Simon chats with Henry Innis, Strategy Director at Y&R Sydney.

Show Notes

Y&R is a creative agency with offices in Australia and New Zealand offering customers with creativity that delivers ideas that warrant attention, engagement and action.

You can contact Henry here:


Simon Dell: I am with today Henry Innis. I just remembered what you were, Henry, and then I’ve completely forgotten what you were.

Henry Innis: The National Engagement Planning Director for Young & Rubicam. It’s a very long title.

Simon Dell: Explain what that means for the people out there.

Henry Innis: It’s quite a funny story. I changed over from a company called VML, which is one of Y&R’s digital agencies in the region. They were kind of breaking off. And engagement planning is kind of this fancy new buzzword term. It basically means planning out how customers deal with creative and all that kind of thing. In reality, my role is strategy for big brands and I do that nationally across Brisbane, Melbourne, and Sydney.

Simon Dell: We’ll get to some more because you’ve got a lot of experience I think a lot of people will be interested to hear about. I want to take you all the way back. First question I always ask everybody is: What was the first job you did that you actually got paid for? And I mean, the very first one.

Henry Innis: I got my first paid job when I was about 14 working as a barista in a local cafe. I was mostly just stealing milk shakes from the back, to be honest.

Simon Dell: Do you make a good coffee though?

Henry Innis: To be honest, I’ve lost a touch of it. I was making a coffee in the office the other day and I realized that I kind of over froth the milk and things like that. Someone said, “You make a shit coffee now.” And I kind of thought to myself, “Oh, no. I’m getting old.”

Simon Dell: How long did you do that for?

Henry Innis: I did that for probably three years, and then I went into nightclub promoting when I was 17 with a fake ID. 

Simon Dell: Wow. I’ll get into that in a minute. What were some of the things that you learned? Everyone I talked to was really impressionable in their teenage years when they do their first jobs, but what are some of the things that you remember, lessons you learned or things that you learned within that that time serving coffee?

Henry Innis: It’s really interesting because I’m a people watcher. In a small cafe, when you’re watching people talk, you kind of notice that everyone is talking, not listening a lot. I think that’s the first thing you notice. The other thing that really stuck out to me was just how much people actually crave conversation. We used to have people come down to that coffee, and it used to be probably some of the only human contact they got that day. It was just part of their routine.

Simon Dell: What sort of people were you dealing with? Was it sort of an office block type thing?

Henry Innis: No. I was actually on a small island called Dangar Island, which is where I grew up in Hawkesbury River.

Simon Dell: That’s interesting that people will come and engage for conversation more than for coffee.

Henry Innis: That’s the thing, and coffee’s like one of those rituals where people kind of come down, they have their morning coffee and things like that. They have the people that they see. I mean, I know I do that today. So, I think it’s really interesting as well that people get into these patterns, and these routines, and they are quite resistant to changing from them. I know I will always go for my coffee at 9:00, 10:00 a.m. on the dot. And I think the same would be true of a lot of people.

Simon Dell: My father goes and buys a newspaper every day back in the UK, and he ends up in a 45-minute conversation with the bloke who sold him in the newspaper. It stuns me every day. I go, “What have you got to talk about with this guy for 45 minutes? What are you doing down there? What are you talking about today that you didn’t talk about yesterday and the day before that?”

Henry Innis: Whereabouts in the UK is that?

Simon Dell: They live in Tunbridge Wells in Kent.

Henry Innis: Well, yeah, they do love to talk there.

Simon Dell: Yeah. My father’s always been a talker, which is perhaps why I’ve ended up doing this podcast. That’s my channel of talking to people. I hate it when people call me. I’m not good on the phone. Face-to-face, podcasts, great. I just don’t really want to talk to people on the phone, which is weird. So, nightclub promoting at 17 with a fake ID. Tell me why, how, where.

Henry Innis: I won’t say who it was for because they would get in a lot of trouble, but it was in a nightclub district in Sydney. We kind of used to go out, and you try and drum up names. So, go to these nightclubs. And of course, I was kind of going clubbing with a group of friends a lot. And so, I kind of just did it. My parents were horrified but it was great fun.

It was great fun. I met people there that I still meet today. There’s some people I’ve met who were in that scene who I kind of now know as bankers or something like that, because everyone comes when they’re 18.

Simon Dell: Was it standing on the front door and seeing tall, hot girls as well?

Henry Innis: No, because see, I was quite a fat bloke so they didn’t really put me on the front door.

Simon Dell: You were more of a behind-the-scenes at that age.

Henry Innis: Yeah, I was more just get the listing, get the unattractive people who buy drinks in.

Simon Dell: The high spenders but not the good lookers.

Henry Innis: Yeah, that’s my target demographic. I still think that’s my target demographic.

Simon Dell: Let’s hope none of your clients are listening to this.

Henry Innis: But I think it was a very enlightening job. It just tells you a lot about human behaviour, doesn’t it? I wasn’t very good at it though for too long.

Simon Dell: The other thing I picked up from your LinkedIn profile was what you went and did as a degree. I’m interested in why and how you chose History and Anthropology.

Henry Innis: Yeah, it was History and Anthropology. To be perfectly frank, I didn’t actually end up finishing it, which you might notice on that because I entered full-time work. It was mostly because I just didn’t really know what I wanted to do and just kind of thought, “Actually, that seems broad enough that I’m not really going to fuck anything up.” It’s not going to be intense like law, and I can kind of experience uni life a bit.

