Chris Kyme (pictured above) continues his ‘Postcard from Hong Kong’ series this time about the trials and tribulations of setting up your own business in our industry. What it takes to survive etc. Which actually all things said and done if you get it right is not actually a lot, especially if you’re doing it with the benefit of a career in big agencies behind you. It’s a chance to do it your way. Put your principles into practice (“No paid pitches!” Right).
So just recently I enjoyed a rather spirited gathering (helped along with some fine spirits of course) with a bunch of respected local industry veterans..all much older than me of course.. who have all proven themselves by ‘doing it their way’.
First of I have to say that the venue for this was the jaw-droppingly office-envy inspiring home of the agency known as CTWCM who’s proprietor, Paul Chan (not that Paul Chan, the..er..more mature one) had generously volunteered to host the evening.
I mean we’ve all seen funky agency premises on and off during our careers, but the dark wood clad walls and leather sofas of this place looked more like the set of LA Law than a Hong Kong creative shop, and with a couple of cellos and guitars decorating the lounge area, squeezed in among the impressively large collection of jazz vinyl records and industrial scale hi fi equipment made for an exceptionally bohemian vibe.
Enhance somewhat by the cast of characters who included myself, Paul, Sandy Choi of SET Design, Desmond So of Uth, Rudi Leung of Hungry Digital, Tony Hon of Turn and TK of wowwowtank.
Of course we all know each other and we all know each other’s various business ventures for we’ve all been down that sometimes bumpy road that leads to independence and therefore had many experiences to share and discuss.
And while we did later get into the finer points of John Coltrane, Archie Shepp, Miles Davies, Ben Webster and Julie London, naturally the business we are in was the main topic of conversation.
So what are the trials and tribulations of running your own shop in today’s Hong Kong environment?
Naturally there are challenges and it was genuinely agreed that among the current ones we face and have to navigate these days include the threat we face from media companies cutting creative agencies out of the process, selling in their properties (KOLS, celebrity endorsers etc) directly to clients. I’ve written enough about that in this column myself. Clients placing too much importance in choosing the right face instead of the right idea.
Quality of people that we face across the table (or Zoom screen) in marketing teams these days is also something of a concern, compared to what some of us have experienced in our careers and it was generally agreed that proper training seems to have gone out of the window in the modern world, where the word ‘brief’ has been replaced by the word ‘email’.
On top of all that the usual challenges of finding and keeping good people, managing cashflow and getting new business are all part of the fun and games of a DIY operation.
But we all knew that before we set sail.
It was also generally agreed though that none of us would swap our current roles for the sweat-shop existence of big agency life having been there and done that and the challenges of running your own agency are far outweighed by the freedom you have and rewards you can enjoy.
And all also did admit to having survived not least because of some good ongoing client relationships which are really the sweet spot to getting it right when you’re running a business.
And speaking of rewards we were getting to the end of I think the last bottle of Burgundy that our host had uncorked (we’d all brought a bottle but none as fine as what he had on offer) when the word ‘whiskey’ slipped out in conversation and the evening deteriorated from then on.