SHANGHAI--At a time when the ad world is unusually focused on the role of women in top creative positions, thanks to WPP Group creative guru Neil French’s incendiary comments in Toronto in October 2005, Kitty Lun’s 25-year career as one of Asia’s most prominent female creatives is a testament to the industry’s versatility.
Ms. Lun, the Shanghai-based general manager and executive creative director for China at Arnold Worldwide, a Havas-owned integrated communication agency network, has just 20 staff. But under her leadership, the agency has carved out a niche as a strong creative shop with global resources--albeit on a smaller scale than most multinational networks--and the freedom to pick and choose clients willing to invest in creativity, “not churn out the copy-cat ads that are so common in the industry now."
Arnold’s Shanghai office does not take part in pitches, but over the past year the agency has worked with luxury brands like Estee Lauder, Clinique and Hennessy, as well as 7-Up, Alcatel, Chevignon jeans, Mongoose’s BMX bicycles and China Travel Service’s online service Mangocity, launching early next year.
"I've worked with Kitty for a long time, she is an outstanding creative and business manager,” said Mabel Wong, China marketing director for Hennessy in Shanghai. "What strikes me about Kitty is her dedication to achieve the best quality creative she can, despite the difficulties we place in front of her, like a tight communication brief and limited resources."
One of the first women to emerge as a creative force in Greater China’s ad market, Ms. Lun is a role model, both for young Chinese aspiring to head a multinational office--many of which are still run by male ex-pats--and for young women working their way up agency creative departments.
“I’m a double minority, as a female creative from Asia,” said Ms. Lun, who devoted a chapter of her 2003 book “Advertising With No Lipstick” to feminism and the corporate glass ceiling.
“Neil made the most politically incorrect statements,” she said, “but I’ve heard women say the industry is unfair to us, particularly creatives, and I often think that’s just an excuse for not being good enough. I think people judge you by what you do, not by your gender. When I was a junior executive, I wasn’t respected because I was junior and inexperienced, not because I was a woman, partly because I come from Hong Kong, where men and women more or less have equal opportunities."
Also, most educated Hong Kong men covet high-paying finance jobs, leaving more openings for women. “As a result, I see a reverse, there are so many women in advertising now, bosses are looking for more men now to keep a balance.”
Ms. Lun, who declined to disclose her age, started as a copywriter at Leo Burnett Worldwide in Hong Kong in 1980, then headed the creative department at Leo Burnett, Taipei, until 1991.
She returned to Hong Kong as executive creative director at McCann Erickson. Six years later, she entered general management as Euro RSCG's managing director and chief creative officer. She led that agency into the digital age by setting up one of Hong Kong's first agency interactive divisions for clients such as Philips Electronics, Intel, HSBC, Hang Seng and Vitasoy. That early exposure to the Internet’s potential inspired her to join the Asian women’s portal miclub.com as CEO, greater China, in 2000.
Like many dot-coms, it was short-lived. Just over a year later, Ms. Lun joined Arnold Worldwide in Shanghai. Ms. Lun, who is married to David Chan, a renowned Hong Kong artist and calligrapher, said her challenge now is not growing Arnold’s business, it’s keeping the agency from growing too fast.
“It’s a personal challenge, finding the balance between integrity and business. I’m forcing myself not to be greedy, to hold out for the right project and turn down boring work for clients that don’t buy into creativity just for the revenue. In China, it’s very easy to fall into that trap.”
Who? Kitty Lun, general manager & executive creative director, China for Havas-owned Arnold Worldwide, based in Shanghai
Biggest obstacle to growth in China?
Finding and keeping high-quality, experienced, loyal staff in China. We’ve trained a lot of people who were poached by multinational agencies. I no longer make counter offers, but fortunately many of the best ones do want to come back after working for the industry’s bigger, less personal agencies.
Top tip for foreigners in China?
Many Chinese people are kind and warm-hearted, but don’t trust everyone right away. Be patient and keep your ears and eyes open all the time. China is full of contradictions.
Who is your most innovative client?
Pepsi-Cola. We handle creative projects for its 7-Up brand, which is all about youth marketing and you have to be innovative to reach kids through tactics like guerrilla marketing and comics.
Favorite Chinese web site?
Nike’s Chinese site Nike.com.cn
Favorite restaurant in Shanghai? T8, a fusion restaurant in Xintiandi “with a nice environment and a great wine list.”
Favorite hangout in Shanghai? The Starbucks on Huai Hai Zhong Road opposite Parkson.