Shrey Khetarpal | The Innovator 25 Asia Pacific 2017
Charting the future of public relations

2017 Innovator 25 AP - Shrey KhetarpalThe Innovator 25:

Shrey Khetarpal

Senior Director, WPP Account Lead for Ford Communications — Asia Pacific 

Burson-Marsteller  
Shanghai

“A lot of times organisations talk about innovation but don’t really create a culture – please welcome the crazy ideas and take a few risks”

As WPP account lead for Ford’s regional communications in Shanghai, Shrey Khetarpal has emerged as a key driver of his client’s transformation from traditional media outreach towards a more integrated communications approach. Since joining the team in 2013, Khetarpal has helped to usher in a more consumer-oriented and creative mindset to Ford’s product communications, transforming Ford’s traditional storytelling by exploring new content forms such as VR, Heads Up Display (HUD) and other technologies, while introducing influencer communications, collaborating with publishers, social platforms and consumer-friendly activations. Unsurprisingly, Khetarpal’s role was expanded to include brand and corporate communications, . and he is now focused on building out Ford’s capabilities in mobile and personalised communications. 

How do you define innovation?
Innovation to me is living curious. It is curiosity that drives the need to think beyond what is the norm or acceptable outcome. Innovation is also a result of learning. What we see, experience and learn, helps us question more and bring new ideas. 

Most innovative PR/comms campaign you’ve seen in the last 12 months?
To me the campaigns that stood out were about making this world a little better or sparking a conversation about something meaningful. The most innovative and real to me is Amnesty International’s ‘The Refugee Nation’. I also loved Vicks India’s short film that aimed to normalize transgendered parenthood. I hope they do more to support the transgender community. ‘Fearless Girl’ for State Street Global Advisors made a strong case about greater gender diversity in companies’ leadership. 

What brands and/or agencies are most innovative when it comes to marketing/PR?
Instagram as it innovates and brings features that users didn’t know they needed. I understand some of them seem like other apps, but all social platforms have borrowed ideas from each other. People who did not use Snapchat now love Instagram Stories; those who did not use Pinterest find Instagram’s new organized Save feature useful. I firmly believe that a brand’s core product and company values drive the right kind of innovation and therefore engagement. I admire Airbnb’s work on diversity – it’s not only good creative but also a core aspect of their business. In the last few years, Gucci and adidas Originals have done fantastic work in building a passionate and engaged group of fans and customers. At the core of both brands is excellent product and then their focus on driving creativity, celebrating individuality and consumer engagement. I also like the way Netflix and Spotify use data to tell innovative and interesting brand stories. 

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider ‘innovative.’
Every moment in my career that I would consider innovative is where I got a chance to explore, learn and apply. One of the best experiences of my professional life is working with National Geographic Channel in the early stages of my career. The brand’s tagline at that time was ‘Think again’, and that inspires me till date. As the public relations partner, we were not limited to driving media coverage alone, but were a part of a truly integrated marketing communications team. We helped design innovative consumer engagement campaigns, contributed to ideas that went on-air, and even helped pitch for sponsorships.   The opportunity with Ford helped me further to be innovative, as I did not understand the automotive sector initially and the clients were most supportive about it. I got to be an outsider and pitch ideas without the baggage of what works and what doesn’t work in auto sector. In the last few years, we crowd-sourced content, built an influencer relations program, experimented with storytelling formats, platforms and talent.   

In what area of marketing/PR do you see the most innovation?
Social media & online marketing.

How would you describe the communications/PR industry’s level of innovation?
Lagging the other marketing disciplines.

Where do you see the greatest opportunity for marketing & PR to become more innovative?
Content & creative.

Who most influences how innovative a brand’s marketing/PR is?
CMO

Who is your mentor and why?
Papri Dev (MD of client strategy and regional operations  at Zeno Asia). Papri is one of the smartest people I know and every conversation with her brings me clarity – whether it’s a professional or a personal challenge. She is strategic, creative and a great listener who asks the most relevant questions. 

How do you find inspiration?
I love watching people interact, present and share ideas in an office environment as well as outside.  I follow creative people on social platforms, especially Instagram and LinkedIn. I also love to travel that exposes me to different cultures and points of view. Having FOMO also helps and drives me to keep a tab on things. 

What is your advice for people seeking to bring new ideas and ways of doing things to their organizations?
Stay curious, learn from those smarter than you, take measured risks and don’t give up. Keep sharing ideas, a lot of them will be shot down but there will be a few that will come to life. A lot of times organisations talk about innovation but don’t really create a culture – to them I would say, please welcome the crazy ideas and take a few risks. 

In your opinion, what’s the most innovative place in the world?
I thrive in big cities as there’s so much to observe and learn from. There are neighbourhoods in every global city that are bursting with creativity and innovation. Tokyo’s Harajuku is probably the most fashionable place I have seen, while Akihabara is a celebration of strange; Shanghai is about meeting cool and interesting people; New York’s Broadway is about performance art; San Francisco’s Haight & Ashbury and Castro are culturally significant; New Delhi’s Hauz Khas brings together history, design, art and culture in a bustling village.

What’s your favorite time of day and why?
I don’t like waking up early but really enjoy the me-time I get in the morning. I get ready for work at a leisurely pace as it’s good time to think and my mind is clear of what the day brings.