Features

‘If you don’t love it, don’t do it’ – How I got here…Publicis Groupe’s Neil Hudspeth

Publicis Groupe's chief experience officer Neil Hudspeth arrived at his current role after some unique life experiences - from bartending across America, Malaysia and Singapore, copywriting in Japan, founding an agency at the vanguard of the digital revolution in the UK and finally returning to Asia to work for some of the biggest names in advertising

Education:

Climbing on a plane from the sweltering heat of the airport tarmac in Malaysia at the impressionable age of eight to go to boarding school halfway around the world in chilly UK, certainly instilled several values and beliefs in me. 

Aside from believing that the world was “truly open and international”- how things have changed – and borders were only reflected by time zones and cuisine, I learnt two things. 

One, family was critical to happiness, and two; whilst people looked and sounded different, they were invariably the same when it came to their expectations of certain common experiences.  

This curiosity about human behaviour and appreciation of different cultures certainly set the foundations for me as I grew up, and no doubt encouraged me to explore the optimism of the US after finishing school in the  UK.

Ending up in LA after experiencing the east coast, the deep south and northern California, all funded by bar-tendering from city to city, the allure of learning how to creatively tell stories of experiences manifested itself in broadcast journalism at UCLA. 

However, my education, which I genuinely believe is still ongoing to this day, took a massive leap forward when I set up and ran my own ground-breaking pubs in Malaysia (Spud’s) and Singapore (Paddles) in my mid-20s.

Neil Hudspeth with his father at Spud’s

Studying human behaviour up close and personal, I learnt to listen, observe, negotiate and communicate, fine-tuning my emotional intelligence (or EQ). As well as a love for celebrating the creative life, which in our industry, especially today, is a crucial ingredient in maintaining work life balance and relationships.

It was in this environment and the heady times of cultural and economic change in both countries, that I met the likes of the late Steve Brown (Ted Bates), Kieneng Tan (whom I still work with closely in the Publicis Groupe today), Harmandar Singh, Patrick Brett, Steve Day, and legends Rob Speechley and Neil French. All icons. In fact, it was the latter two creative giants that very generously designed the logo for my bar in Singapore’s Boat Quay all those years ago. Pure gold.

My start

And where gold can certainly cast a spell, Japan did just that to me a long time ago. The allure of its ethereal design ethic and cultural alchemy compelled me to cut my creative teeth in Tokyo with a small agency affiliated to the mighty Dentsu as a copywriter. 

The country ignited my appetite for numerous things which further defined what I wanted to do and who I am today. The absolute rigour and discipline the Japanese people apply to almost everything, tempered with an unsurpassed service ethic, impressed me enormously. And yet their conviction to follow the “norm” and the working protocols and conventions led me to want to explore change and do things differently, and where possible, better.

These very fundamental tenets drove me to take ownership of my own journey. I started my own businesses and agencies in Malaysia, Singapore and ultimately in the UK.

Once my aging father returned to live in England, I was compelled to join him. Luckily for me, I sold my businesses in South East Asia successfully. 

I was tempted and excited in equal measure by what seemed back then to be the truly game-changing, but nascent emergence of the Worldwide Web (this was the mid-90s). I set about building a new journey for myself. One of three founding members of Netcomms, a new media agency (“digital” in today’s parlance) in London, we grew to a formidable company of 80 people in four short years, alongside the likes of AKQA and Razorfish.

We all felt we were genuinely changing the world. Inventing and building things daily, breaking down old protocols, and establishing new ones; creating new business models for clients and ourselves, and original brand experiences for a hungry and growing audience around the world. Those were truly the halcyon days of the Internet, despite modems. 

Pioneering e-commerce sites, live streaming worldwide sports, virtual loyalty cards, and transforming government institutions into e-businesses, to name but a few initiatives. 

The late 90s and early 2000s, even after the 2001 tech crash, were truly transformative days where the alchemy of creativity and technology broke boundaries and forged new ways of working, thinking and behaving. 

Everyone lucky enough to be part of this revolution learnt a new craft and became strategists, creatives, developers, consultants, writers, analysts and business leaders all rolled into one. It was not by design. We simply had no choice. 

As the American agencies looked to London for a foothold for European growth, we sold. I took a much needed breather, and then a leap into the unknown. I decided to work for someone else. Why? Mainly because I was about to start a family, and working 20 hour days, seven days a week was not going to help contribute very much to nurturing a close bond.

