Throughout his years in the creative and advertising industry, Adrian Cheah, just like many rookies starting out, faced criticism countless times. However, what sets Cheah (pictured) apart is his attitude towards criticism, as he chooses to view them as beneficial stepping stones, rather than hindrances.
One criticism he found particularly helpful and impressionable even to date was when a senior creative questioned "Which idiot wrote this brief?", before proceeding to tear it apart without mercy. Explaining that his brief was laced with marketing jargons that were rushed out without much thinking, Cheah told A+M that this criticism was a well-needed one that instilled the habit of ensuring his briefs were “crystal clear”, and “had approvals from people with bigger titles all over”.
With his forward-looking and open mindset, Cheah has led his team to bag several successful partnerships with brands such as Fonterra, Ford, Shell, Tiger Beer, Maybank, Carlsberg, and HSBC, among others, his LinkedIn said. Formerly assuming positions including group account director of Geometry Global, client service director of BBDO Worldwide and later at Mediabrands, his wealth of experience, positive thinking and resilience in this industry has enabled him to climb the ranks. Last year, he founded The Chariot Agency as MD alongside ECD Jarrod Reginald.
Find out more about Cheah’s journey in the advertising scene!
A+M: What was your first job?
Cheah: The first time I got a paycheck was when I marshalled for the World Cyber Games in 2005. Fantastic experience; as I got to meet some of the best cyber gamers in the region, observe how they strategise as a team to take on certain roles and of course, play the game.
A+M: What was your first role in advertising?
Cheah: I was an account executive executing direct mailers, credit card application forms and project managing mobile games development for brands on Symbian devices (Nokia) – off and on, I get to help with print ads.
A+M: What was your first impression of advertising?
Cheah: Honestly I didn’t know what to think of it. It felt cool to be in the industry like everyone says it was, but there were also lots of work and late nights. At that time, I felt like it was the only thing I could do so I stuck with it.
A+M: Who was the mentor who influenced you the most and how?
Cheah: Too many to name. Some showed me who I want to be and who I wouldn’t want to be. But if I had to name one, it has to be Jonathan Lim, my boss at JWT. He probably doesn’t know this but he showed me how to be humble no matter what I’d become, to be resilient and just keep going – to never settle and always push for the better if not best.
A+M: Describe your own management style now as a leader.
Cheah: I am a fan of being able to work freely using a process that suits the way I work with my clients and colleagues and because of that our team has a lot of flexibility in terms of where they want to work today, how they deal with their colleagues and clients. Of course, some basics are in place and must be observed but ultimately my colleagues are given freehand on how they want to shape the way they work (with guidance of course). I’d also like to think that my team’s wellbeing being is put first.
A+M: What's one thing you wished employees understood about being a leader?
Cheah: I hope they understand that they should put people before the work. Without people, good, healthy people, there will be no good work.
A+M: What do you do during your free time?
Cheah: I still enjoy playing mobile games on my phone, normally games that require other players from God knows where to team up. And ever since the recent lockdown, I picked up cycling.
A+M: Where do you find your inspiration?
Cheah: Haha, while cycling. When I am disconnected from the world, just staring at the long road ahead. Most times, I spend close to four hours on the bike just pedalling, so I use that time to look at trees, buildings, cars and hopefully see some spark that could translate into a solution I’m after.
A+M: If not in advertising, where would you be?
Cheah: Probably selling life insurance policies with my parents.
A+M: What advice do you have for someone looking to start a career in the industry?
Cheah: If you want to be the jack of all trades and have a good understanding of various industries, you’ve looked in the right place. But before you get there, like all other jobs, a lot of hard work, resilience and patience will be needed.
A+M: What issue would you like to see the industry change in 2022?
Inter-agency collaboration – the pie is big enough to share.
I do not believe that there’s one team that can do it all. At Chariot, we often collaborate with agency partners, we join their pitches or invite them to ours – we co-create and bring the best of the best to the table. There will be a time where revenue and profits will come but the work’s got to come out first.
Wong Yee Ching contributed to this story.
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