Simon Dell: You think you were perhaps looking at maybe cruise through something in uni?

Henry Innis: I think that’s probably a very accurate way of putting it, yeah.

Simon Dell: I don’t want to put words in your mouth. I’m kind of getting the sense that that was… I wish I had the foresight you did, because I ended up doing a double degree in law and politics, and all I wanted to do is cruise through. And you do not cruise through with law.

Henry Innis: There was that, and I also didn’t have the marks to get into law. So, that probably had something to do with it.

Simon Dell: I don’t think you’ve missed anything.

Henry Innis: I was one of those students who was very smart, very lazy, I think. 

Simon Dell: I think a lot of good leaders and a lot of good business people are smart and lazy. I’ve done another podcast today, which you know, both recorded on the same day but go out on different times, but the guy that I spoke to early on, we talked about how he almost killed himself launching his first business. But when he did his second one, he made sure that he didn’t do that again. I think some people who are smart enough to sit there and go, “Alright, what’s actually going to give me a decent return on investment here?”

Henry Innis: People always talk about ROI. I talk about ROT, return on my time which is a much better way to look at it. I kind of go, “If I was to do two to three things well, what’s going to make that 80 to 90% difference?” 

Simon Dell: That’s a really good way of looking at it. So, you ended up dropping out of university. Don’t worry, you’re not the only person that I’ve interviewed on this podcast that has dropped out of university. But what made you decide to just go, “You know what? Bugger that. Let’s go and get a job.” Was it just the opportunity or you made the decision before?

Henry Innis: I’m still doing a comms degree online, I should say.

Simon Dell: Catching up, right?

Henry Innis: Yeah. I’m just doing one subject this semester. But one of the key things that kind of happened was I wanted to do some part-time work in marketing. I got an internship and then got a paid job, which was still part-time at a content agency called Edge. And then I used to write this digital marketing blog. And being a bit of an asshole 20-year-old, I kind of sent it around to the top 20 CEOs in marketing in Australia for the purpose of, “I would love your point of view and to catch up if you are interested in it.”

And I got an email back from this lovely gentleman called Andrew Baxter, or Billy Baxter as a lot of people know him, who offered to have coffee with me. He was the CEO of Ogilvy Australia at the time. He took me out for an hour and a half. We kind of had a chat and things like that. It would have been about an hour or something like that. He bought me coffee. We were talking about what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go.

And he ended up introducing me to a guy called Adam Beaupeurt, who was the strategy director at DT which is now called AKQA, and they offered me a job. And a big part of that job was that there was a five-day commitment and things like that which made doing the degree at Sydney University a bit harder. So, it made me just want to transfer a bit more and kind of minimize it. It’s what ended up happening, basically.

Simon Dell: That’s a ballsy move, just emailing those 20 CEOs. Were you thinking that they would respond when you did that, or were you just accepting that the likelihood of response was going to be pretty low?

Henry Innis: I thought the likelihood of response was pretty low, but I also thought, “Fuck it, what have I got to lose?” It’s a funny thing, when people are young, I think that before you’re 30, you get a lot more leeway with doing a lot of things. You get a lot more leeway with pushing people, and emailing people randomly, and cold calling people. I’m just of the belief that people don’t do very good cold calls, and cold emails, and things like that anymore and because we’re all obsessed about what other people think about us.

To be honest, think about the last time you got a cold email from someone. You don’t sit there and go, “You know what? I’m never going to fucking talk to that person again.” And I had a bit of a calculation that that was going to be the same, either they would ignore me or they’d reach out to me. It wouldn’t do any harm to my future reputation, so why not?

Simon Dell: Yeah. We talk about a lot of businesses about cold calling, cold email… And again, on the last podcast, we talked about just knocking on doors or picking up the phone. At the end of the day, whilst it might irritate some people and annoy some people, you have, certainly in the early stages of careers and the early stages of startups and businesses, nothing really big to lose at that point, have you?

Henry Innis: No. I think people overestimate. It’s funny. There’s this difference in perception between two sets of people, right? Because you’re spending all of this time crafting this email, it means so much to you. There’s such a high investment on your side often with a cold call that you subconsciously attribute that on the other side. And I think what tends to happen is people go, “Well, fuck. I’ve spent so much time crafting this. I spent so much time.” And so, they think they’re putting that same position on someone else. If someone wants to ignore you, they’ll just delete your email.

Simon Dell: So, your first job at AKQA…

Henry Innis: My first job at DT, I met this guy Adam Beaupeurt who stuck me on a roof as part of my first test in 40-degree heat to get me to do a 20-minute writing exercise, and that’s how I got the job.

Simon Dell: Sorry, you’re going to have to explain that in a bit more detail. He put you on a roof.

Henry Innis: They put me on a roof. He takes me onto this roof. There’s a big roof terrace at the Ogilvy building. It was in St. Leonards at the time, they’ve moved now. It’s 40-degree heat, and he brings out a pencil. I mean, who the fuck brings out a pencil to a writing task? But that’s another question.

And then he sits me down in this 40-degree heat, and he sticks a statement of work for a client. It was Medibank, I believe. And he goes, “Talk me through…” And he had a clear idea of how he would do it, but he said, “Talk me through how you would do this, how you would make this into a program.” And so, I kind of had to stop writing notes on the process, and how I break it out, and what the key things I would do would be.

