Passion, Purpose, and Partnership

In an age when publishers and tech companies provide some of the same services as advertising agencies, the competition is getting stiffer. But there are tried-and-true strategies that give agencies an edge with clients. Icy Yuhong Li, Managing Director of Havas Shanghai, tells agencies where to lean in.

Tell us about your background.

I found my passion in advertising, but I am not satisfied with a single role. I started my advertising career as an account executive and over time was promoted to Group Account Director. Then I moved to the planning department and started over with the role of planning manager, and worked my way up to head of strategy integration and chief strategy officer, digital, for Publicis Groupe Shanghai. In March, I joined the Havas family as managing director at Havas Shanghai.

IcyEditWhat attracted you to this particular opportunity?

My job is to drive transformation and integration for Havas as well as our clients’ business, and also bring in new types of talent, new types of clients. My passion is pioneering integrated communication solutions for marketers. This position allows me to do just that.

I have worked a variety of firms, such as JWT, Publicis Digital, and Wieden+Kennedy. These valuable experiences have enabled me to have a broader perspective on integration—and it’s that broad perspective that I’ve brought to Havas. I firmly believe that well-rounded talent is the key to orchestrating integration in a new dynamic era.  

What are your biggest objectives for your clients, your team, and yourself?

For our clients, our objective is to provide effective business solutions through integrated communications for marketers, because most clients are facing business challenges under less-than-promising economic circumstances. For my team, my goal is to train my team to become integrated talent through actual integrated work. As for myself, I want to help groom the new generation of advertising talent.

So, what steps will your team take to develop young talent?

One: Break down traditional ad agency hierarchical structures and linear processes. Create a flat structure, a non-hierarchical working environment for the millennial generation and young, modern talent.

Two: Foster a diverse, collaborative, fun company culture that enables different specialists to team up and innovate.

Three: Nurture individuals’ creativity. Creativity doesn’t come solely from the creative team. It comes from everyone.

Senior leadership can learn a lot from young talent. When we listen to the younger generation we can learn to be truly open-minded, think out of the box and then get our hands dirty.

What advice do you have for professionals in their 20s and 30s?

I would say find your passion. Identify a right platform. Be persistent and don’t get distracted. Enjoy and flourish.

What does it take for global brands to succeed in a massive market such as Shanghai?

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. So understand the Chinese media environment, the Chinese consumer, the game, and key players. If you do that, you’ll break through.

What does an ideal relationship between agency and brand look like?

In China, it is to understand clients’ business challenges and develop high-level partnerships with senior clients. Together, we disrupt and innovate. There are things that need to change. We have divided, disconnected functions among creative, content, digital media, and tech. We need to connect all the dots and provide effective integrated marketing solutions.

Some brands are trying to bypass ad agencies and look for solutions directly from tech companies and publishers. The advantage of advertising agencies is still about human insight and creativity. We need to marry art and technology to create insightful content, interpret data, and extract insight.

What’s your outlook on the future of advertising in Shanghai?

Two kinds of ad agencies will survive in Shanghai. One consists of the agile horizontal platforms that are capable of providing integrated solutions that cross functions efficiently. Another is the vertical hot shop that champions creativity.