Alex Brock | The Innovator 25 Asia Pacific 2018
Charting the future of public relations
Innovator 25 EMEA Alex Brock

Alex Brock

Head of digital

Syneos Health Communications Europe
London

“Innovation is not a quick fix, or even a project you can scope and deliver then move on. It's about a fundamental set of behaviours and culture”

Since taking the digital reins at Syneos Health Communications Europe in 2016, Alex Brock has put behavioural insights at the heart of everything the agency does. A catalyst for innovation across the firm, he has introduced new techniques for uncovering insights and strengthened Syneos’ approach to measuring impact and ROI. The result is “a culture of insatiable curiosity,” according to one colleague, which has taken the team into areas such as mobile ethnography, predictive analytics, artificial intelligence and voice. Described as an “unconventional thinker,” Brock is constantly striving to think around, under and over problems and situations to find the insight that will take a pharma company or brand where it hasn’t gone before.

How do you define innovation?
Innovation should ideally be defined as a mindset in which a person or group approaches every project with fresh eyes, continuously looking for ways to experiment, improve, or challenge the established approach.

What is the most innovative comms/marketing initiative you've seen in the last 12 months?
Elon Musk's Tesla in space. Extreme product placement. Aliens may find that Tesla in a billion years and that would be the last surviving trace of humanity. How confusing would that be?

Which brands and/or agencies are most innovative around PR and marketing?
IBM's Watson is an awesome PR/marketing mechanism. It's had a few issues recently around its use in oncology, but it's made a huge difference in terms of IBM’s perceived status as an innovator.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider 'innovative.'
As someone who comes from an insight and strategy background as opposed to implementation, a lot of things I work on that I consider innovative tend to be models for thinking about things, or ways of telling stories using data. For example, for a particular project I created a methodology for multichannel ecosystem mapping, and this is something we've used countless times across the European business here over the last five years.

Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation? 
The musician Beck. I've been a fan since the mid-nineties. Every album is different, nothing sits comfortably in a particular genre. He did one album with a blank cover and a pack of stickers inside so you could create your own, one album which was never released as a record and only exists as a printed song book. He's also done tons of innovative stuff with digital media like using 3D interactive video at performances. It’s like he doesn’t try to be innovative, he just is. I love Beck.

How do you get out of a creativity rut?
It’s quite boring, but generally I'm at my most creative when I'm being well-behaved: sleep, diet and exercise. When things get a bit hectic these tend to slip, then I might get in a rut until I reset things.

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
Work on the assumption that things will continue to change, and the rate of change will continue to increase. This means innovation is not a quick fix, or even a project you can scope and deliver then move on, as I mentioned earlier it's about a fundamental set of behaviours and culture that should apply at every level.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing your current job?
If I could work for any company it would probably be Lego.