Joining an icon of British branding and design agency, I became the managing director of Lloyd Northover. I set about transforming the agency into a fully integrated and “experiential” brand design consultancy with expanded footprints in Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Singapore, and loved every minute of my eight years there. Again, we pushed the boundaries of brand experiences and established transformative business models for select clients, on and off line, and created some iconic brand identities, including John Lewis, the British Council, and the Singapore MRT.

Neil Hudspeth in Shanghai

After the passing of my father, I felt compelled to return to Asia my spiritual home, and this time I joined WPP as their regional CEO Asia Pacific for Brand Union (or Enterprise IG as it was known back then). Three and half hugely successful, unique and once again transformative years based out of Shanghai, building an integrated brand consultancy alongside Ogilvy & Mather under Miles Young was a privilege, full of firsts and new experiences and achievements.

However the family craved a move to a less frenetic and pulsating environment. Where better than Singapore, my old “home”.

I’ve always believed that a career path is like catching a bus. There are a multitude of them to choose from, each with their own destinations, experiences and fellow travelers. Some people hop on and hop off far too many, and some just simply miss the ones they need. 

I’ve been very lucky in most of my life choices, and joining Leo Burnett and the Publicis Groupe nine years ago as the chief digital officer for Asia-Pacific was a committed choice and continues to be a stimulating and rewarding challenge. 

An agency with a formidable creative reputation and legacy, energised by a familial culture, and an unrelenting focus on creating ideas that truly change human behaviour is addictive. And the opportunity to bring transformation in to this environment and enhance the ambition through data and technology for their many iconic brands, including McDonald’s has been another privilege.

The one constant is that clients still have problems to solve – even more complex today – products to sell, and consumers and employees to excite and engage. And that’s what keeps “it” exciting. 

With the management team at Publicis Groupe Japan

Customer experiences (CX) are the new imperative – thus my chosen title change three years ago;  transformation is the new big strategic ambition, and data is the new battleground. And I’m now back again in Japan with the Publicis Groupe. As they say, it’s only rock n’ roll, but I like it.

Approach

Char kway teow [stir-fried rice cake strips]. I love it. There are a set of  fundamental ingredients that make up the dish, but the truly special ones are those that have a “secret” ingredient. A little something that makes it extra special or different. 

Finding that extra ingredient and mastering how best to blend it in is something that I believe is intrinsic for success. Adding a specialist capability to a set of fundamental skills is critical for success.

Identify the specialism. Learn it, master it and keep learning. And then, add dashes of inspiration, passion and genuine commitment and you’ll have a recipe for success, in my humble cook book anyway. 

Highs

Thankfully, there are many on a personal level. 

These include successfully starting, running and selling my own businesses and coming out on the other end unscathed and wiser. 

Building truly transformative models during the Internet’s nascence for the likes of Thomas Cook (e-commerce), Shell Ferrari F1 (e-commerce and native content), the UK Immigration and Nationality Department (e-services) and e-banking/investing for a number of financial brands. All at a time when very few people were doing this.

Learning to design, UX, code, write for and publish a plethora of websites firsthand.

Building growth through integrated agency models with “traditional” iconic agencies; building teams of talent hell bent on digital excellence across ten markets in Asia-Pacific (and remaining friends with many); establishing hybrid specialist teams with Sapient to drive transformation, and contributing to world-class brands like McDonald’s growing market share, transforming customer engagement and winning Marketer of the Year at Spikes last year.

But broadly, just winning. Whether it’s acquiring a new client, hiring talent, exceeding a target or KPI, selling a great idea or a transformative model, launching a new platform, being recognised for performance, or simply celebrating success with colleagues. 

There are many, many more, but these are all reasons for feeling very good. 

Feeling good is crucial for performance. One needs to genuinely love what one does in order to perform at one’s best. And this industry is certainly no exception. 

It can be exhausting. It can be suffocated by mediocrity. It is often brutal. And there will always be politics and egos. But it can be and should be massively good fun, and emotionally and intellectually rewarding. 

My father always used to say to me, “If a job is worth doing, do it bloody well.” 

Lows

Losing: good people, good clients. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen all too often. But if it does, learn and make quick changes. 

Dos and Don’ts

Commit yourself, listen, learn a one-plus-one specialist skill, and make a difference. 

And if you don’t love it, don’t do it. Change direction and catch another bus. Just make sure it’s the right one.Neil Hudspeth is the chief experience officer at Publicis Groupe. He is based in Tokyo, Japan

ADVERTISEMENT

Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella Asia newsletter now.

 

SUBSCRIBE

Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing