My Media Life – Natalie Lam

July 26, 2022


Welcome to My Media Life, where we chat with the movers and shakers in the worlds of business and marketing to find out what the media industry means to them, their advice for those starting out today, and personal insights into their sources of inspiration and motivations.

This month, we’re delighted to be joined by Natalie Lam, Chief Creative Officer for Publicis Groupe across APAC and the Middle East. Based in Hong Kong, Natalie leads a creative community of 3000+ people across Publicis’s various agencies in markets across the world. Below are extracts from our longer conversation – you can watch the full interview above or listen to the podcast here.

What does the media industry mean to you?

It means everything. Even though I’ve been in Hong Kong for more than a year, I still go check out The New York Times – it’s still my ‘go to’ to get a more balanced perspective in the world.

What’s, what’s one piece of advice that has helped in your career?

There are so many, but that I got early on was ‘listen well’. I was just starting out and was wondering why [sometimes] my work would get recognized and [other times] it wouldn’t. There didn’t seem like there was rhyme or reason. Back then, it was very hierarchical and as a junior – you did everything your seniors told you and people rarely bothered to explain. Often, we’d try everything and then cross our fingers and hope something would work!

After a long time of this guessing, I got the advice ‘listen well’ in one of my reviews. I’ve learnt to really listen to every single word that every single person says, and then put what they say and what the outcome is together. ‘Listen well’ was really good advice for me.

What’s your favourite thing about your current job?

Cultural tourism. Every single market is so different, so diverse. Every team is so different, the personalities are different. Cultural tourism is how I describe my experience. You can basically travel around the world just by being on Teams calls. Over the last two years, every time I talked to a team from a different market, I learned something new; I learned a little bit more about the culture.

It’s not the same as being there, which is so much more multi-dimensional, but I’m talking to people and observing them, their mannerisms, their little jokes and then habits, their expressions. There are endless things to learn. It’s just fascinating.

What advice would you give to people starting a media or marketing career today?

I think they’re extremely blessed yet extremely challenged. Blessed because they have endless resources influences and tools at their disposal 24-7, on demand. That’s also a huge challenge because you don’t have time to make your own decision. So how do you have a strong point of view and see things with clarity. What’s your voice? What’s your thing?

Back in the day when we didn’t have any of these limitations, I thought it was quite helpful in having a focus and in making up your mind, making your decisions, your choices. It was up to you rather than all the infinite availabilities, which can be sort of like false signals out there.

What would you describe as your personal secret talent?

I can make very complicated things pretty simple. I think it ties into that advice of ‘listen well’.  Whenever there are a lot of conflicting opinions going in different directions, I’m pretty good at taking a step back and prioritising; I look at what is most important to start with, then focus and set some kind of clarity, rather than being overwhelmed.

Where do you get your daily news from?

Unfortunately, nowadays, everybody is stuck in echo chamber. So, my blend is The New York Times, local news, a little bit of BBC, a little bit of what all my friends and family are sharing – it’s a little bit of a mash up.

For me the headlines [from The New York Times and BBC] represent the western view. I think The New York Times does editorial in such a brilliant way. I go to the style section, T magazine, to try to keep up with the latest in terms of lifestyle and culture. With the BBC it’s a slightly more European way of looking at things; a non-US way of looking at things.

Where do you get your creative inspiration from?  

It’s everywhere. I’m such an observant person, so there are a lot of things from everywhere that trigger me. I’m someone who likes to find little anomalies in the world. Whether it’s a little fun habit of someone sitting next to me, a small joke or, a something a bit amusing in our daily lives, social media, my friends and family, my parents, my colleagues, or big world news. It’s everywhere – real life. There’s so much inspiration all around from people, from culture, from the physical world.

Which media brands are most important to you?

The New York Times, Instagram – I use Instagram for a lot of inspiration. I’m obsessed with style, design, fashion culture so I follow a lot of photographers, artists and filmmakers. Instagram’s that source for me. I also listen to a lot of podcasts – you get soundbites and little stories, news, a collection of different things, both global and local.

How do you switch off from the always on culture we have?

I improvise with making food. I like making things and getting my hands dirty. There are two things that I can’t live without – an air fryer and an instant pot. A good stew that usually take a long time, I can now make in 30 minutes. At the opposite end of the spectrum, I cook guilt-free, oil-free, crispy fried food. I also try to exercise – I do yoga and take walks. If I have time, I listen to audio books or watch a film, but those times are very hard to find nowadays!

Finally, who or what inspires you?

I always respect original thinkers, people who have a very strong point of view and very strong conviction in what they believe in, because I think that the world is so overwhelmed with choices, with influences, with voices and hype and trends. It doesn’t matter, what they do, it could be a creative, it could be a big name, it could be a performer, an author, or someone who doesn’t have a glamorous job. If they have strong convictions rather than following the trends, those people inspire me.

Film is one of my favourite pastimes. Some of the classic directors and filmmakers from the sixties, seventies, nineties – have that power, that creativity, that originality. It’s hard for the newer generation of directors to replicate that impact. How do you bring in something new? It’s really a big challenge nowadays.

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