having its best year yet in terms of growth, client wins, and award-winning work.

How do you define innovation?
True innovation is about a mindset. Innovation means looking beyond conventional methods and constantly challenging yourself. Innovation is about being proactive, not reactive. It's about understanding that the media and communication landscape is ever-evolving, and we must evolve with it. This might involve harnessing the power of data analytics to measure and optimise our strategies, leveraging AI and automation to streamline our processes, or exploring new channels and mediums to connect with audiences.

What is the most innovative PR or marketing initiative you've seen over the past 12 months?
From South Africa, ‘Bread of the Nation’ from AB InBev was absolutely brilliant.

In your opinion, which brands and/or agencies are most innovative in their approach to PR and marketing?
Apple, Dove, Nike all stand out with recent work.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider to be innovative.
Fostering our culture of creativity via WhatsApp formally. Some of our best ideas for clients have been conceptualised, ideated, pitched, refined, and approved by clients over WhatsApp. The speed of cultural relevance means being adaptable, being nimble and using technology and AI to demonstrate creative ideas instead of labouring for hours on PowerPoint presentations.

Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation? 
I've always admired Reed Hastings from Netflix.

How do you get out of a creativity rut?
I'm an avid reader. Escaping into the world of fiction settles my mind. After a few hours of reading I generally find myself refreshed and clear headed.

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
1. Cultivate a culture of innovation where creativity and experimentation are encouraged. Celebrate innovative ideas and provide a safe space for team members to share and test new concepts. 2. Stay informed: keep a constant watch on emerging trends in media, technology, and consumer behaviour. 3. Collaborate more: break down silos within your agency or organisation and encourage collaboration across different marketing disciplines. Innovation often thrives at the intersection of diverse skill sets. 4. Experiment with new technologies: be open to testing and integrating new technologies like AI, automation, virtual reality, or augmented reality. 5. Prioritise data: develop robust measurement and analytics strategies to gauge the impact of PR efforts. Data-driven decision-making is a cornerstone of innovation in PR.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing your current job?
I'd probably be a school teacher!

Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has provided inspiration over the past year?
I like the Unthinkable podcast by Jay Acunzo, and Hidden Brain.

How can the PR and communications industry harness innovation to make more progress on diversity, equity and inclusion?
I think the power of data is endless for making progress here. Use analytics to identify diverse voices and stories that may not have received enough attention, and then use storytelling to highlight underrepresented individuals and communities in meaningful ways.