News broke today on the passing of Jimmy Lam. In this Postcard from Hong Kong, Chris Kyme offers a touching tribute to Jimmy, one of the true inspirational creative legends of Asian Advertising.
The Asian creative community right now is reeling from the news that industry legend Jimmy Lam has passed away in Hong Kong. Truly this represents a large chunk of the heart of Asian creativity being ripped out, such was the influence and inspirational leadership of this man, who was probably lesser known to a younger generation of creative folks in the region, yet the legacy he leaves behind has had an indelible mark on the industry in this part of the world.
Jimmy began life as a talented copywriter at an agency called Pope, Kiernan & Black, he then honed his craft under the guidance of leaders such as the late Stoney Mudd at McCann Erickson in Hong Kong, where young Jimmy partnered with Tomaz Mok (who later became MD of McCann Erickson SGM Works in Shanghai). Jimmy then went on to join Meridian, which, after merging with Synergy, the hotshop local agency founded by the late Mike Chu (another legend who died too young..what is it with life??) he became a major component in the award-winning machine that agency became in its 1980s Hong Kong heydays.
And that’s when I first became aware of Jimmy, because his name was on a lot of work that was getting noticed and picking up gongs. He looked handsome, flashy and cocky! Not long after my own arrival in the city, I then started to get to know the guy personally as I got involved in the running of the local Hong Kong Kam Fan awards show with him. And I was immediately as charmed as everyone else who encountered him.
I was fortunate enough to then get elected as Co-Chairman of the show along with Jimmy, and it was more a mentor/mentee relationship as he was way more sophisticated than I ever was and I learned a lot working with him. His mature sense of leadership, confidence and approach to running a creative show. He was just so comfortable in the role and it influenced my own sense of what it takes to manage.
Jimmy went on to take up management positions (it was only a matter of time) and was poached from Ball by Lintas, which was by no means a major name in the creative stakes at that time. Jimmy came on board right at the top, as Chairman of the agency and bit by bit we started to see neat little pieces of work emerge from the agency during his stint there.
Always looking ahead and never satisfied to sit still, Jimmy then took what he saw as a creative hiatus, joining Hong Kong production company Moviola to set up a Shanghai office and had a crack at starting a career as director. I remember visiting him at the office there, and true to form, Jimmy had assumed the role of ‘Godfather’ to the local community of Hong Kong expats in the city, with the office becoming a dinner destination date for hungry creatives who came to enjoy the excellent dishes served up by the Moviola in-house cook.
Pictured above: Jimmy with Bryan Wong, Tomaz Mok and Kenny Wu (of Long Xi Awards) in 2013
Jimmy was always in the thick of agency moving and shaking. He returned to Hong Kong and had a stint as Regional Creative Director at DMB7B (D’Arcy, Masius Benton & Bowls, before joining Dentsu Asia in Singapore. Which led to him then setting up and was running a small independent shop called Clipper MotherAsia on behalf of Dentsu as a sort of regional outpost for certain clients. A regional hub of independent creatives across markets like Singapore, KL, Shanghai, Taipei, Tokyo and Osaka. Art-based CD Bryan Wong, who worked with him there recalls “We worked together like brothers, we had so much respect for each other. Whenever we had issues, we helped each other to cover up, including the naughty ‘night church’ visits. He never treated me as an employee, I was always being introduced as his partner in business”. (I’m not going to ask what the night church visits were about but suspect it had little to do with singing hymns.)
Highly regarded by Dentsu, Jimmy was sort of their man-about-Asia and it was a fun adventure for a while. It was through this that I caught up with Jimmy a bit more and led to one of my own happiest memories of spending time in his company.
