Campaign Promotion: The Ideas People - On The Record

In this Ideas People interview, produced by Campaign for The Economist, Diffiniti's Robert Horler suggests that truly entrepreneurial environments act as hothouses for creative ideas.

If the publishing world has been blase where online is concerned, the CV of 39-year-old Robert Horler shows he's one of the far-sighted ones. Leaving the secure world of newspapers to sell a new idea to the media trade - the ISP - required every ounce of tenacity and creativity he possessed.

Horler began his media career at Times Newspapers and went on to work for the UK's first ISP, LineOne, and, later, FT.com and EmapOnline. He joined Carat in 2000, became the managing director in 2002 and is the managing director and founder of Diffiniti, the largest standalone online planning and buying agency in the UK.

He is an advocate for embracing technology more quickly to transform businesses. But how to create the ideal ideas space? It is about small teams, environment, passion and a dash of good timing. But the key for this ideas person is that the compulsion to embrace new technology should know no bounds.

- Tell us about your inspiration.

I am always inspired by anyone who has the courage and belief to start their own business and/or bring a new idea to market. The internet advertising industry is, by definition, full of those kind of people and that makes it a fascinating environment to work in.

- How do you make your working environment work for you?

I am reasonably obsessive about my work environment. I struggle to function and think clearly around clutter and mess. I always have a tidy desk and everything in my office is filed away. I also manage my e-mail inbox religiously. The idea of more than ten unopened e-mails sends me into a bit of a panic. I never eat when I'm working due to an inability to multi-task!

- How do you turn a good idea into a great one?

I think turning a good idea into a great one is usually a combination of the following: environment, timing, passion (for the idea) and hard work. I also think that many great ideas are often very simple. The desire to complicate things, certainly in the online media environment, never ceases to amaze me.

- How do you unstick an idea when it's stuck?

Get someone else involved who is more objective and/or leave it for a few days and come back to it. I also believe in the adage "too many cooks". The more people you involve, the longer it takes to solve a problem and or make a decision.

- Give us a real example of how you came up with a good idea.

Probably the best example was the idea to launch a standalone digital media agency within a network to complement rather than compete with Carat/Vizeum. The idea came from spending a lot of time with a range of different clients and the realisation that some (not all) clients had a greater requirement for digital specialisation than others. That meant we needed scaleable specialist businesses in our network. This blend has helped us to gain a leadership position in digital for Aegis.

- Great ideas are often so risky that frequently they're hacked to pieces. What's your advice for nurturing a gem and selling it to a client?

Pick the right client, one who you genuinely believe is capable of spotting a good idea and has always been willing to be challenged. If they still won't buy your idea, then it's fair to say it's probably not the gem you think it is!

- What are your creative trade secrets?

Erm ... probably that I don't do creative and never have, although I don't think that's much of a secret.

- Tell us about a turning point in your career.

When I left Times Newspapers to work for LineOne, the UK's first ISP. It had 15,000 registered users, no tracking, terrible creative, no credibility and an audience of television buyers who had literally no idea what you were talking about and refused to meet you so you could explain. It taught me the importance of tenacity, the creative sell and proper negotiation. It's a real sense of achievement to sell a new idea to someone, especially when the user experience is poor. After that, everything else seemed easier.

- Name the most inspiring person in your working life.

James Harris, the co-founder of Diffiniti. A true ideas person who, in the eight years that I have worked with him, has been able to solve every problem a client has thrown at us.

- You have 24 hours away from professional responsibilities and a brief to re-energise yourself. What will you do?

Go snowboarding.

- What motivates you?

I see myself first and foremost as an entrepreneur. My main motivation has been to launch a new business, making it a success (commercially) and establishing a company that clients want to work with and that people want to work for.

- What idea should we be taking more seriously?

That the traditional media model for publishers and agencies is a busted flush. Technology has changed everything and we should all be embracing it quicker to transform our businesses.

I keep reading articles (mainly in Campaign) where various media people talk about the fact that search isn't really advertising and Google isn't a media company. If that's true, it means the fastest-growing bit of marketing spend isn't being spent on advertising and the company taking most of that money out of the market isn't a media com-pany. That's a pretty big clue as to where we are all heading. Probably time to embrace it.


The Ideas People is drawn from major research conducted by The Economist in 2007. It's built on essential truths about the world we live in and The Economist's readership. One is that ideas, not products, are the currency of the modern economy. Another is that Ideas People are the stars of the 21st century. They produce and implement new thinking, they influence others, they have stamina. They are turned on by new ideas and opportunities. Are you an Ideas Person? Go to the quiz at www.theideaspeople.economist.com and find out for yourself.

Robert Horler is a mixture of ... Pioneer Catalyst Builder.