It was 13 years ago that Andy Soong first told his father he had started working in an advertising agency. At that time, his father jumped to the conclusion that Soong was the guy who painted signboards by the roadside.
“I’m quite tanned you see, so my father just assumed I had been working under the hot sun making billboards,” he says.
Today, the creative director of JWT, an internationally renowned advertising agency, is likely to go under the sun only if he were directing a shoot in some exotic location.
Just like any other industry, the advertising world is not without its share of stereotypes and misconceptions. Images of wild, hedonistic irresponsible behaviour, he says, are often linked with his field of work.
“We may not save lives like doctors or build roads like engineers, but we are just as important. We help decide which brands or products survive or not,” explains the 38-year-old, adding that being accountable is one of the biggest job requirements.
Parents, he insists, should realise that a career in the advertising world, although less traditional, is just as respectable as others.
Armed with a diploma in graphic design from the Malaysian Institute of Art, he started out as a visualiser and worked his way up the ladder, taking up positions such as junior art director, senior art director, creative group head and assistant creative director.
“It’s a lot of hard work, long hours with almost no sleep,” he points out, adding that as one gets higher, things get a little better.
Being in the business of communication, Soong and his team work together to find new ways of communicating with people.
“We are business partners to our clients and cater to their different needs. Whether it’s to launch a new product, help boost it or maintain the popularity of a brand, we help them figure out the best business solutions,” he explains.
What does the job entail?
Once the team has come up with an idea or concept for the ad, I present it to the client for approval. When that’s settled, I lead the pack as we begin work on the campaign. I need to get the costing and I will arrange for a shoot and a talent if needed.
I also meet with the client regularly to make sure that he or she is happy with what we are doing and make the necessary changes along the way. An art director needs to be a good judge and able to pinpoint flaws and make improvements on an ad as well as guide the rest of the team.
What qualifications do you need?
You don’t necessarily need to have an advertising degree. The majority of students who first come here think that just because they have a graphic design degree, that’s all they need to focus on. We train them to think conceptually and to work as a team. Of course, a basic art-related degree is a bonus but we welcome people from all sorts of backgrounds. We have doctors, lawyers, engineers and geologists working for us and they bring along something unique with them.
What’s a typical day at work?
I’ll usually check to see what events are on for the day, and get an update from our traffic manager who’s in charge of the day-to-day workflow. I also check the finished artwork and supervise any changes that need to be made. If I have shoots, that can easily take half the day. Otherwise, I will probably meet with clients. I work an average of 10 hours a day.
What's the best part of your job?
The brainstorming sessions are great because we have a lot of fun. That’s when we just throw our ideas around – no matter how bizarre or far-fetched – and we laugh a lot. Sometimes the talent shoot takes you to exotic locations. But eventually it's when we have done a great job that everyone gets a huge sense of satisfaction.
What's the least favourable part?
Short deadlines. There never seems to be enough time for everything. There are clients who expect overnight miracles and we try to make them happen.
What kind of personality suits the job?
You need to have a lot of patience especially when things don’t go as planned. Tenacity is another important factor. Just because an ad does not work out in the beginning does not mean you give up. You need to be resilient in finding the best solutions for your client’s needs. You need to be able to work as a team because a good creative team is one where everyone helps in the ideation process. It is only during the execution part of the job that individuals branch out and the different disciplines of the job manifest themselves.
What advice do you have for those interested in this field?
Be observant of what goes on around you – that is a good starting point. Know what the current media is all about and nurture an inquisitive mind because this industry is fast and always evolving. I buy a lot of magazines and read up on the latest trends and advertising techniques in the market. You have to constantly update yourself with everything.
What's the salary scale?
A starting salary in the industry would normally be under RM2,000 but an art director can earn up to RM40,000 a month depending on experience and skills.
What are the career prospects?
Although the nature of the job remains essentially the same, technological advances pave the way for new and exciting ways of communicating with consumers and help in the creation of better ads. Many ex-agency people have gone on to open their own advertising businesses as well.
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