And he said, “I’ll be back in 20 minutes.” 15 minutes later, he returns and goes. “How are you going?” And I just talked him through what I would do and how I would approach it. It was just about trying to just go through things quite logically and sequentially rather than trying to do everything at once, and he gave me the job. And in my first week, I was tasked with putting together this report for Medibank.

Simon Dell: And he had you doing that on the roof in the sunshine?

Henry Innis: He had me doing that on the roof in the sunshine, yeah.

Simon Dell: Looking back on it, do you think that was deliberate, or you just didn’t even contemplate that you were in the sunshine?

Henry Innis: It was 100% deliberate. He’s boasted about it to people.

Simon Dell: When he boasts about it, what’s his reasoning about it? Are you supposed to ask if you can go and sit inside, or are you just supposed to deal with the heat?

Henry Innis: I think it’s a test under pressure. It’s to put you in unfamiliar, not office-like environment, just to see how you react. It’s not like I was dehydrated out there. He did bring me a glass of water. But you know, it’s just to see how you react in different circumstances.

Simon Dell: Does he still do it?

Henry Innis: I’m not sure, but knowing him, probably.

Simon Dell: So if anybody’s going for a job with him in the next six months, take sunscreen and a hat with you.

Henry Innis: Yes. That’s very good advice.

Simon Dell: That is good advice for getting a job at DT. What other stuff did you work on there? What was perhaps one of the highlights that you worked on there in terms of a client?

Henry Innis: Well, I’m most proud of the work I did on the Optus account there. I worked with Optus for quite a while. I’ve got thrown on the deep end there. We crafted a really cool campaign on Facebook which was all about using Facebook’s data quite laterally. We look at things like time of Facebook app install and that kind of thing.

And what that would do is that would allow us to understand different life cycles. So for example, we started marking to people based on contract length that they’re in. That was a bit of a change for them, because if you think about a marketing budget on a telco, if you’re kind of going out mass-market, your marketing budget has a high amount of wastage.

Because what you’re often doing is you’re marketing to people who are in month six of their contract. They’re sitting there going, “Fuck. I’m seeing these great ads and deals from Optus or something like that, but I actually can’t break my contract or anything like that.” So, it was about building a life cycle around it. And what you found is that kind of month 0 to 12, someone was often in the mindset of — they’re often frustrated with their new telco. That’s very, very common because you experience a complaint, or a big bill, or something like that.

What happens from there is people go, “I’m frustrated and annoyed. I’m going to kind of move. I want to move telco.” It’s the best time to be talking about the telco’s benefits, how you’re upgrading your network, all the things that aren’t really going to drive someone to convert, but brand building in their head. And then you start to talk about new phones in the later months.

If you’re going from month 20 to 24, you’re not actually thinking about the telco you want to be with. You’re thinking about the phone first, and the new phone, because your phone’s probably two years old. It’s a bit slow. It’s a bit annoying. So, you need to almost market phone first and then position the network as supporting the phone. That’s what we did, and it was very successful.

We worked with some of their leadership team to look at what the future of telcos looked like. Because you have a massively changed role for telcos, with the internet, with data becoming the dominant paradigm for a telco. Prepaid is increasingly becoming a very difficult territory for them to play in as well. It’s a couple of things that we did there that were very interesting.

We launched the Netflix partnership. We handled all the digital acquisition and banner work for that, which was very fun and very interesting. I did a lot of that quarter by quarter campaign strategy, but it’s the performance marketing stuff around life cycles that I thought was probably my best work.

Simon Dell: A couple of questions out of that. The first one is: What’s your feeling as Optus with a brand? You can be as candid as you like. I’m interested to see where you think Optus is as a brand. The second thing I was going to ask you is: Obviously, the big thing from my perspective that Optus did two years ago was accessing the Premiership football. Do you think that was a good move? Do you think that paid off for them? How do you think that sits in the great scheme of things for Optus and for the consumers as well?

Henry Innis: Really great question. I think what Optus did three years ago just after I left, but we were kind of talking to them about this in some ways… And I can be pretty candid here because I don’t work with them anymore. I haven’t for three years. But as a very interested observer, as a brand, they’re trying to move away from being a telco.

The reason for that is because telcos are a commoditized business. If you’re in the telco business, there’s not much difference between a gigabyte from Vodafone and a gigabyte from Optus. The only thing that might be different is network coverage, but increasingly, that gap is being closed as well. What Optus has done, and it’s pretty well-documented, is said they’re going to be an entertainment company.

Which I think is interesting for a couple of reasons. One, it changes their competitive set. Because if you’re an entertainment company, you’re competing with Netflix as much as with Vodafone. Two, it locks people into their content properties. As a brand, how well they’ve executed on that strategy, I’m not so sure. Because if I was Optus, what I would be doing is doubling down on content rights.

They started to do that with the EPL. And the EPL, I think, netted them around 150,000 customers, which is not too bad. But if you think about EPL, NRL, AFL five or six dig, and you know, maybe it’s Game of Thrones or something like that, they need to double down on buying those shows, and they are only available for Optus users, and then marketing the shit out of that.

Because if I see a poster that says, “Game of Thrones only available on Optus customers,” of course that’s going to shift the dial in number of customers. And we’ve seen that with Netflix. We’ve seen that with Stan. Stan has massive incremental gains with the number of people that have joined their service ever since they started really marketing their content and really focusing on their content.

