"Working in the same industry for more than twenty years" is as rare and unbelievable to many young people today as "being in a relationship for more thantwenty years".
Stop and look at the task at hand - twenty more years of doing this? That's an impossible time frame to conceive.
For Penny Woo,more than two decades of navigating the world of advertising as a producer have flown by in a blink of an eye.
When asked about her work, her pure and full love for her profession struck us immediately.Every piece of work is her masterpiece, every professional experience is worth remembering, every partner she works with has something to shine... There maybe obstacles or difficulties in this process, but she has loved every second.
Penny was born in Malaysia. In college, she majored in cinematography and minored in fine arts,and also dabbled in product and graphic design. When applying for an internship, Penny submitted her resume to a radio station in Singapore,"and got rejected".
When recalling this experience, Penny doesn't seem unhappy. In her opinion, perhaps it was precisely this rejection that pushed her in another direction.
By coincidence,one of Penny's "non-advertising friends" introduced her to a founder of an advertising magazine, who decided that a job in a production company would suit Penny's personality, and introduced her to a business partner of Axis Films, his brother who owns a production company.
That's how Penny got the opportunity to intern at Axis Films Malaysia. "It's no exaggeration to say that I completed all the tasks assigned to me." During her two-month internship, she worked as a producer's assistant, art department assistant, video technician, lighting technician, etc. And "tried almost every kind of job."
Penny especially enjoys the process of collecting data before each meeting. When she first started in the industry, computers were not very popular and many materials had to be cut and pasted, copied and bound by hand. But it was the seemingly trivial things that shaped the “early” Penny and allowed her to touch every part of what makes the industry work.
"Our job as producers is such that we need to oversee every part of every process, so understanding the nature and responsibilities of each department is fundamental to the job."
Before the internship ended, Paul Looseley, a partner and film director at Axis Films,extended a formal offer to Penny, who had not yet graduated. Starting with AxisFilms, Penny held producer positions at Passion Pictures, Godmother Productionsand later worked as a freelance producer with advertising agencies such asHavas Kuala Lumpur, TBWA and BBH Shanghai.
In the fall of 2018, Penny received a call from Laura Geagea, Managing Director of Sweetshop's China, Asia and MENA, asking if she would be interested in a part-time job. “Aproduction company with roots in New Zealand" was Penny’s knowledge of Sweetshop at the time, yet she readily accepted the offer - perhaps out of trust in Laura herself, or perhaps out of her optimistic nature to enjoy whatever she was doing.
Penny’s work as a senior producer in Sweetshop, "Life At Its Peak".
Penny’s work for Toyota Avanza as an executive producer in Sweetshop.
After joining Sweetshop, Penny completely fell in love with the company's culture and work atmosphere. "It's like working with family or friends," and they talk to each other about everything and work side by side. And Laura is particularly special to Penny. "Compared to me, Laura is a much more patient person.She is the youngest managing director of Sweetshop worldwide and has a professionalism and meticulousness beyond her own age". Even when they don't work in the same city, the two communicate almost every day, talking about work and life.
After twenty years of work, why is Penny still passionate? And how does she view the relationship between work and life? Here are some Q&As between TopAgency and Penny about work:
What is the greatest sense of accomplishment that the profession of producer brings to you? And what are the challenges?
Penny: When I see a completed project and then it goes on air - that is the greatest sense of accomplishment. With every project,it has its ups and downs. Hiccups and challenges are bound to happen during the course of the productions, but as a team, we work together to resolve them. All the sweat, tears, long hours, fun and laughter are worth it.
We noticed that you have been working in the advertising industry for more than twenty years, and you have not changed your profession for many years, how did you persevere? Has your advertising philosophy changed in the process?
Penny: I don’t know how I’ve been in this industry for more than 20 years! You don’t count when you love and enjoy what you are doing. But I realized in the last few years, I like taking breaks in between.Maybe for my sanity or maybe to keep me grounded, but these breaks give me a breathe to go see what’s happening outside of this ‘world’ and come back witha fresh pair of eyes and better clarity. As to my philosophy - love and enjoy what you do and keep learning. Everyone that we meet, we get to learn something from them as we all have our strengths and weaknesses.
