Describing himself as a team player and a good adaptor to changes, Publicis Media Hong Kong’s CEO Lawrence Yang believes a good leader should invest in building a close-knit team that works well together, and foster a positive working environment with clear values, priorities and standards. Originally from Taiwan, Yang started off as a search marketing campaign manager at 24/7 Real Media (part of WPP) in Australia in 2005, where he harnessed his skills in conducting keyword research, trafficking and optimising search marketing campaigns. He joined Publicis Media HK in May last year, where his role requires him to oversee the Groupe’s media brands in Hong Kong.
With over 17 years of experience in diverse media agency environments, Yang is capable of generating innovative digital marketing strategies to improve campaign performance, managing key account relationships and large-scale projects. He also described himself as having a strong ability to assign and manage cross-functional teams to communicate and deliver coordinated digital strategies. Find out more about Yang's journey in advertising thus far and who inspires him.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What was your first job?
Since I was born in Taiwan, military service is compulsory for all men once they reach 18 years old. So my first job was as a corporal in the army for two years, where I gained skills like leadership, effective communication and teamwork. I also had a few part-time jobs during my university time. I worked in the library in the evening and at a café and travel agency on weekends. Those jobs provided cash allowance for my university life and helped me build more vital customer service skills.
My first full-time job after graduation was at a financial institution, where I resigned after two weeks as I had a job offer from a search engine marketing agency. It turned out to be the best decision I have made in my career.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What was your first role in advertising?
I started my first role as a search marketing campaign manager at 24/7 Real Media (part of WPP) in Australia in 2005. As the most junior person in the team, my primary responsibility was conducting keyword research, writing ad copies, trafficking and optimising search marketing campaigns. I still remember one of my first tasks was to write SEM ad copies for 18 adult websites, and I had these websites opened on my PC screen for a week which is a bizarre feeling in an office environment.
Back then, search engine marketing was a pretty new media channel, so there wasn't much you could learn online, and the best way to learn was from those around you.
I was lucky to have a good team when I first started. They have taught me a lot and helped me build a solid foundation in my career, and I have remained connected with them since then.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What was your first impression of advertising?
I started my advertising career at a specialised digital agency, so advertising is very different from the old days when it was all about outdoors and TV commercials.
I remember the hiring manager at 24/7 Real Media told me I got this job because I studied marketing and information management at university, and search engine marketing requires both marketing knowledge and technical ability. So my first impression of advertising is all about cutting edge, innovation, technology, and out-of-the-box thinking. There wasn't one day that I felt the same throughout my career, as a new thing always comes up every day.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Who was the mentor who influenced you the most, and how?
I was lucky to have many good mentors who played a significant role throughout my career. One common trait I saw from all my mentors is that they genuinely care about people. They treat the client's business like their own and the team with respect.
Ian Leuchars, Robbie Hills and Marcelo Silva from my time back in WPP taught me how to be a great leader. Phil Zohrab is the most technical senior executive I know and the person who taught me everything about performance marketing. Ruth Stubbs and Rob Hughes allowed me to lead the iPropspect Hong Kong, from whom l learned about client leadership excellence. Pauline Chu from my Dentsu time and Tom Kao, my current manager, are the best people managers I know and taught me how to create a people-first agency.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What's the harshest criticism you've received, and how did you cope with it?
I prefer the terms like "feedback" and "suggestion" instead of "criticism". I see feedback as a way to help myself to identify the areas and move forward, to get the best possible outcome of the feedback.
Throughout my career, I have received much feedback, and I believe that no matter how good you are at your job and how much experience you have, there is always more to learn.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Describe your management style now as a leader
For me, the best approach to management is to switch back and forth between styles.
As a leader, I encourage the team to bond as I believe a good manager invests in building a close-knit team that works well together . Now I have a transformational management style as I believe in change and growth for my current agency. I hope that through the positive development and fostering of a positive working environment with clear values, priorities and standards, my team can adapt to drastic industry change and consistently challenge the status quo.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What's one thing you wished employees understood about being a leader?
There will be times when a leader has to make hard decisions. It might mean making an unpopular choice or taking an action that upsets someone but is best for the business overall.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What do you do during your free time?
Since my son was born, I have spent most of my free time with my family whenever possible. We usually go swimming, roller-skating, biking, and hiking over the weekend, and sometimes we visit different museums around Hong Kong. I used to go fishing at night, and it's an excellent way to take my mind off internal conflict and stress. I also watch TV shows after my son sleeps; lately, my favourite show is "The Future of" on Netflix.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Where do you find your inspiration?
Before COVID-19, my wife and I would travel at least twice a year to visit different countries and experience different cultures. Since COVID-19, we haven't been able to travel, so now I read a lot. Every morning before I start to work, I will spend at least 1-hour to reading something. I will read anything from industry-related news to the latest technology and business news. It keeps me up to date with the latest development in our industry and how we might be able to apply these new things to our client's businesses.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: If not in advertising, where would you be?
After graduating with marketing and IT degree, I decided to study for a master's degree in finance.
I am pretty good at numbers and have always been interested in investment and wealth management, so I will most likely work in finance if I am not in advertising.
Even though I work in advertising now, there are plenty of opportunities to use my finance knowledge in my current role. For example, I will discuss how to manage P&L more effectively with my CFO or meet my finance clients to discuss product development and business growth, and these are not too far from what I might be doing if I am working in finance.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What advice do you have for someone looking to start a career in the industry?
Most people think that working in the digital marketing industry is chic and glamorous. You got opportunities to work with many big brands and were involved in quite a few interesting campaigns. It sounds fun; however, before jumping into this industry, you must ask yourself some questions. First, marketers usually have a heavy workload, and some entry-level jobs require a lot of hands-on executions; you need to be detail driven to overcome each challenge.
Second, you should know how to deal with the stress and frustration, keep your passion as you might need to handle various projects/products simultaneously, and always try to meet the deadline. Third, being a marketer means dealing with quite a few shareholders. Polish your communication skills would boost your confidence and benefit you in the industry.
Finally, always being curious. Have ambitions to pursue something you don't know yet, learn new technologies, understand the market trend and always acquire new knowledge.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What issue would you like to see the industry change in 2022?
In the last 12 months, we have been invited to many pitches, and whenever we participate in pitches, we go above and beyond, and extensive work goes into it. We devote our time to research, drain the energy to plan and contribute our thoughts and ideas to compete with other agencies. I know there are many debates about whether clients should pay the pitch fees, and I think we still have a long way to go to come up with a solution.
However, I believe it is crucial and necessary for the client to provide detailed feedback to each participating agency as everyone has put so much effort into preparing the responses, so everyone deserves proper feedback. I would love to see policies and regulations to standardise the pitch process soon so both agencies and brands can be benefited throughout the pitch process.
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