You’ve seen the same thing with Netflix. Netflix pretty much defines its business and its marketing around TV shows, not around its platform. If you want to be in the entertainment business, I think you’ve got to do that. I think they’ve started that. Do I think they’ve done it well? I’m not so sure. And I think that’s this challenge with a great sounding strategy. It’s really easy to put on paper, but unless you’re going to put the money where the mouth, is which is expensive and it’s an investment, it is hard to do.

Simon Dell: A couple of things out of that as well. I tend to agree with you. I think Netflix, you’re either all in or you’re all out when it comes to entertainment. There is no kind of middle ground. And I think you’re absolutely right. They started with a bang and then everyone’s sort of going, “What’s next?” I don’t think they’ve followed it up at all. The question that I would also then take out of that is, and we’re digressing slightly, but I’m really interested in your opinion on this.

When you talk about content and when you mention things like Game of Thrones, and Netflix, and HBO, and all those those kind of channels and properties, I think the big challenge at the moment is there’s very few TV shows and very few content properties that people give a shit enough about to switch provider. And I’m going to use the EPL because I think that’s one, and you said that gained them 150,000 users or whatever.

Game of Thrones will be another. But when you drop down from that top tier, I look at Stan for example and I go, “There’s a lot of good content that I would watch on Stan, but can I be arsed having another streaming service in my life? Probably not.” Do you think that’s the case or do you think people will switch, that there’s enough top-tier content to make people switch?

Henry Innis: Here’s the thing. If you’re talking about Netflix and things like that, I’ll take your point. But if you’re talking about Optus as a business where its financial competitive set is Telstra and Vodafone, I think that’s less of an issue. Because all they need is one massive tent pole property, right? And then you go, come Game of Thrones time, there’s all these Optus posters up around Game of Thrones releasing for Optus customers only, and Telstra customers are seeing all the trailers and things like that.

You actually think you miss out on something quite cultural. Do I think shows exist out there? Yes. I mean, there’s Orange is the New Black. There’s House of Cards. There’s Arrested Development. There’s enough that would make a significant difference to the perception of a telco.

Simon Dell: But would you switch from one telco to another for Orange is the New Black?

Henry Innis: If they’re all pretty much commoditized, then yes. I just tend to think there’d be a large number of people who would.

Simon Dell: I’m on the fence on it.

Henry Innis: Orange is the New Black is probably a bad example for us to talk about because we’re men. But for women, I think it’s a hugely popular show.

Simon Dell: Yeah, my wife likes that and Wentworth where women are being locked up for some strange reason. She would. If someone said, “You could only get Wentworth on an Optus plan.” She’d be over on Optus straight away.

Henry Innis: Exactly. And you know, maybe it’s about taking some more niche shows. But I think the fact that you can kind of have these entertainment propositions locked into a telco is very interesting. It just needs to be executed. I think one of the good things they have done is made Netflix and Stan unlimited. I know that’s hugely useful to consumers, and it’s something you don’t talk about enough.

Simon Dell: From there, you’ve got a couple of businesses here. Who are BBE?

Henry Innis: I don’t even know what the acronym stands for, so you’ll have to call them and ask them. I think they just made it up in a pub one day, but it was started by the same guy, Adam Beaupeurt who I worked for at DT, and Tim Evans who I also work for at DT.

I was kind of leaving DT, and in the process of leaving it, just because I just felt like I needed a bit of a refresh and I wanted to do something a bit different, they said, “Would you like to come and join us?” Once I kind of shared that leaving process. I think that was quite an exciting time. I was on the path to partnership in that business which was extremely interesting. I was probably the first strategist that they employed in the business.

It was a very interesting time. We were working with Medibank a lot doing social and content strategy. Probably the key highlight for me there was some of the platform work that I did. We did this program called subscriber acquisition which decreased some of their costs to acquire email addresses by about 50%, which was fascinating. And then we also worked with an ex-Optus client of mine, Karen Fibson [sp], who’s a fantastic marketer, she’s absolutely brilliant, developing some of her digital strategy and customer frameworks.

I have a very good relationship, so she brought me across. It was a very interesting time. The other thing that we did was launch an app called Bond at schoolies, which was a little bit crazy and interesting.

Simon Dell: Were you up in the Gold Coast?

Henry Innis: I lived in the Gold Coast for a month and a half hour at schoolies.

Simon Dell: It was feral sometimes wasn’t it. 

Henry Innis: You go in there thinking, “Oh, this can be fun.” It was feral. Absolutely feral. I’ve never seen such a mass of screaming teenagers in my life.

Simon Dell: You’re a braver man than me. How old were you at the time?

Henry Innis: I was 22.

Simon Dell: You’re not far off them.

Henry Innis: Yeah, I’m not too far. But some of the people I was working with were much older as well. It was very interesting.

Simon Dell: I can’t think of anything worse than spending six weeks on the Gold Coast when schoolies is on.

Henry Innis: It was tough.

Simon Dell: I’ll talk about the work that you’re doing at the moment with Y&R. But I want to get an understanding. Of all the brands and businesses that you’ve worked with, what are some of the things that you see that businesses do really badly? I want to preface that with thinking more about an average business owner who might have 20 or 30 staff versus a Medibank, or an Optus, or those kind of things. What do you see that people could do?

