Featured

Reflections by Chris Kyme: A 'total blast' in the region with a future

In which the author recaps 26 years in stream-of-consciousness style, including run-ins with industry giants, the creative fortunes of various countries, and even that dressing-in-drag incident.

I came out here 26 years ago to take up a job with Leo Burnett Hong Kong. I didn’t have a clue what to expect. But here are some memories:

Winning a Spike for ‘Best TV Campaign’ in Asia in my first year. Leaving LB to join Grey. Watching Ball Partnership clean up every year for the first few years in Hong Kong, courtesy of people like Mike Chu, Mike Fromowitz, TK and Simon Hayward. Charles Brian-Boys, an early friend. Meeting Neil French for the first time and thinking, “a cross between Winston Churchill and Oliver Reed”. Meeting Bhanu Inkawat in my first few months, then starting to witness some of his breathtaking work—especially for Nivea. Trying to get my head around Asia: Singapore for print, Japan, Thailand and Hong Kong for TV. Scoring at the Spikes again for Schweppes. Watching the Neil French machine in action every year, baffled as to how his mind worked. Making a nonce of myself at the Kam Fan awards several times (lastly in drag). Watching the Hong Kong generation come of age. Willde Ng, CC Tang, Jimmy Lam, Christine Pong, Eddie Booth, Stanley Wong, Fornita Wong. Expats like Steve Elrick, Phil Marchington, Stefan Sagmeister, Stuart D’Rosario, raising the bar.  Working with great directors like Louis Ng, David Tsui and Larry Shui. Chairing the Hong Kong 4As. Chairing it again. Seeing Hong Kong come of age. Wonderful parties. Schtung in Hong Kong every Christmas. A lot of beer. A few tequila shots. Quite a few headaches. Attending the Spikes every year. Seeing India start to rise. Seeing the awards bug take its hold on Asia.  Challenging Neil French to a dare and backing down again. Seeing David Droga blow through—he came, he saw, he conquered. Seeing Hong Kong’s locals come of age, Spencer Wong, Ron Cheung, Iris Lo, Ruth Lee, Paul Chan, KC Tsang. Seeing Hong Kong find its local voice. Getting a taste of Singapore. Getting FCB off the ground in Singapore. Getting elected to the FCB Worldwide Creative Board. Eating brilliant food in so many countries. Getting voted ‘Ad Man of the Year’ in Singapore. Making so many great friends. See David Guerrero leading the Philippines charge. Seeing Philippines come of age. Seeing every country in Asia catching on. China, Malaysia, Indonesia. Watching Hong Kong decline. Seeing some of our ex-Grey protégés make their names: Nick Lim, Carol Lam, Ng Fan, Tony Hon, Jeffrey Gamble. Going independent. Joining an independent. Keeping the awards coming (especially Nokia ‘MC Farmer’). Speaking about Hong Kong at Cannes (thanks Jimmy Lam and Dentsu). Winning Apple in Asia (sorry TBWA). Sad farewells to industry greats like Mike Chu and Stoney Mudd. Finally going solo (well with my wife) with my own name on the door. Scoring at the Kam Fans yet again, and getting shortlisted for a Spike once again this year, 26 years on from when I first landed!

Wow.

There was an ad by David Guerrero a few years ago which showed two images of the world creative map. In the first one there was no Philippines. In the second there was. And that’s a great distillation of what I think has happened in Asia in the 25 years or so since I first arrived here wide eyed and innocent.

chris_kyme_cigar

                                       The author in 2004.

I was a copywriter in a fairly decent London agency at the time (FCB) and had an offer to join Leo Burnett in Hong Kong. My heart said yes —the lure of exotic Asia, a chance to see the world and eat some amazing  food etc.

My head was concerned as to what damage it would do to my career, should I want to return and get back into a good agency in London. Such was the poor perception of what it meant to work in Asia at that time. With the exception of some vague idea that Singapore wasn’t a half bad place to be plying your trade, and some of the interesting work from Thailand and Japan we saw at Cannes each year, Asia was not seen as a step up.

Thankfully my heart won, and I’ve never looked back, let alone ever considered actually going back.

Asia today is a brilliant open playing field. It’s come so far creatively. Thanks to some of the early pioneers who led the way, there have been several generations of home grown creative talent emerging in just about every market, taking to the global awards stage with refreshing work. Now you can compete from just about any country, and people are.

On the other hand, does progress come with a price?

Because, for all its progress and prowess on the global awards stage, I wonder if Asia’s obsession with clocking up gongs in the big shows has seen a regression in the ability of agencies to perform to such standards in the real world. To convert their award-winning ideas into real business solutions for clients. It’s a problem that even Sir John Hegarty touched on in an interview recently.

Whatever.

It’s been a total blast seeing all of this emerge around me. Seeing Asia grow and progress creatively. I’ve always loved being at the Spikes, since the early days when it was the Media & Marketing Awards. Seeing amazing work from different countries on show.

In my first year, I received a Spike for a TV campaign which was also voted ‘Best TV Campaign in Asia’. The bug had bit me and I’d like to think I’ve been infected ever since. I love being involved in what’s going on out here even to this day.

Asia is still so full of opportunities. Always evolving. I’ve always felt that Asia has a future, whereas Europe has a history.

More than anything, I’ve loved working with and being connected to so many brilliant, young vibrant people in all these countries. Seeing careers develop and take off. I’ve totally enjoyed helping people get going along the way. 

Chris Kyme is the CEO of Kymechow.

Do you want to visit campaignasia.com now?