Simone Tam ended up in advertising thanks to a bit of potluck. Initially her heart was set on marketing, for which she took an interview at a government organisation. With no position available but a great interview performance, the interviewee offered her a position in the company’s partnering ad agency, until the marketing position became available. That day eventually came, but already she was in love with the industry and the agency. So much so that she stayed there for 17 years until making the leap to DDB. She has now excelled through the ranks to become the President and CEO of DDB Group Hong Kong and Guangzhou. LBB’s Editor, Gabrielle Lott spoke with Tam to delve deeper into the story of her success.
LBB> This week LBB are celebrating women in advertising. As a woman who is CEO and President of a hugely successful advertising agency, within a powerful network, you're still something of a rare breed. Tell us about how you came to be in your role and what is it about your position that you enjoy the most?
ST> I came to my role through working very hard, taking chances and having some very strong partners in crime.
I enjoy many parts of my role; the fast pace of our industry, the competitive environment, the diversity of our clients' business challenges, the creativity of our solutions, the laughs we have with our people. Working along side people who are curious, demanding and talented in a creative environment forces me to learn, stay relevant and teach – day in and day out.
LBB> Many women within Europe and the United States complain that there is a glass ceiling within advertising that restricts them from higher positions. Others claim that personal matters, such as family, hold them back. As a whole, China has a higher number of women within senior roles. Why do you think this is?
ST> This is because of a variety of reasons. Many network agencies have had male leaders for decades, so a masculine management pattern is often the default style. Women, because of our nature, are often making decisions that prioritise our husbands and our kids. American and European mothers have more babies than Chinese women. And the cost of childcare service is much more affordable in China, which makes working full time more manageable.
LBB> You studied in Wales, within the UK... have you ever worked outside of China?
ST> Apart from Hong Kong, I also worked in Shanghai for 5 years and San Francisco for 3 years. I returned to Hong Kong for both career and family reasons.
LBB> In 2010 you took your job at the helm of the agency and in 2012 DDB Group Hong Kong was the best performing Hong Kong agency at Cannes Lions, Adfest and Spikes. What do you credit this success to?
ST> We were also the 2012 Grand Effie winner and Grand Kam Fan for the most awarded agency at the Hong Kong Effies and also Creative Agency of the Year at the Kam Fan Awards 2012.
I attribute our success to every single employee of DDB Group Hong Kong and our client partners who trust us. Special mentions go to Jeffry [Gamble] and Doris [Yim].
LBB> How important are awards to DDB Hong Kong and Guangzhou and which are more relevant?
ST> Our belief has been that if we do great work, awards will come our way anyway. Awards are important because everyone likes to be appreciated and recognised. Awards make people happy. Awards prove our work is effective and valued. International and regional awards are of course more meaningful. However at the end of day, what matters most is that our products are creating value for our clients.
LBB> How did you come to be in advertising?
ST> Pure luck. During my final year at university, I had set my mind on getting into marketing for a government organisation. So I applied by writing to the head of marketing at the time, who was kind enough to interview me despite the fact there was no opening. She liked me and referred me to her partnering ad agency – the understanding was that I was to work on their account until there was an opening. The opening came through within a year, but by that time, I had already fallen in love with working in an agency. I worked for the same agency for 17 years before I jumped ship to DDB
LBB> What advice would you/do you give to young women starting out in the industry today?
ST> You can have a career and children at the same time, but it is indeed a balancing act. This means you have to plan for it and make sure you have some kind of a support team (husband or your parents or siblings).
LBB> Do you think the industry has changed for women over your career – and if so, how?
ST> I do see women taking up more senior positions in recent years.
LBB> How has 2013 been for DDB HK & Guangzhou and what can we expect to see from you this year?
ST> So far so good. We are continuously creating strong work for our clients and our people are saying that we are a great agency to work for. We also learned that we are the best performing Hong Kong agency at international AME and Adfest 2013. We can’t complain.
We are expecting to stay at the top of our game by continuing to focus on our people and our clients, and by staying true to our vision, our culture and our strategic pillars.
LBB> Has there been a piece of work from your agency that has really resonated with you over the last 12 months and if so, what was it and why?
ST> There are many, for example TSL Jewellery and Vita Water. But if I had to choose one piece of work it would be our McDonald’s ‘I’m Amazing’ campaign. It’s social creativity in action. It’s media neutral. It stems from a true insight that when kids just play kids, they can be amazing. It’s an example of non-traditional use of advertising – it’s a store – which demonstrated we are not simply an advertising agency. It was for charity. It got results for clients. And finally, it proved true creativity and our partnerships.