Following her nomination in the fourth edition of PRovoke’s Innovator 25 in Asia-Pacific, Rosemary Merz sat down with PRovoke Media for a fireside chat, sharing her views on innovation in marketing, and talking about her learnings from life experiences, and from raising two amazing kids. This Q&A was initially published on PRovoke’s website.
“I think we could all benefit from giving it a go more often.”
Rosemary Merz is an ardent proponent of workplace change and perseverance, but in no way is so at the expense of Archetype Hong Kong’s culture, which built around the tenet of kindness — i.e. changing the scope of roles for working parents, flexibility when family life calls for it, extended maternity leave and free counseling services. All while remaining intent on delivering a forward-facing agency that blends the best in PR creative and storytelling with cutting-edge digital capabilities to produce results.
Merz’s investment in the likes of hiring digital content and SEO strategists and a digital producer — part of a team of less than 20 people — has resulted in nearly 50% of the office’s revenues coming from digital work (no traditional PR attached). Merz is also astute enough to recognize that she has a complex task at hand — and the PR business does not have all the answers to creating and sustaining a workplace that is at once competitive and compassionate; her work as a Women’s Foundation mentor is at once an effort to help bolster careers while gleaning best practices from leaders of other industries.
How do you define innovation?
The development and delivery of an idea that truly changes the way we think or do things.
What is the most innovative comms/marketing initiative you’ve seen in the last 12 months?
The Nikkei Blend – a campaign that enabled people to taste the state of Japan’s economy through coffee, that’s blended based on the real-time Nikkei Stock Average data.
In your opinion, what brands and/or agencies are most innovative around PR and marketing?
Tech start-ups are really interesting to watch. They have grown up in the era of digital marketing and they understand how technology works, so their risk appetite for new innovative ways of speaking to and connecting with customers is much higher.
Describe a moment in your career that you would consider ‘innovative.’
Back in the day I worked in arts marketing at the National Portrait Gallery in Australia. I was responsible for promoting new shows, with the objective of getting as much foot traffic as possible. For one show we stood back from the normal channels of promotion and thought instead about roles and jobs in the community that involved ‘chat’ or ‘banter’, with the idea that we could use the showing as a topic of conversation. We identified hairdressers and taxi drivers as two key audience groups and built out a marketing campaign to reach them. It led to the highest foot fall for a showing and identified key audiences for future shows. I loved it because it took art from being highbrow to high exposure and focused on what good art should do, change perspective and encourage conversation.
Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation?
Michelle Obama – there is no job description for a First Lady, but there is all the scrutiny in the world. What she accomplished in the role was ground-breaking and deeply inspirational. She took every opportunity she had to do good and to help others, a trait that the world could do with more of.
How do you get out of a creativity rut?
My creativity is fueled by two things, new information, be it from brands or agencies, psychologists or philosophers. And reminding myself that creativity is formless and free flowing. The former I can always get in ‘Lunch with the FT’, the latter I get by splaying open our massive bag of Lego and joining my kids in creating the most unexpected creations and outrageous storylines for their characters of choice.
What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
I think PR people can be a little too much like lawyers and over think things. I think we could all benefit from giving it a go more often. Looking outward to other industries, challenging the status quo and just trying something new. Our agencies and companies are comprised of millennials, they are open to innovation and have the flexibility to work through the ups and downs of discovering and perfecting new ways of working. We as leaders just have to give it a go.
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing your current job?
I like to communicate, and I like to share and build understanding, so I think I’d probably be a teacher. However after months of home schooling my kids this year, they would probably put up a petition to stop me!
Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has helped you get through this year or provided inspiration?
The Podcast Chat 10 Look 3 is my go-to for informed, authentic and humorous discussion about books, movies, podcasts and art, with a dash of parenting. It has been my lifeline this year. It’s the intelligent, funny conversation you want to have with your friends but without the effort!
What’s your favourite time of day and why?
Waking up my little kids. For them, every day is fresh, there are no hangovers from yesterday’s activities and the future is the next 5 minutes. They remind me that the here and now is where we live and it’s the most inspiring way to start the day (before they have a tantrum because their cereal of choice isn’t on offer!)