I first met Lilian Leong in 2007 after taking on the role of editor for Marketing magazine in Hong Kong.
Back then, Leong was general manager of Leo Burnett Hong Kong and best known for setting up a digital and activation arm that led to a phenomenal revenue growth for the agency.
She went on to take full management responsibilities in 2009 and under her leadership, the agency surprised many and won Agency of the Year in 2013, edging out Ogilvy & Mather, which had held an ironclad grip on the title for years.
Fast forward to 2015 and Leong has since left the world of creative agencies and embraced a new challenge as head of IPG Mediabrands in Hong Kong and its stable of agencies, including UM, Rally and Reprise Media.
It’s a vastly different role from what she has done before, but one in which she seems to be revelling in.
Before Mediabrands, she had spent her entire career in the creative world, with agencies from Bates to JWT, Ogilvy & Mather and even a stint with Bozell, where she got her first break in the industry.
Wearing a white T-shirt, pink mini-skirt and holding a bunch of pink balloons, her first assignment with the agency was to hit the streets of Tsim Sha Tsui and hand out nicotine patches.
“I think they were recruiting for models,” she tells me over a casual lunch at Frites Quarry Bay.
“But I was getting paid $500 dollars a day, which wasn’t bad 25 years ago.”
Whatever she did must have impressed the folks at Bozell because shortly after, it offered her an internship and the rest, as they say, is history.
I meet Leong at Frites in Oxford House on a very sunny Monday afternoon and, as usual, I’m late. When I arrive she’s busy tapping away on her phone and I assume it’s work related. But it’s not the case and I soon realise she’s playing Little Alchemy.
We quickly order, both opting for Flemish onion soup as starters and she picks the rosemary roast chicken while I go for the eponymous steak and Frites for mains.
In addition to being an author, Leong is also a talented archer and says she’s keen to get back into the field to start shooting some arrows soon.
We then shift the conversation to data-driven creativity and how she’s adapted to life in a media agency.
‘I see Mediabrands as an integrated digital agency. I still believe in advertising, but we are looking at creativity from a very different angle.”
Indeed, she hasn’t abandoned the principals of a creative agency all together. IPG Mediabrands will soon hire a full-time creative and the agency recently launched a TV campaign, but not in the traditional sense. It’s creativity with a very new spin.
“There are a lot of opposing forces in the industry. In some sense advertising has been commoditised, but at the same time there are a lot of new things coming in.”
While it’s still relatively early in her tenure, Leong is pushing hard for change and she seems genuinely excited by the new opportunities. But is she happier?
“In a general sense, yes. My boss (Prashant Kumar, president of IPG Mediabrands, World Markets Asia) is a maverick and I have a lot of freedom in my role.”
Guest: Lilian Leong, managing director, IPG Mediabrands Hong Kong
Venue: Frites Quarry Bay
Starter: Flemish onion soup
Main: Rosemary roast chicken,