What Makes a Great Creative Leader?
Started his career as a copywriter in advertising industry, after working in Ogilvy and BBDO for years, Andrew Lok is now leading one of Shanghai's top independent agencies, Civilization, as its founding partner.
Directing short films and commercials, as well as writing his first novel and feature film. Among industry peers, he is known as "Loksmith".
Recently, we had a talk with him to find out more about his journey from a Creative People to a Creative Leader.
How do you define Creative Leader？
Andrew Lok: In the advertising business, creative people create brand-building ideas, while a creative leader creates brand-building creative people.To create creative people, a creative leader has to lead by example and through empathy.
By example means a creative leader creates work that creative people admire, that they want to emulate and someday surpass. Through empathy means a creative leader creates an environment where creative people are allowed to be fearless in pursuing the direction their leader sets, assured that he will always support and defend them, that he will be strong enough to shoulder the burden of their failures and gracious enough to give them full credit for their successes.
How did you transform from a Creative People to a Creative Leader?
Andrew Lok: From my first day in my first agency, my goal was to be the best copywriter in Singapore. Singapore was then the Asia-Pacific HQ of many global brands, so it was an international hub for many ad agencies.
Among my peers, therefore, were a lot of talented copywriters and art directors. While I never won as many awards as most of them, I realized I had three strengths I could play to.
The first was I enjoyed creating advertising that solved business problems, which endeared me to clients. The second was an ability to get the people who worked with me to perform at their best, which made them eager to work with me again. The third, and probably the most important, was my love for telling stories. Storytelling is a timeless way of communicating, and I used it in both my campaigns, and in the way I sold my campaigns to my bosses and my clients.
Hence, campaign after campaign, the role of “creative leader” found me even though I wasn’t searching for it.
What made you complete this transformation?
What do you think are the prerequisites to be a Creative Leader?
Andrew Lok: I think both questions have the same answer.
Many creative people have amazing ideas, but not all of them have an overwhelming desire to see those ideas executed. Those ideas remain floating in the universal ether waiting for another creative person to grab them and realize them. I have this overwhelming desire to transform ideas I love into reality, and it’s almost always the person who desires it most who takes the lead.
Can you share with us the most impressive failure in your experience?
How do you seek the balance between success and failure?
Andrew Lok: Let me answer the second part of this question first. With the benefit of more than two decades in the advertising industry, I can confidently say the goal that you set for yourself before you embark on any project is the only indicator of “success” or “failure”, regardless of how the rest of the world regards it. If you fail to meet that goal, then that project is good practice for your next project. If you exceed that goal, then celebrate immediately, because these life bonuses don't come around that often.
What are my big personal failures? Some might think dramatic failures like being fired (in my case, four times) would leave the ugliest scars, but the trepidation that follows losing a job only lasts a short while. I think the small failures are the ones that bother me the most. Like the failure to insist on a different take during a shoot, or the failure to stand up to a client or colleague who's a bully, or the failure to say “no” to work when family or friendships need attention, those are the failures that haunt me still.
What kind of qualities do you think a creative people should have in the future?
Andrew Lok: I can’t speak to the future because I’ve personally never left the past. I’ve always embraced empathy, storytelling and instinct as the trinity of my creative career, and I spent more than two decades crafting and honing these three blades. After all, technology has been constantly transforming the way we consume media and content since I started in this business, so I suppose I’ve tried to work on the things that don’t change. That doesn’t mean I reject the fresh and the new, it just means I don’t feel the need to specialise in the “next big thing”. This has worked for me, and still works for me. Young creative people should find out what works for them.
A Creative leader is not only a creative person,but also the core of a company/team.
In your opinion, what is the most essential thing in leading a company/team?
How to build a respected creative company/team?
Andrew Lok: A sense of purpose. We always have to understand why we do what we do. When a group of creative people understand why, then each person can decide if he wants to do it, and if he does, how he wants to do it. And that gives each person the most important kind of respect, self-respect.
Covid-19 has impacted all walks of life,
It also catalyzed the change in the mode of transmission in China.
The live broadcast set off a new wave, and online marketing took off.
What do you think of these impacts and changes brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic?
What are the implications for brands and agencies?
Andrew Lok: People are still suffering, both physically and economically, and some are dying all over the world. This is too soon for me to talk about opportunities.
Looking through the performance of Chinese agencies on the international stage in recent years,
Do you think the content and presentation of advertising and creatives have changed?
From local to international, what preparations should Chinese creatives make in advance?
Andrew Lok: We are going through a global pandemic. If this doesn’t prompt each person to think globally, nothing will. Big nations like China or the United States can always choose to look inward because they have an enormous domestic market, and there will always be creative people who will do well and do good work just serving their domestic markets.
But I believe the work that will stand the test of millennia, the work that aliens from more advanced civilizations in distant planets will excavate and study when the human species has disappeared from this Earth, are the campaigns that touch on universal human values. So young creative people should be prepared to look inwards into a dark, unexplored place called “themselves” to extricate stories that give hope to their audience (they are individuals, not just consumers) that all of us are not alone.