The Black Cab Interviews Singapore: Carol Lam - CCO & Managing Partner, Saatchi & Saatchi Hong Kong

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The Black Cab Interviews have flown all the way from London to Singapore just in time for Spikes Asia – Singapore’s Festival of Creativity, in collaboration with Cogs Agency with production support by The Flying Kick Asia and Shooting Gallery Asia.

In the back of a signature London black cab, Michael Tomes, founder of Creativepool, has been cramming in interviews with judges and top speakers for the duration of the three-day festival.

With his super-high-tech plastic yellow spinner, Michael has been asking questions (some nice and some horrible) of his guests as he takes them around the city.

Today we have Carol Lam, Chief Creative Officer & Managing Partner, South China, Saatchi & Saatchi Hong Kong, speaking with Michael about chasing trophies, people making each other great, and why you should definitely ignore the advice of others.

You can watch the interview below and read the full transcript at the bottom of this post.

About Black Cab Interviews

The "Black Cab Interviews” are series of interviews in which Creativepool’s founder, Michael Tomes, takes the great and the good from our industry on a cab ride around London, New York, Singapore... to talk about their work, careers and what they think about the fabulous industry that we work in. If you would like to do a Black Cab interview in your city, get in touch with Christie H.Kristensen.

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Production Support By:



Michael: Hi Carol!

Carol: Hello!

Michael: How are you?

Carol: I'm good!

M: Oh, good. Brilliant! So, Carol. Carol ... Lum? Lam?

C: Lam!

M: Carol Lam. Chief Creative Officer, and Managing Partner, Saatchi & Saatchi, Hong Kong. Is that right?

C: Yes.

M: What are you doing in Singapore?

C: I was invited to come to judging on the Outdoor and Radio category.

M: For Spikes festival?

C: Yes, for the Spikes advertising festival.

M: And so, how many pieces of work did you have to go through?

C: Well, Outdoor is about four hundred and sixty something.

M: Four hundred and sixty pieces of work!?

C: Yeah, and radio is over a hundred. Close to a hundred.

M: [So, you are] Chief Creative Officer.

[Carol laughs]

M: What does the Chief Creative Officer do?

C: I'm in charge of the creative! So anything that comes out of our office that's good, I take the credit. And anything that's bad, I'm in charge of it, OK, I'm responsible for it! I think that's fair!

M: [Laughs] That is fair. So, being in charge of the creative, what does that mean exactly?

C: So, most of our people, especially the senior people, they're quite capable of handling the job by themselves, quite independently. I think my role is, instead of day-to-day having to fight the fire, I'd rather give them some inspiration. Okay - if I were you, or what I've been seeing outside ... this is the way we can push a little bit harder. Another big part of my job is how to put together the best team mix. And we always emphasize that it's the mix of the team that's always more important than the individual.  Of course we have individual talents, but how many stars? So our mission is more to grow into good people. Help to make [each other] great. I think that's the most important part of my job.

M: And so what has changed, then, in the time throughout your career?

C: Oh, it's a hundred-year change.

[Both laugh lots.]

C: Oh, it's the big questions, huh? I think - let's talk about what hasn't changed, first. Okay - what's not changed, is that any idea that can touch people's hearts in the most compelling way never changes. Despite the medium, the channels, the technology you've been using. Okay? What has changed is that, since then, we have many many tools. And a much more complicated landscape to make the engagement more thorough [in]. So the direct inference on us, to doing the work, is that it opens up a lot of opportunites and at the same time [means] we need to do a lot more. Because in order to make a campaign successful - there's not one way any more. There's multiple ways. Which means the items that we develop, the scale we've been thinking on, needs to be much more three-dimensional. Four-dimensional. So physically, it's much more demanding. And emotionally, it was already demanding in our industry!

M: So, if you had advice for someone who wanted to get into the industry ...

C: Aah, it's a difficult question. [Laughs] Because one piece of advice, and not sounding cliché-

M: [Laughing] That's the problem.

C: That's the problem, the best advice always sounds cliché! For example, really, keep your curiosity at a very high level. At all ages. Probably the older you get, the more it will help you.

M: [Producing a plastic yellow spinner with a pointer that, when spun, lands on a number between one and ten] So, I have this very high-tech spinner, here.

C: Oh, I like that.

M: I've got ten pre-set questions. All of the odd numbers are slightly naughty questions -- and all of the even numbers are the nice questions.

C: [Spins] ... Three! Very naughty.

M: What piece of your own work did you like the least?

C: Wha!

[Both laugh]

C: Well, the number of lousy works I did is way more than the number of great works I did.

[Both laugh]

C: So it's difficult to find the one I like the least! My problem is I'm always hard to please. With myself, even.

M: Very critical, huh? I think that's a part of every designer and everyone who works in the creative field. You're never really happy!

C: Yeah! Even though the influential work - put it this way, I'm proud of the work that we put together, and [achieving results], people like it. But [on the other hand, there's a part of me that will say], 'this isn't good enough, this design isn't good enough, the way we employ social media is too traditional' - things like that. So, I don't know which piece [is my least favourite]. For sure, the number of bad works is way more than the number of good works I did.

M: [Laughs] That gives hope to everyone out there who's struggling!

[Both laugh]

C: I think it's true! I'm not going to hide anything - that's the fact. And that's why you need to work harder.

M: Spin away.

C: Oh, again?

M: Yep!

C: Nicer questions! [Carol spins] Four.

M: Four. What piece of advice would you give your younger self?

C: Don't listen to other people. They don't know what they're talking [about]. You are the one who knows what to do. Put it this way - with the qualifier, okay, when it comes to the decision that matters to you the most - for example, who to marry? [Laughs] which job you want to take. Just - you can consult a lot of advisors, but at the end of the day, you're the one who makes [that decision].

M: Try another one.

[Carol spins]

C: Oh, it's a seven!

M: What do you hate about the industry?

C: The number games in the award shows.

M: The numbers game in the award shows? What do you mean by that?

C: We have ... most of the agencies, I'm sure, especially network agencies, will chase how many trophies they will get in a year. And I think it will ... it starts off as a very good motivation as well. In a company in a corporate world, everything needs to be measured ... so the numbers are always very easy to measure. So I witnessed that change from a positive motivation to a very negative ... pressure. And that's the number games.

M: Yeah, it's true. And you do hear of a lot of agencies, who do work purely just to get an award for it. Rather than whether or not it's effective ...

C: Yeah, especially in Asia!

M: Yeah. Well, I don't think that's an Asia thing, I think that's everywhere. So - last question.

C: Oh! So many questions! [Spins] One.

M: Did we not do [number] one [already]? Who was your worst client, and why?

[Carol gasps!]

M: I told you they were nasty! You rolled it, not me.

C: My worst client...

M: You don't have to say the name, if it'll get you in trouble...

C: ... They're about the same.

[Both laugh]

M: They're all as bad as each other?

C: No! They're all as good as each other! My worst client ... I forgot it.

M: ... Good!

[Carol laughs].

M: And so here we are at Clarke Quay, Saatchi & Saatchi head office - thank you so much for coming with me, I really enjoyed that! I hope you had a good time.

C: Thank you so much! Thank you.

M: Lovely to meet you.


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