Seven things that I have learned from people I respect and admire in the communications business.
Throughout my career in the marketing communications industry, I have had the privilege of working with some of the best talents in the field. Here are seven lessons that I learned from a few of these amazing people. Until today, I still refer to these mantras as the guiding principles of my work mentality.
1. “You can’t fake passion. It will show in your work” – Janet Lee (Co-founder of 95% The Advertising Academy, Malaysia) Creative communications is not like other task-based industries that rewards people who just do enough and getting all the tick boxes checked. This is an industry that constantly challenges itself, and even worse, the audience today gets bored easily and moves on quickly. If you are not spectacular, it will be as obvious as an elephant standing in a playground. In the long run, your career prospects will not just be limited, but you are at high risk of being replaced by a much younger, hungrier talent.
2. “If it doesn’t make sense, then it doesn’t make sense.”
– Nirvik Singh (Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Grey Group Asia Pacific) Creative talents can spin stories out of paint drying on a wall, but in a competitive pitch for a substantial amount of business, sometimes it’s better to call a spade a spade. Many pitch teams fail at the final lap because they refuse to change the initial gameplay even if they fail to make any sense of the hundreds of slides they put together, although compartmentally, all of the slides seem to have a purpose. Take a step back, and revise until a single clear narrative is revealed. And if it takes all night to start compiling from scratch, then so be it. Better than submitting a hopeful waste of time anyway.
3. “People should spend more time improving their own communications, instead of trying to change other people.”
– Dr. Ethan Becker (President of The Speech Improvement Company in the US and co-author of “Mastering Communication at Work”) Be open to the possibility that an adjustment in our communication could improve our business results and personal relationships. Also, there would be less drama and trauma resulting from people trying to impose their beliefs on others, which everyone knows, will always result in resistance.
4. “Do you hear anyone speaking like that?”
– Suryadipura Salleh (Creative Director at Bulb-Havas, Malaysia) Writers sometimes tend to fall into the trap of writing over-formally, to the point of sounding like a legal notice from a bank, especially in visual channels such as print ads, billboards, or sometimes even on audio channels such as radio commercials. In spite of the need to communicate clearly and effectively, there must always be a balance to how normal people speak as that is the kind of language they would resonate better with.
5. “Above all else, understand the business.”
– Zayn Khan (CEO, Southeast Asia at Dragon Rouge Group) In an industry that demands outside-the-box thinking, left-field ideas and even a couple of “Hail Mary” strategies, agencies sometimes tend to forget the most fundamental aspect of the idea – “How does it sustainably serve the clients’ business?”. Failure to do so will cause flash-in-pan results and affects credibility in the long run. If there are no relevant and tangible effectiveness KPI’s placed, then it is just “self indulgence”.
6. “Don’t feel intimidated because they have more experience. They should feel intimidated because you have less baggage.”
– Hawa Hamid (General Manager, Pi Mai FM and ULTRA FM, Malaysia) It is sometimes easy to feel insecure especially when you are actually the “new kid on the block”. However, it is important to remember that where there is wisdom and experience, there is also rigidity and traditionalism that sometimes doesn’t benefit innovation. Just be aware that everybody is insecure, and have faith that sometimes that silly naive wide-eyed idea of yours, may be a game-changer when competing with ideas from a bunch of tired, worn-out, over-the-sunset executives. Learn by always risking and willing to be wrong. That doesn’t mean being arrogant, stubborn and unteachable. That’s just plain dumb.
7. “Time to go. I’ve got work tomorrow”.
– Nazrudin Rahman (Malaysian TV Personality) Naz has been my friend since I was seven. Until today, he barely ever misses social events involving family and close friends. Yet, he is famous for these amazingly self-empowering words. And he will usually utter it, even if it was at the peak of a party or before anyone adjourns for an after-event event. Basically, he knows when it’s time to go home and wind down with his kids, research for the next day and be up for his daily morning show that used to make him come in as early as 5am everyday. To me, if a successful full-time tv personality with a wife and three kids can still time-manage his personal responsibilities and maintaining his social life, while still being at the peak of his game, no one else should use their social extra-curricular activities as an excuse for low productivity in a self-managed creative environment. Yes, people expect you to come, but what time you go home, and how much sleep you need to be at your best, is entirely up to you. So choose an exit time, and stick to it.
P.S. Some of you probably don’t even remember saying it to me. Yet I will always remember. Thank you.