DDB Group Hong Kong’s CCO on being a storyteller that can create work which has the power to make people feel something
According to creativity researchers, there are four sides to creativity. Person (personality, habits, thoughts), product (the thing that results from creative activity), process (how you work), and press (environment factors, education and other external factors) all play a part. So, we figured, let’s follow the science to understand the art of creativity. Creativity Squared is a brand new LBB feature that aims to build a more well-rounded profile of creative people.
Here, we chat to Frankie Fung, CCO of DDB Group Hong Kong. He’s been in the industry since the late ‘90s and has had stints at agencies both in both Hong Kong and China. From MullenLowe, Saatchi&Saatchi, Leo Burnett and dentsu mcgarrybowen, he’s had ample opportunity to show off his talent. Frankie has led creative development on a wide range of accounts including McDonald’s, Manulife, Lipton, Volkswagen, Philips, Bank of China, HSBC and Dragonair. Frankie is a self-confessed kid that never grew up. He loves collecting toys (he has a collection of almost a thousand Tomica toy cars) and enjoys reading children’s novels together with his daughter.
I think I’m a pretty down-to-earth creative. I’m more motivated to create work that makes an impact than winning awards. The recognition from clients, in your role in influencing their business success, in my opinion, is a much greater feeling than winning any award – because it’s about achieving what you set out to do, while also reminding yourself, the client, and others, of the power of creativity.
And I really like it when this happens on smaller projects. Perhaps it is part of my optimistic outlook that really likes the seemingly uninteresting, smaller creative tasks and turning them into big creative opportunities. I’ve often found the more adverse a situation might seem, the bigger the opportunity is. I love exceeding expectations on what is possible.
Generally, I would probably say I’m quite an extrovert. By about the age of 12 I knew I was outspoken. I love to talk and I love to have the attention of the room, to tell people stories that make them laugh. There’s not a lot that feels better than that in my opinion. The longer I’m in this industry, the more I am grateful that I enjoy presenting - it’s such a vital part of my role now.
The art of storytelling really is extremely important in creative industries but doesn’t come as naturally for a lot of people. I think creativity is both something you are born with and something you can learn but I would say over 50% needs to be natural talent and that natural talent needs to be trained. It’s one thing to be a great creative mind, but the art of translating ideas into an interesting story and understanding how it might best impact business is often something I find creative people have to learn and work at.
I studied business at university, having always had an interest in economics, mathematics and physics, but also because I was driven in this direction by my parents who thought it would result in a respectable career. I did enjoy it but it also made me realise that what I was mostly interested in was the psychology of people, and the power of emotion to both drive and justify rational, as well as irrational, decisions. At the end of the day, I realised I’m a storyteller that wanted to do work that had the power to make people feel something.
A good story has and always will touch my heart – becoming a copywriter really confirmed to me how much that is true. I love to tell stories but I also love to hear them and so I really enjoy assessing ideas and creative work. You don’t need to tell me a long story to explain an idea – in fact, often the fewer words you can sum up an idea in, the better. I can get really excited about a good insight and I’m always looking to what the big idea might be. I don’t really take executions into mind until later in the process. The idea itself needs time – time for you to explore it, stretch it, interrogate it a bit. Executional ideas can be part of that, but you have to be careful not to fall in love with an execution of an idea too early on.
Ultimately people do make purchase decisions because of a feeling. When I look at work, I always try and put myself in the shoes of the consumer and think about how it will make them feel. That then tells me how I feel about the idea.
In general, I love a routine. I’ve been like this since I was born - I hate to be late and like to stick to the plan. I think it surprises people sometimes, as it’s not considered very “creative” to be so organised, but I need structure. It also drives my wife, who is the opposite, a bit crazy…. I’m even like this when we’re on holiday.
Getting the right team on a project is extremely important. I carefully consider the best combination of people for each piece of work as I want to provide a situation that facilitates the best brainstorming opportunities possible. The right combination of people just “shooting the shit” about any random thing can really result in the best, most powerful ideas.
Personally, I never enter a brainstorming session unprepared. I like to go into every brainstorming session with something up my sleeve in terms of an idea to explore. Sometimes it’s just something to say, other times I take one word, a picture, a script, a video. I want to provide catalysts for discussion and get people thinking and curious. I don’t want to control the direction of thinking but rather provide a launching pad for exploration.
Another important part of the job is sales. I do sometimes find I get nervous before a presentation and I have to psyche myself up to be more confident. I can get quite passionate about the work and sometimes need to filter myself a bit. When I’m feeling really strongly about my opinion and perhaps a bit argumentative, I actually often touch the screen on my phone so that the home screen picture of my family pops up which helps put things in perspective but also reminds me I have a family to feed so need to work with clients and not go up against them!
I really love how creativity has changed over the years and I’m constantly interested in how it’s developing. I enjoy the fact you can see an immediate response to your ideas now – that you can know an hour into a campaign launch that something might already have millions of views. The measurability and transparency keeps you accountable and it’s motivating. I just love reading feedback and getting people talking – even if it’s not always good. Word of mouth is such a powerful medium for brands and PR and social media can play such a key role. I love to consider this angle with absolutely everything we create for clients.
I resent hierarchies and have been lucky enough to basically grow up at DDB where the culture of working side-by-side is just a given. I really appreciate the culture here – there is a real freedom in it. I love that everyone has the confidence to be themselves right from the get-go, whether they are starting at the agency, on a new team, or just a new project – it brings out the best in each other, and in yourself, and this translates into the work.
A lot of my career has also been spent working on McDonald’s where the pace just doesn’t allow for politics, or laziness, which suits me perfectly. It also requires a lot of optimism, which is luckily, in my nature. There is no time to get emotional about things, you’ve just got to get on with it. I feel a big part of my job now is instilling this resilience in the younger generation coming through. Encouraging the team and keeping everyone optimistic is so conducive to getting good work done.
I think every generation has its problems, but you will also find in every generation, those who have an attitude that defies their circumstance, and they are the ones able to spot the opportunities. Needless to say, that is front-of-mind right now, but if I didn’t feel optimistic about the future, and future creative opportunities, then I just wouldn’t feel myself – I’m just always reassured by the absolute belief that there can be good in every situation.