Nicole Yershon: Innovation People

I was once described as an irresistible force against immovable objects. 17 years ago, Ogilvy asked me to bring them into the 21st century. He didn’t know what he wanted me to do. Today it’s called digital transformation.


Making ideas happen. After starting her career with Dave Trott, Nicole was later hired by David Ogilvy to bring his agency into the 21st century. This year marks the end of Ogilvy Labs – an incredible journey of constant innovation, transformation and challenging the status quo. Nicole shared her advice for promoting a maverick culture and doing extraordinary things.


Nicole is a self-confessed maverick and disruptor. She helped to position Ogilvy to take advantage of future changes years before the digital revolution was in full swing. This involved replacing traditional processes such as tapes and couriers, then progressed to creating Ogilvy’s first website and showing the board exactly how money could be saved by embracing new technology.

The fear of change is like doing an update on your phone – putting off the inevitable due to fear of the unknown. It takes trust at CEO-level to hire a maverick. If your company is serious about transformation then they must hire differently and be brave. In 2016, Ogilvy Labs closed its doors. Nicole is now ready to share her advice from working at the top of advertising.


Nicole founded Innovation People to help others nurture innovation. She shared her experiences and advice for being disruptive: Hire differently; keep your eyes wide open and your sleeves rolled up; find a way, make a way; be open-minded and open-hearted; find the diamonds in the rough; know what you are doing and why; know that you can make money and be good.

She put these lessons to the test throughout her career. Early on she developed a programme to see 10-15 companies within an area of emerging technology every week for six months and then find a client who had a problem she could solve. This led to selling video streaming to Ford and then coaching the TV staff at the agency to broaden Ogilvy’s offering.

In 2009, she worked to a tight deadline to develop an AR overlay that would point out landmarks at Wimbledon when you scan around with an Android phone. She also met an expert in SoundScape, which later led to a project for Fanta using ‘mosquito sound’ (which only children can hear) to disperse children from street corners, which was then developed into a mobile app. 

These stories have a common theme of turning problems into opportunities. When her son had troubles at school, she spoke to the headmaster and arranged for a ‘translator teacher’ to explain the other’s point of view. This understanding of emotional intelligence helped her set up The Rough Diamond, which finds disadvantaged kids and offers them a future at Ogilvy.

Nicole’s experience and the depth of people and projects she has worked with are staggering. However, her real skill is to see the threads between people and ideas, to overcome challenges, and to be that immovable force.


Nicole attended Summit at Sea last November – think TED, but with 3,000 people on a boat in international waters. It was here that she met a publisher from Las Vegas who encouraged her to write a book about her experiences of working with advertising’s greats. Keep your eyes open for a release date.