Henry Innis: Email marketing, whether you’re in a five-person business, or a 50-person business, or a 5,000-person business, I think it’s one of the most poorly done channels.

Simon Dell: What’s done poorly?

Henry Innis: People don’t think about the customer at all when it comes to email. What people generally do when they send out emails is they behave like an office company, right? They’re just trying to put another offer in someone’s inbox. What they’re trying to do is just constantly talking to them and constantly finding reasons to talk to them about their products.

When email is done really well, you’re giving yourself a reason to talk to someone every week, so they remember your brand and build preference for your brand. It’s one of the cheapest and most effective channels to do that. I’ll give you an example. It’s the difference between Medibank talking about insurance in their emails every week to talking about food recipes.

And if Medibank are talking about food recipes, it then gives them license to go and talk about stuff like whatever you want to do, like health insurance or health products. The same could apply for a 50-person industrial business in rural Queensland, or hardware stores, or something like that. If you’re a 50-person hardware store and you’re constantly sending someone, “Here are the new deals” and things like that, unless he was really price driven and Bunnings level price driven, it’s very hard for someone to go, “You know what? I’m going to open that email every week.”

And so, they’ll switch off. It’ll get moved to the spam folder and then you’ve lost your channel to that person. Whereas if that same business was just going, “Here’s what all of our staff are building this week.” Different proposition. And that level of customer centricity is just very apparent in email. It’s shit like, when you send out an email, don’t have the reply email as a Do Not Reply email address. That’s just telling your customer you don’t give a shit about them. Why advertise that you don’t care about your customer?

Simon Dell: Two things spring to mind from that example. I’ve had a conversation within the last 12 months with a butcher, a small, family-run butcher, not a big chain or anything like that. I said exactly the same. Collect information, collect email addresses of all the people that are coming in, I said, “Because this is your life blood. The people coming through the door buying sausages or steaks off you every week.”

And then I said, “And set up some email communication.” I said exactly the same thing as you said. “Let’s not just use it to tell them what’s cheap. Let’s use it to teach them how to cook things that you sell and particular recipes that you’ve created.” Because they’ll keep those emails. If it’s a good recipe and they enjoy it, they’ll come in and buy the product. They will keep that email so that their family can have it again.

That is a very small difference. It’s a small difference between the content that goes in an email that’s steaks at this price, sausages at this price, versus, you know, “Here’s how to make a whatever particular steak.” It’s not a massive difference, but it’s a bit of a difference in mindset.

The second thing that I always remember, and just shits me to tears, and I put them into spam probably three months ago, was Fishpond. Fishpond are online book sellers. They were the Australian Amazon type thing, and it must be a really small run company. I wanted to keep buying books through them but they keep sending me emails of books a wholly unrelated to anything I browse for on their website, and completely unrelated to anything that I’ve bought or slightly been interested in buying.

Whereas you get Amazon’s emails, absolutely on point with exactly what you’re interested in. And I think whilst all the small businesses out there can’t be Amazon, they can all do a much better job of the content that they’re sharing out with people.

Henry Innis: I couldn’t agree more.

Simon Dell: What about some of the other things that you think businesses could be doing better out there?

Henry Innis: Social media is such an oversaid one. But I think if you’re a small business looking to do local area marketing, you cannot go past Facebook and its starter set. Really targeted, strong local marketing can be done very, very well on Facebook. I just think it’s a really underutilized channel. I think Facebook’s location targeting in particular is badly used for retail footprints and retail stores in particular.

The other key thing I’d say is, there’s two more key points. One, creativity. I think small businesses don’t go, “How do we be a little bit more creative and interesting?” They’re too risk-averse at times. When you’re a small business, it’s different from being an Optus, right? You can actually do some fun and weird shit when you’re a small business. The second thing as well is embracing new technology.

I’m working with a business at the moment called Flowbox, which is a fantastic piece of AI-driven software, started in a small business segment, just didn’t have enough uptake. And what we’re finding is that enterprise businesses — and it’s AI Facebook marketing. Enterprise businesses are more willing to take the risk in small businesses on these sorts of things, which is really surprising to me.

Simon Dell: I like your point about small businesses can be more creative, and I think that’s completely the opposite way. Because they sit there and go, “Well, as a small business, I can’t be creative because I don’t have the budgets of an Optus or a Medibank in order to employ people to be creative.” And I think small businesses need to be able to go, “The benefit we’ve got is that we’ve got people around us. We’ve got people working in the business, or family, or friends. Let’s ask them for some creative ideas. Let’s get them all pissed at a barbecue and see what we come up with as a way to promote our business.”

And the other thing I think with small businesses, they can move a lot quicker. If they come up with an idea at Sunday night in a barbecue, and it’s good enough and easy enough to execute, they can have it in place in their business on Wednesday. They don’t have to go through the clunky organization of pitching it into the agency, and the agency taking it away, and doing research, and coming back, et cetera.

Henry Innis: Exactly. It’s crazy how small businesses don’t take advantage of how nimble they are and how they are able to embrace really interesting, creative ideas. There was this business called the White Moose Cafe in Dublin, in Ireland. It’s got something close to 200,000 people follow it. It’s a small business. All this guy does is just be really candid and funny in social media. It’s genuinely great content because it’s straight from the owners mouth.

Often, these small business owners are characters, right? Like, I know my local butcher. I know my local cafe guy. They are characters in and of themselves, and letting that character flow through to their social is such a powerful thing. It’s something a big business can’t replicate.

