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The Clan’s Casey Loh on hiring creatives in the independent agency scene

Independent creative agency The Clan has been making waves in Malaysia, working with renowned clients such as U Mobile, Toyota and Sunway Medical. Ever since it parted ways with GOVT Singapore last July, The Clan has brought on board approximately 26 employees to date.

Casey Loh (pictured), creative chief of The Clan, has been in the industry for more than a decade, working in agencies such as DDB Singapore, iris Singapore and M&C Saatchi. In a conversation with A+M, Loh talks about the skills he looks out for when hiring a creative director, and how employees can approach the topic of getting a pay raise.

A+M: What do you look out for when trying to hire a creative director?

These days, hiring a creative director requires not just a stunning portfolio but also range of skill sets. You can’t be a one-trick pony and expect to lead a department that’s filled with creatives from different types of discipline. Digital, UI/UX, social, traditional – they’re all equally important so a leader needs to be balanced and be able to give direction across different touch-points and types of campaigns.

A+M: What are some of the things that turn you off completely?

I think arrogance is a huge disadvantage these days. Being a know-it-all is kind of dangerous for a creative agency of our size, so it’s better to admit the lack of knowledge for certain skill sets than to oversell one’s abilities.

Humility and curiosity is far more important than being a salesman.

Another turn-off is when someone asks me about the parking situation and benefits before the most important question of all – where do you want to bring the agency? It shows where their priorities lie and how much they want to get involved rather than just getting a job.

A+M: How can individuals approach the topic of getting a pay raise?

Just walk up to me and ask for a chat. It’s that simple. But this usually won’t happen because we usually get to our guys before they come to us, especially when there’s a significant show of improvement in their work. Good people are so hard to find these days, you wouldn’t want to let the good ones go. Those that ask but don’t deserve it should also still speak up because then they’ll know where to improve.

A+M: How important is word of mouth references from former employers/employees?

Depending on who you ask, I think references are as good as the diplomacy of the person you’re asking. If they’re the type of person who says only good things about someone then you might never know the truth of the person you’re hiring/about to hire. Though I’m sure no one wants to hide the truth, it takes deeper probing to really get to the core of the matter. So ask and ask again before you decide. It’s never going to be the whole truth anyway. Meet the candidate and decide on your own, and take references with a pinch of salt.

A+M: What are the new skill sets required to be successful in today’s creative ad world?

Curiosity and determination are two soft skill sets I think that aren’t given enough time to be nurtured. Far too many people have decided that advertising or the agency life isn’t for them. Curiosity helps you to continue to build on your current skill set, to hone in on what you’re good at and explore what you don’t know. A sense of curiosity means the willingness to do lots of research, reading, understanding and discovery of the ever-evolving landscape, which means you’ll be able to sprint ahead because of your knowledge.

Determination is the endurance trainer – the ad world is a marathon and there will be countless moments that will turn most people off – rejection, people, hectic hours (not all the time at The Clan, though), lack of appreciation, being strategic and creative at the same time. It’s so easy to give up. But this industry is possibly one of the few jobs left in the world that will allow you to continue to be curious and change things up on a daily basis.

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