“You can definitely try and have it all, but you need a very good support system” – Shenan Chuang, CEO Ogilvy and Mather Greater China
When Shenan Chuang started out in the advertising industry in the 1980s, Chinese adverts were often dismissed as mere propaganda, unable to compete with powerful Western agencies.
Meeting in the luxurious Waldorf Astoria in Bejing, CNN’s Kristie Lu Stout spoke to the woman leading an industry tipped to exceed $50 billion in revenues by 2015.
Kristie Lu Stout: What are some of your most creative campaigns?
SC: In 2012 we created a poster campaign for Coke, it was called “Coke Hands” and won the Grand Prix at Cannes — it was recognized as a cultural icon for the people. Recently in Taiwan we did a campaign for a local bank.
The TV campaign featured a group of six senior citizens who were not in good shape, but had a dream. In honor of their dead friends they decided to ride motorcycles around the island. The campaign was very successful on Youtube and on social media.
KLS: What’s your daily work schedule like?
SC: I wake up at 5am and exercise before I do anything else, and I finish work around 9pm or 10pm. When I first started out I worked seven days a week. But that was terrible and gave me some spine problems.
In recent years I’ve been very disciplined. I work during the week and at the weekend I spend time with my friends.
It’s important to take a break, breathe and see the world. At the beginning of your career you have to learn a lot. You have to invest yourself, and you need to work hard. You have to go the extra mile when you are in the early stages of your career.
KLS: In every career, there is always at least one colossal failure. What has been your biggest mistake?
SC: My biggest mistake was in 1995, when I was leading Ogilvy Taiwan. WPP had just bought Ogilvy and enforced a lot of financial discipline. My executive creative director decided to leave. He thought our culture had changed and there was too much focus on finance and numbers. So he left, and so did a group of senior people.
But I was able to bounce back with a new team, and it took us one and a half years to bounce back, but we worked together and gained a good creative reputation in Taiwan. I would say that was my biggest hurdle.
KLS: Who shaped you and influenced you the most growing up?
SC: My family has a lot of strong women. My aunts are very, very strong, and they take care of everyone. So I think I learned a lot from them, and then also I read a lot. In terms of advertising I would have to say David Ogilvy, our founder.
I translated one of his books, and I learned a lot about how to lead the company and the company culture. And then our current global CEO, Miles Young, the reason I name him is because I think he’s probably one of very few leaders that is very business focused, but also very people oriented.
KLS: Will there ever be a Chinese female president?
SC: I think in Taiwan it’s very likely.
KLS: What is your advice to young women starting out in marketing communications, PR or advertising, what do you want to tell them?
SC: I want to tell them you have to be brave. You have to stand up for yourself, you have to show that we have what it takes to be in charge.