Simon Dell: I think the other thing is, with things like that, is that a lot of small businesses have this fear of offending people. I think the White Moose Cafe, because we’ve discussed that on an earlier podcast seven or eight episodes ago, because I think he got in the news for insulting somebody, or upsetting somebody, or they complained. I can’t remember the actual case, but I think small businesses are worried about offending people.

But I think in this day and age, you got to realize that whatever you do, you’re going to offend somebody. And the chances are, the more people you offend, the more people are actually going to come out and back you up. 

Henry Innis: It’s funny you say that because one of the things that one of the best agencies in Australia says, which is The Monkeys, they say they’re all about provocation. And I think that cannot be truer in the social media age. If you’re not provoking and creating conversation, then you’re dull. The reality is that in an attention economy, you have to be interesting. And people aren’t interesting enough at the moment.

No one gives a shit about a photo of a couple of people in front of a butcher shop holding a couple of things it made. No one cares.

Simon Dell: What they want is something that is useful to them, that’s interesting to them, that they’re going to open an email and go, “That’s a great recipe. I can make that. All I need is the ingredients from the butcher shop and it’s done.” I love that idea from The Three Monkeys, but provocation doesn’t necessarily have to be pissing people off. It just has to be getting people’s attention one way or another, and it might be with something that’s extremely useful to them. It might be something that’s challenging a way that they think previously.

But those are all really good ideas for small businesses. What do you think small businesses do well? We’ve just bagged them about the things they’re not doing well. What do you think? What do you think they do well?

Henry Innis: I think the good ones are letting personality shine through. I mean, I remember this other small business, freakshake or something like that, out of Canberra where they were putting up these crazy milkshakes that just looked awesome. And I think it’s when they let their personality shine through. That’s when they are doing well. It’s just the inverse of what I’ve said, right?

When they have that ability to kind of come through, and show their owners but also show their owners personality and thoughts, and really take the character of their smaller brand — which is often more interesting, because it has more character, doesn’t have to be in this big bloated bureaucracy that is modern day marketing — that’s where they’ve got their strengths and that’s when they do do really well.

I’ve seen some of the best content over the past two years come out of small businesses, whether it be the freakshake scene, or the White Moose Cafe thing; there’s always a reason for small businesses to be going viral. You see it every day, and it’s just often the ones with a bit of character.

Simon Dell: And it’s funny that when you see small businesses that end up becoming big businesses, and big clunky businesses like the Retail Food Group in the last four weeks, that was born out of small brands that have grown, it’s amazing, the fact that any of those Retail Food Group brands I would say is devoid of any kind of form of personality that you’ve just said.

And if they all have perhaps sat and went back to basics and said, “You know what? We need the personality of the owners, the people in these businesses to really shine through on a local level.” It might make a big difference to where their business is sitting at the moment.

Henry Innis: That’s right. There’s this awkward tension between growing from a small business into a big brand. Because a big brand has the budget to make big cultural pieces of work, whereas a small business has the ability to channel a local character. It’s those people sitting in the middle, which I actually think have the toughest time of all. And it’s really, really hard. You’ve seen that with IGA’s new campaign. They’re trying to recapture that local spirit. They haven’t quite nailed it in my view.

The Shane Jacobson ad comes off as very, very wooden. It doesn’t come across as having local character, or cultural influence, or impact. I think it’s a difficult territory to play in.

Simon Dell: It’s really interesting. It’s an interesting point. Again, on a complete side note, and it’s bizarre, but where I go and buy my petrol every week, the guy behind the counter is an Indian guy. Probably one of the most Australian Indian people I’ve ever met. It’s his personality when you walk in the store. It’s not the fact that it’s a Shell garage, or it’s a Cole’s associated Shell garage, or what’s on special. It’s just him, and the way he says hello to you, and the way he talks to you. It makes all the difference.

Down the road, there’s a Caltex, and there’s a BP, but you just wouldn’t bother even if they were cheaper or had a better selection, but you’d go to him because of the way he is with you.

Henry Innis: Exactly. People like people, and intuitively, that’s what brands are trying to replicate. That’s why you hear brands talk about people-based marketing and all that kind of thing. That’s why brands often try to turn big companies into humans, because actually, people still crave the human touch when they interact with businesses. It’s just, they cannot get that from a big, faceless corporation with a big bureaucracy.

Simon Dell: Annie Parker, former CEO of Fishburners and is going off to currently head up Microsoft Global Startup Play I interviewed probably 10 or so episodes ago. She worked in telcos in the UK, and she said when they gave the people answering the phone, when they gave them some leeway about how they could deal with the customer and how they could solve the problem, the rate at which they lost customers reduced dramatically.

Henry Innis: Actually, Southwest Airlines does that really well in the US as well.

Simon Dell: Yes, I’ve used that example a couple of times with how they do the announcement at the start.

Henry Innis: They also empower their frontline staff to just solve customer issues straight away. So, that customer, that personal touch and care really comes through because of the way that they set up their business. But that requires a lot of effort from big businesses. It requires a lot of thinking, a lot of planning. I think big businesses are going more that way now, but it’s something that local businesses definitely have an advantage in.

Simon Dell: Talk to me about what you’re doing at Y&R at the moment. What stuff are you working on there?