In the creative industry, production companies always seem to be considered as the downstream of the industry chain, how do you think about this phenomenon?
Penny:This is perhaps the worst misconception! All parties are equally important. We can’t do without one or another. There should be mutual respect for everyone’s roles in the industry. I believe the entire creative process has changed dramatically. For the last several years,Sweetshop has been part of a new way of working that has brought to the table anew triangular model with brand, advertising agency and production partnersbringing their best experts together from very early on in the creative process. This allows us a seat at the table and to provide end-to-endcapabilities across creative and production.
Today,with the media being very advanced, it seems that advertising films are no longer the main vehicle for marketing communication of brands or companies. Insuch a context, how do you see the significance of advertising films in marketing communication?
Penny:You are right of course in your question as the advertising medium has evolved beyond the traditional television commercial to branded content, social media and mini-docu series. But what has stayed the same is a good idea should always trump everything else. And what we do at Sweetshop is bring that good idea to live through our commitment to craft and storytelling, whatever medium that may be.
What are the differences between the international and Chinese markets as far as the advertising or production industry is concerned? What is the biggest difference?
Penny:Chinese marketers have a unique approach tailored to China's mobile-first consumer. It relies on the creation of shareable, viral content and the presence of dominant, channel-straddling media giants. It is faster, cheaper, and in some respects more effective than the traditional Western marketing paradigm. In China, celebrities and KOLs’ endorsement are a big thing. Sweetshop is a production company with a local mindset and global outlook in the market. We have a huge talent pool in China so that we can mobilize resources in view of characteristics of different projects.
Is there a significant difference in the work and cultural atmosphere felt when working in a different country or region?
Penny:Sweetshop always strives to provide the samehigh-level of production expertise wherever we are in the world, and always with an understanding and sensitivity for local nuances. Our team in Asia is particularly adaptable with this because we have a very diverse mix of individuals in terms of nationalities, languages we speak and cultures we come from. The beauty of producing is that it’s pretty much the same and so very different in each place you shoot. Our team is also very used to working across different countries as we cover such a wide territory. But it’s not just alanguage gap at the end of the day for us. With a different language comes the culture and local way of getting things done. The more resistant you are to that the less you’ll be able to get the job done. But if you are able to blend into this and work within the system rather than try to change it then in our experience it works pretty well!
In China, objectively speaking, we have not known and come into contact with too many female producers. We wonder whether Penny has met any difficulties orobstacles when working as a woman. How has Penny coped with them?
Penny: Personally, I don't get judged or treated any differently because I’m a woman in China. I feel it’s more of a cultural difference and not a gender difference. In Malaysia where I started my career, we are more outspoken and we will just voice our opinions loud and clear. In China, it can work a little differently and yes you adapt your working style. But there is by no means a shortage of talented female producers, you just need to know where to find them!
After working for more than 20 years, what are Penny's career views? What are the principles and beliefs that you must abide by in this job?
Penny: Be humble, be grounded. Keep learning and improving yourself. Never be afraid to as questions.
How do you usually spend your day?
Penny: Most of my weekdays are of course spent at work! But I balance this with short breaks to play and reconnect with my furbabies. And I hit the gym four times a week to do strength training.
Besides work, what interests do you have?
Penny: I like learning new things. I’m on the inquisitive side. I like learning about wellness, spirituality, as well as online shopping too! That’s something that I really got into since the beginning of the pandemic! Jokes aside, I like reading too.
What are your work and life plans for this year? Are there any new attempts and challenges you want to do?
Penny: On my bucket list is to learn a new hobby every year - from baking sourdough bread to roller skating to signing up forself-improvement courses and I hope many, many more. Learning is an endless journey. I would also like to attempt to travel more this year.
Enjoying work, but knowing the balance. From Penny, we may see learnings and new possibilities in work and life. And perhaps this is the secret of Penny's continued happiness in this professional relationship of more than 20 years.