The People Of China’s Ad Industry: Jenny Chen

Jenny Chen - Wieden Kennedy (Shanghai)

If I said the names Wieden and Kennedy to you would they mean anything? For those who do not work in the small world of the advertising industry, then probably not. Well Wieden and Kennedy are the surnames of Dan Wieden and David Kennedy who are the founders of the multi-award winning and self-titled advertising agency, ‘Wieden+Kennedy‘ (aka W+K).

Wieden Kennedy Shanghai LogoW+K came to fame through co-founder Dan Wieden (a copywriter) who coined the famous Nike slogan, ‘Just to do it‘ all the way back in 1988. Nike has been the agency’s main client since.

The agency has gone from strength-to-strength and has produced some truly cutting-edge creative work for many well-known brands including: Old Spice (yup, they made the ads with the man on a horse), Chrysler (the recent Eminem ad), Honda (‘cog’ commercial), and Heineken (‘The Entrance’). W+K’s work has made it one of the most awarded advertising agencies in the world.

From its small beginnings in Portland, Oregon (USA) the agency now spans across the world from London to Tokyo. In 2005, W+K arrived in China and has been making its mark in the Mainland ever since.

chinaSMACK has managed to get a peak into the Shanghai office and finally carry out our first interview with a lady of China’s ad industry. Her name is Jenny Chen and she works as an Associate Account Director on the heralded Nike account.

Jenny, welcome to chinaSMACK. First things first, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m a local Shanghainese, one of the 80s generation. I’m a true Pisces who is fascinated with the new, enamored by the beautiful and disapproving of the dull. I took physics in the senior high school, but majored in English language and literature in the college. The paradoxical nature compliments my passion for all things creative.

Advertising, it’s a dream land for me since when I was in the senior high school – a group of avant guard living and breathing in the air of freedom and creativity. So cool, isn’t it?! When I graduated from Fudan University, I stepped into agency life without any hesitation.

BBDO Shanghai was my first agency, where I worked on FedEx, Abbott then Pepsi and 7UP. After one and a half years, an idea came to my mind – I want to get out of Shanghai to see the world (at least China) more. I then joined Ogilvy & Mather Beijing for the account Kraft.

Many people thought that it was weird for a Shanghai girl to work in Beijing (due to many undefined difference between these two cities), and with fairly poor pay. But that year provided me with a fresh experience of work and life, to make new friends, to observe different cultures and people beyond Shanghai, and to be independent. One year later, I came back to Shanghai and joined W+K.

W+K is world famous for championing creativity. What is it like working at W+K’s Shanghai office? What makes it so special?

W+K Shanghai becomes another family for me after working here for almost 4 years. I do love the old office more – which was a very nice villa; but the new building is also very cool especially the rooftop.

W+K Shanghai Office
Wieden + Kennedy (Shanghai) Office

Wieden + Kennedy (Shanghai) - Rooftop

Wieden + Kennedy (Shanghai) Inside the offices

W+K is an unique place, and you can either survive or leave, hate or love. But everyone, no matter who, shares a special attachment to this place even after they leave here.

There are almost no rules for reports or presentations so it’s up to you to create. So sometimes things get messed up and out of control. However, the fact that it’s out of control is the reason it works.

We work hard and play hard. We always defy our own idea for better but have to work around the clock, and we are keen to try new things but make mistakes or take a wrong path. That’s what we believe, “fail harder”.

Fail, Fail again, Fail harder

W+K's take on Samuel Beckett's "Fail, Fail again, Fail better"

I must say we are the most creative and coolest account (handling) people in the world. I think it’s the hardest job in W+K after an ‘Ayi’.

How does the Shanghai office work with its brother and sister offices in places like London and Amsterdam?

Wieden + Kennedy is an independent global agency, so we work closely with other offices on different accounts especially for global clients Nike.

W+K London showreel

With the increasingly importance of China market around the world, our office have deeper and deeper collaboration with other offices as one integrated team. Living in the digital world, the communication is pretty easy and quick too.

What exactly is your role on the Nike account? What is like working for such a famous brand?

The core of our role is communication, we are dealing with people. I always feel account person is like an ‘ayi’ or gofer. It doesn’t requires hi-tech or super-pro knowledge, but requires a high IQ. This role is the same as in other agencies, but more demanding here.

Li Na - Nike Strike Campaign

Li Na is one of Nike's biggest stars in China

Nike is one of the best brands in the world, which sets high standard for quality work. You need a strong heart with enough wits to work with a group of smart people.

Watch on Youku

Working as an account (handler) in W+K, you have to bear much more pressure, and get used to being put in an “uncomfortable” zone. But at the same time, it gives a lot more opportunities to produce great work and work with top-class international teams. I am enjoying it.

Moving onto wider issues, how do you think working in advertising is perceived in China? It is certainly not a ‘traditional’ career choice, were your parents happy when you said ‘I am going to work in advertising’?

Advertising is known as one of the most craziest industries in China in relation to serious overwork and irregular life, especially after the death of an auditor in PWC which happened recently.

It’s true we have long working hours, and in my experience, I will feel weird if I walk out of the office before sunset. There is a saying that only two types of people will take a cab at midnight – ad men after OT or a hooker after business.

It's not all hard work (Nike came in to train the staff)

It's not all hard work at W+K (Nike came in to give the staff a workout)

I’m lucky to have an open-minded mum. She leaves it to me to decide my life since when I was young. She supports me to take a job I like. But of course, she takes care of me a lot and the family because I always overwork.

What would you say to Chinese graduates who believe working in advertising is not a good career choice?

If you dare not to take a risk, or you are not smart enough, just go away. It’s not for you. It’s a career that requires sufficient passion. Everyone should take a job that they like.

In many countries equality issues are rife. Do you feel that women are just as respected as equals to men in China’s advertising industry? Are there any challenges for women wanting to succeed in advertising and other industries in China?

Living in a big city like Shanghai, I don’t feel women are not treated as equal as men. It doesn’t matter whether you are female or male, it’s all about whether you have the point to deserve respect. Women have our strength that men don’t have, and we should make the best use of it. It happens to me that I am always sitting in a meeting room surrounded by many men from different countries, and I’m the only woman there. It’s not a bad thing, is it?

So what has been your proudest moment in your advertising career?

I felt proud when my mum pointed at the television and told other people that’s the TV spot that I just finished; I felt proud that my work was recognized when it received the first ‘pencil’; and I felt proud to see my work for the first time printed on magazine and put on big billboard. Nobody can tell the sweat and pain behind a TV spot which usually lasts less than one minute.

One final question, who is favorite Chinese creative person or group at the moment?

China is never lack of talents. I love some special design of local brands ZUCZUG and Triple-Major, the photography from Chen Man, and lots of art pieces by Xu Jie.

Chen Man Photography

And there are some interesting creative from HK too e.g. Douglas Young (founder of HK brand G.O.D), Anothermountainman / Stanley Wong. Their work possesses unique personality which cannot be mimicked.

Thank you Jenny and xiè xiè.

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