Henry Innis: Y&R has gone through a really interesting period of change. I think we’re probably one of the largest creative networks across Australia at the moment. We’ve got a fantastic heritage, obviously, with George Pats and things like that. But I think what we’re trying to do now is just build that very modern advertising agency, the type of agency that can kind of handle anything from new media challenges, to big creative challenges, to thinking actually creatively about businesses and brands as well; not just thinking about creativity and communications.

We’re going through that change. I think we’re still trying to define some of what our role is in the modern landscape as every group is, but I think we’re doing a really great job of it. And of course, we’re working with some fantastic people. My day-to-day really is figuring out what communications and amplification that our client should be using to make their creative ideas just work harder, or what tools do the creatives have in their arsenal that they can use to kind of make the creative even better, which is a really exciting role to play.

Simon Dell: Is there anything that you’re working on right now that you can tell us about that you think is exciting that we’ll see soon, or that kind of thing?

Henry Innis: There’s something we’ve just released, actually, which I’m exceptionally proud of, which is work to for Deloitte Australia, which is the Sound of Deloitte piece, which is all about diversity. It’s understanding what happens when you add different voices or only hear from certain voices in a choir setting. It’s quite a powerful moving piece of work, just to show the impacts of diversity. And actually, if we all listened for different voices and all come together a bit more, we could do some really amazing things.

Simon Dell: I’ll get you to send that to me because I’ll share that on our Instagram so people can see that. Deloitte’s an interesting brand. How long have you been working with them?

Henry Innis: We’ve been doing a little bit of work with them since I got here, basically, which was November last year. It’s a great business, great brand.

Simon Dell: They’ve got their own agencies, haven’t they?

Henry Innis: They’ve got their own digital agency, yeah, Deloitte Digital. They do some phenomenal work. It’s a really interesting business. I think there’s a trend in consultancies to try and broaden their offering. Do I think they’re clashing with creative agencies as much as everyone is making out? Probably not. I think what those businesses are really trying to do is they’re trying to engage and broaden their offering a bit more in terms of how they consult.

If you look at where Deloitte, or PWC, or Ernst & Young, what they’re really trying to say is actually: We can tell you how creativity could play a bigger role in growing your business. I don’t think they actually want to be down and dirty making the creative themselves.

Simon Dell: It’s interesting that you just mentioned that. We’ll go off on that tangent very quickly, but that whole PWC, and Deloittes, and all the others that are starting to acquire creative agency or acquire advertising agencies, do you think the reverse is likely to happen that big ad agencies start adding in consultancy arms, where they look at a broader picture of the…

Henry Innis: It already has happened. If you look at Ogilvy Red, it’s probably a very fast growing and high performing business. That’s the consulting arm of Ogilvy globally. I think that kind of pushback has already happened. Will it happen more? I don’t know. If I was to guess and put a finger in the dark, I’d say maybe. I’d say that it’s going to be more likely that we try to go upstream and bring creativity into the boardroom.

Whether that’s in a consulting role, I don’t know if it’s quite in the same space, but it’s just like they would never be quite in the same space as us. I think it’s more overlap.

Simon Dell: Last question before I do my three last questions, if that makes sense. New tech, new things that are happening in the world: AI, VR, self-driving cars. What gets you most excited for the next 5-10 years of technology?

Henry Innis: First of all, I’m just going to say VR I think is complete horseshit.

Simon Dell: I’ll wait until you get to the end of this because I’m interested to talk about that. But go on, keep going.

Henry Innis: I think augmented reality is very valid, but VR, as a user interface does not work. It’s like 3D printing. 3D printing is quite a niche product. It works in certain circumstances. I think VR is exactly the same. If I want to sit there and kind of view a future house, maybe it works there. Will we ever be walking around in headsets, exploring new worlds? I really seriously doubt it.

I think the more interesting technology to look at there is the neural lace, which is going to very quickly displace those VR headsets. That’s not to say I don’t believe in the idea of us being hooked up to a computer and somehow going into those worlds. I just think the current vision…

Simon Dell: Not with a pair of goggles on your forehead in and out of your life.

Henry Innis: Not with a fucking Oculus Rift. Have you seen that thing? It sits on your face and it looks ridiculous.

Simon Dell: I’ve worn a couple of sets, but yeah, go on, keep going.

Henry Innis: I just think that the neural lace is going to massively displace VR. I think augmented reality, the Magic Leap, I’m not sure if you’ve seen that. I actually got to trial that the other day. That’s doing a phenomenal job of augmented reality and it’s doing it really well. So, I think that’s definitely a big area.

In terms of other stuff, I think AI is a very badly misunderstood term, if you want the truth. We know we need to close to general intelligence or what we call AGI. No one even knows how the brain structure works or how we kind of learn. What we have is the theory of learning called deep reinforcement learning for a neural net, and that’s basically the premise of machine learning and all of these AlphaGos.

The challenge with AI is: How do you quantify an environment that we don’t know how to quantify? And what I mean by that is, no one quite knows how to quantify the brain and how our imagination works. And for all of the AI models that we have at the moment, they rely on a quantifiable input. Does that make sense?

Simon Dell: Yes.

Henry Innis: I think that’s very badly misunderstood. Machine learning, on the other hand, very, very relevant for where we are today. I think machine learning applied to businesses, particularly actually small businesses, there’s a lot of great technology out there which just means you could do what you would normally have to hire a consultant for on software.

