5 minutes with... in association withAdobe Firefly

Five Minutes with… Joanne Lao

Advertising Agency
New York, USA
TBWA\Greater China's Joanne Lao speaks to LBB’s Tom Loudon about innovating in advertising and navigating cultural nuances
Between her tenure in the hospitality sector and her upbringing across Asia and Australia, TBWA\Greater China CEO Joanne Lao has been around the block.

With a focus on innovation, diversity, and cultural understanding, Joanne has valuable perspectives on driving the strategic vision and fostering inclusive growth in one of the world's most significant markets for advertising and marketing.

Speaking to LBB, Joanne shares insights on creativity, leadership, and how to go about navigating the dynamic Chinese market.

Over the course of our conversation, we delve  into her journey into the creative industry, the essence of leadership in advertising, and the unique challenges and opportunities of the Chinese market.

LBB> What inspired you to pursue a career in the creative industry, particularly in advertising, after holding senior marketing communication roles in the hospitality sector? 

Joanne> After graduating from Monash University in Melbourne, I returned to Asia to begin my hotel career (where I worked across multiple markets, including Macau, HK and Thailand). It was a tremendous experience, and I was fortunate to work with their respective agency partners in my roles. This allowed me to witness the creativity that shifted consumer behaviour, mind and emotion! When the opportunity arose to work in the industry, there was no hesitation.

LBB> Have you always been a creative person? 

Joanne> Once I joined the industry, I knew it was where I belonged. I love working in a company with creativity at its core, where it’s your job to think disruptively and break conventions.

LBB> As the CEO of TBWA Greater China, how do you innovate, especially in one of the world's most significant markets? 

Joanne> For me, it all starts with TBWA’s ambition to secure our clients a greater share of the future. To achieve this, we are constantly evolving the agency to anticipate and meet the needs of our clients. We immerse ourselves in our clients' brands, the shifting ecosystem, cultural shifts, and changing consumer behaviour. Our recently released EDGES report is just one example of how we do this. With this constant curiosity and learning, the opportunity to innovate always comes.

LBB> How do you approach driving overall strategic vision and agency growth in Greater China? 

Joanne> As The Disruption Company®, we give ourselves permission to shoot for the stars rather than tie ourselves to category norms. We set strategies to fuel growth using a touch of bravery and audacity, combined with market and client understanding.

LBB> Could you share some insights into how your upbringing between Asia and Australia has influenced your leadership style and approach to business? 

Joanne> Growing up with two distinct cultures has been an enormous privilege. It has taught me that there are many facets to life with differing perspectives, which is very inspiring. It also instilled a sense of adventure, taught me to listen and learn, and taught me to respect differences while finding common ground.

LBB> As a speaker on gender diversity, what initiatives or approaches have you championed to promote diversity and inclusion within TBWA Greater China and the broader industry? 

Joanne> I am passionate about numerous initiatives to promote diversity and inclusion. What’s important is that it is embedded into our business behaviour. At TBWA, we have a deliberate approach recognised across our collective as DE&I by Design. In China, we track diversity from gender to age groups, to where our people come from, and to the skill sets we have as examples to inform our initiatives. Although 96% of our employees are Chinese, they come from 68 cities across 30 provinces. 

LBB> Can you share a particularly memorable campaign or project you've been involved in during your tenure as CEO of TBWA Greater China, and what made it stand out to you? 

Joanne> There have been many over the years that I have been proud to have been part of. The most recent, however, is Project Jupiter, BMW’s bold and crazy Lunar New Year campaign, which features a humorous and highly entertaining 14-minute mockumentary film that the agency also directed. 

The film has had tremendous success in China, and is an example of how a brand can continue to disrupt in both content and format, while being authentic to its DNA.

LBB> With your experience in both TBWA Hong Kong and Singapore, how do you compare the creative landscapes and industry dynamics across these regions with that of Greater China? 

Joanne> China’s fast-changing and unique marketing eco-system provides a more significant creative canvas with opportunities across multiple platforms, channels and formats right through the marketing funnel.

LBB> Looking ahead, what do you see as the most significant trends or shifts shaping the future of advertising and marketing in China, and how is TBWA Greater China positioning itself to adapt and thrive in this evolving landscape? 

Joanne> One of the most significant trends we see is consumer desire for immersive brand experiences. Leveraging technology and cultural shifts will be critical in creating imaginative brand experiences to help our clients achieve their ambitions in this fast-evolving market. 

Agency / Creative
Work from TBWA Worldwide
BEHR Paint Company
Project Jupiter