Strategy in Hong Kong

Anne Leung, Havas Hong Kong’s new head of planning, talks about the importance of getting to know your coworkers, setting proper goals with clients, achieving work-life balance, and crafting strategy in Hong Kong that works.

Tell us about your background.

I grew up in Hong Kong, in a typical family where my mom was strict and pushed me to succeed––including making me learn how to play the piano at an early age. She expected me to be a professional when I grew up—ideally a doctor or a lawyer.

But I’m a rebel by nature. At just 16, when I studied abroad in the U.S., I grew bored with that expectation and decided to major in marketing and management.

I got a job as a qualitative researcher, listening to several kinds of people every day and talking in focus groups across Greater China. 12 years ago, I began work in planning, getting experience at various agencies, including Hakuhodo, Ogilvy, and Havas. I’ve also worked on the client side at KFC and Hang Seng Index Marketing.

You recently returned to the Havas family in March as the head of strategic planning for Hong Kong. What appealed to you about this opportunity?

Havas Hong Kong has been like a family to me. It’s a cozy place. People here have a collaborative spirit, working together to deliver marvelous results. Ricky Lam is our managing director and has been a supportive team leader. I appreciate his persistence in getting things done. We have a few goals for the team in Hong Kong, and I am looking forward to making them happen. I’m excited to be in this new role.

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So, what are your daily goals?

Being a turbocharger and a fire extinguisher. I’m a mom too. So I work to balance it all, often rushing home to see my two kids for dinner and story time. They’re six and three years old, and spending time with them is such a lovely time.

Occasionally, there are unexpected issues that pop up during the day, such as client concerns, team needs, or just sudden, difficult requests. In Chinese, we call these “fires,” and so my job is to be like a fire extinguisher and put them out as soon as they start.

What goals have you set for your team?

To be proactive, rather than reactive. We need to be on top of trend and technology. That enables us to think ahead and present and execute innovative ideas for our clients. I encourage everyone to explore and listen more. Take in what’s happening around you.

One major goal: work-life balance. Work is only part of your life. Life is never enjoyable if it’s only about work. Complete it with your interests, hobbies, love, and friends. More often than not, good ideas come from observing, listening, and talking with others.

How do you promote collaboration?

I believe that you need to know a person first before actually working together. So talk to your coworkers. They’re people, not machines.

Foster open communication. Understand each other’s priorities. Set clear goals, and make sure they’re communicated not only to your team, but to all the different disciplines, so that everyone moves in one direction.

In simple terms, what is strategic planning?

Rather than throwing out lots of jargon and theories, I’ll give you a few key points:

First, listen: You should listen to consumers, especially their tension points, and clients, particularly their business problems. Analyze: Assess the overall situation, including the macro point of view, the entire industry, your competitors, and client briefs. Think logically about how we put all these together. Everyone can be a planner.

What should guide the creation of a strategy in advertising?

Start with a good brief. Good briefs are not easy to come by. You need to understand clients’ businesses and their problems, which are often interlinked. After that, create one or two points of focus.

Come up with a consumer insight. Identify what the brand stands for and how it’s relevant to its target consumers. Have bold ideas. Identify opportunities and trends in the market.

Also: Be creative. Creativity enables you to make an impression, fuel change, and even alter behaviors. Good strategy can help inspire strong creative ideas that provide a solution to the business challenges.

Are there times that marketers should venture away from a strategy?

A strategy is how you approach a business problem. It provides solutions. So no matter how big or small the business objective—whether that’s to drive awareness, customer engagement, or acquisition—marketers should always have a strategy in a campaign.

What are the biggest opportunities that strategy provides?

Creating a strategy helps collect, organize, and distill thoughts. That’s true for agencies and for clients. Clients have their blind spots; we should use strategy to create a clearer picture.

Strategy also puts everyone on the same page. People from different teams and departments so often have different point of views. A strategy puts everyone on the same page.

And good strategy can inspire creative ideas. It should serve as a springboard for the creative team.

What are the biggest challenges?

Well, we usually start writing a strategy from a client brief. But sometimes clients don’t effectively communicate their needs and goals. We need to meet with clients to understand their current situation, rather than just looking at a brief.

How might strategizing in Asia be different that preparing strategy in other marketers?

In Hong Kong, the market is changing—fast. Be aware and keep up. There’s a saying here: three-minute passion. People love chasing new things and can quickly forget the old.

Sometimes clients are too focused on sales, rather than working to build a brand. But that’s not exclusive to Hong Kong.

What advice do you have for those in their 20s or 30s who are starting out?

Although we all say the millennials are digital and mobile first, don’t treat advertising as a clear-cut online or offline message. Good strategies and ideas are channel agnostic.

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