Simon Dell: I think that will become more and more accessible in the next two or three years for small businesses, that they need to start thinking areas of their business that they could automate, or turn over to the machine learning, rather than keep paying someone to do it for them every week.

Henry Innis: 100%. The other interesting area around all of this is that, as machine learning comes in, it’s a bit like how Facebook democratized advertising. I think machine learning democratize a lot of business processes. I think businesses are going to become easier to scale with all of these different things. Machine learning is a space I’m actively investing in myself. I think it’s really interesting.

Simon Dell: I’m going to take a step back to your VR one, because I wholly agree. I went to see a company based in Sydney who do AR and VR, and I had the headset on, cables running out the back of me down to the back of a PC on the other side of the room and I’m going, “Yeah, the experience is amazing and I get that this is first gen technology, but this is never getting into my lounge room. I am never sitting here next to my wife putting a headset on and pretending I’m in the fucking plains of Africa. It’s just not going to happen because it’s such an antisocial, despite the fact that you’re in the same thing together, it’s still a very antisocial thing to do.

Until I went to a VR gaming thing the other week four weeks ago. I’ve just completely forgotten the name of it now, Zero Latency. Have you been to a VR game thing?

Henry Innis: I have played some games in VR. Yeah, I don’t mind it.

Simon Dell: This is a free-roaming VR game. You go into essentially what is an empty warehouse, and you’re given a gun, and a headset, and a pair of headphones. You’re not attached to anything. And you go in there, and I went in there with five friends. The one we took part in was a zombie experience. So, you’re pretty much, for the best part of 45 minutes, killing as many zombies as you possibly can.

Again, it’s first gen technology. The graphics are at the standard of Call of Duty, that kind of thing. It’s quite confronting to start with, and then you get in and then you actually really enjoy it. And for 45 minutes, we had enormous amount of fun. Now, you take that experience and you overlap it on, let’s say, the next Star Wars film where you could go in and spend an hour in the Star Wars Universe wandering about with your mates, that’s where I think it has legs.

Henry Innis: I can see that.

Simon Dell: And I would say to anybody, I completely agree with you with VR in certain spaces. But entertainment-wise… And I mean, they took $66 off us each for that 45 minutes. So, you kind of expand that kind of thing, maybe one cinema within a cinema chain, or one screen within a cinema becomes a VR space, that I can see.

Henry Innis: Well, VR might become the new cinema then.

Simon Dell: Yeah. You’d go with your mates or you go with your wife and wander through a fantastic experience.

Henry Innis: There’s no doubt. Cinema numbers are on the decline, so someone’s going to have to do something with all that space. It’s really interesting.

Simon Dell: Okay, my last three questions. Brands that you admire, what’s something that you buy all the time that you really like?

Henry Innis: Good question. I’m personally a very big fan of Menulog, who for full disclosure is a client, but I use them all the time. I think they’ve got a really wide range. I think it’s a fun brand. It’s an interesting brand, and you know, and I prefer how they feel to the commoditized feel that I feel that Uber has. Just on a brand perspective, I really like them.

Simon Dell: That was the one with Jeff Goldblum doing the advertising.

Henry Innis: Yes. Airbnb is just such a beautifully-crafted brand, particularly how they deal with their community. They’ve taken the idea of branding and just extended it to every single point, and I think that’s an incredible lesson for people to take, is putting your branding into every single touch point possible. If you’re looking globally at some really solid brands, you can’t go past some of Nike’s work.

What Nike have been doing to build communities of athletes… And again, they just injected that Nike feel into every touch point. They’ve built a brilliant app, which actually has genuinely good value for people, and they’re also developing a great e-commerce business. As a brand, they just have everything covered.

Simon Dell: Last two questions. Penultimate question: What’s next for you. You’ve not been at Y&R a huge time, but what other things are you working on outside of their side projects? You’re talking about investing earlier as well.

Henry Innis: I’m an active angel investor. There’s two key businesses that are a focus for me: Peas, which works with businesses large and small to just nail their customer acquisition. We’ve got a really cool campaign builder and do some great stuff around building those acquisition campaigns and mechanics around those campaigns. Flowbox is another business I do. They’re all about AI Facebook marketing, driving traffic through basically AI targeting, managing all the creative and things like that.

I think those two businesses are extremely complementary as well, so that kind of works quite well. Those are very interesting areas for me.

Simon Dell: What are the two web addresses just in case people want to go and check?

Henry Innis:, then Peas is

Simon Dell: Awesome. Last question: Where can people find you if they want to come and ask you a question, or they’ve got something they want to share with you?

Henry Innis: I have one of the most active Twitter feeds, @henryinnis. It’s just my name. It’s got lots of garbage on that Twitter profile. So, enjoy all the spam, but I check it every day. And then LinkedIn as well, so it is a really easy one.

Simon Dell: Cool, awesome. Henry, it’s been an absolute pleasure. Wish you a huge amount of luck in the future. And you’re only young as well. How old are you now, Henry?

Henry Innis: 25.

Simon Dell: I’m just wondering whether you’re the youngest yet. I’ve got the lady working for Youfoodz, she was still pretty young, but I think you may have just pipped her there. Anyway, congratulations on everything you’ve achieved so far, and obviously a very, very promising career ahead of you. Thanks very much for joining me today.

Henry Innis: Thank you so much, Simon. I appreciate your time.

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