Dentsu had been running their ‘Asian Diversity’ seminar at Cannes, and enlisted Jimmy’s help to recruit possible speakers from various markets. To say I was honoured that he considered me as someone suitable to speak at Cannes on behalf of Hong Kong is an understatement. I couldn’t believe it and immediately went off to try and thinking of something intelligent to stand up and present, as well as get a new haircut. The resulting 20 minute presentation (‘In search of Hong Kong’) was to result in me turning the story into a book with my good pal Tommy Cheng and although it took 10 years to write, would never have happened if it was not for Jimmy’s consideration and vision in inviting me to have a say.
It wasn’t just all this which comes flooding back to me with real misty-eyed fondness as I sit here and write this in memory of this charming guy, but travelling with him to Cannes and sharing a room with him during the stay. We had a relationship of constant piss-taking and mutually insulting banter whereby he constantly complained about my snoring and I accused him of being an old woman, and during this memorable trip, I saw right inside the heart of Jimmy, enjoying long, wine-fueled chats over those delicious Cannes mussels and really getting to know him. I really felt so privileged that he had invited me to the trip and my friendship with him (as it was for so many people he touched ) became closer. More than that it was just a joy to roam about at the Cannes advertising show with Jimmy. Everyone knew Jimmy and he had that big generous smile for whoever approached him. I felt like I was tagging along with a movie star.
Jimmy was always full of fun and mischief. One year, when we were co-Chairman of the Kam Fan awards show, we were anticipating some backlash from the Hong Kong creative community as there had been complaints that the year before there weren’t enough awards being dished out. Our position was, we’re inviting top international judges to try and raise the bar in Hong Kong. If they deem it that in some categories there is no work worthy of an award, then so be it. If we continue this way, it will get tougher, and Hong Kong work will get better and better. We knew the situation would be similar this particular year, so Jimmy had the idea that we should protect ourselves and come out onstage in full battle dress. Army helmets and flak jackets etc. It immediately diffused the situation, set everyone up for what was to follow (we explained our position), and we had a great night as joint MCs. Sometimes award shows taken themselves too seriously. Jimmy’s idea was that everyone should have a great night and no sour grapes.
However, there was more to Jimmy than this successful, confident and influential adman, one of the first local Hong Kong leaders (the first ever Hong Kong Creative Director to be invited to judge at Cannes no less). It was his sense of responsibility and his vision for the industry that will ensure his name will never be forgotten, at least when it comes to the creative industry in Asia. The first product of this was the launch of Longyin Review, a Chinese language magazine version of Lurzers Archive, which was designed to united the Chinese language advertising community across Asia, including the markets of Mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, and anywhere else where Chinese language work was being produced. A regional collection showcasing the best Chinese language creative advertising being produced. This was a significant big step towards uniting practitioners across the region and giving them an overview of who was doing what. Something which was to prove hugely influential in opening up thinking across the region. The first issue of Longyin Review went out in January 1995, and was an immediate hit, with many young hotshots immediately wanting get their work showcased in the magazine.
In 1989, Jimmy Co-founded a new regional award festival called Adfest, with Vinit Suraphongchai, who remains Chairman to this day. Jimmy became and remained President and one of its key evangelists for many years. Originally the Asian creative advertising community would only congregate and see who was doing what at the Media and Marketing Awards (now Spikes) which was a one-night affair usually held in Hong Kong. Adfest was modelled on Cannes, which took place over a few days, in a more resort like setting and atmosphere. And again, Asia has never looked back, so successful has the show become, it became a major fixture on the regional calendar, and Jimmy was right at the heart of it.
This alone would have cemented his status as ‘legend’ in the region. But in 1998 Jimmy was Co-founder of the Long Xi Chinese language awards show, along with David Sun, Peter Soh and Tomaz Mok, which is still going strong today, recruiting some of the most talented judges from around the region and is held in very high esteem.
Pictured below: Jimmy with David Sun, Peter Soh and Tomaz Mok, co-founders of Long Xi Awards
Jimmy’s day job advertising career continued alongside his extra-curriculum duties, most recently with his role as Vice Chairman & Chief Creative Officer of DDB China Group. His contributions to the development and progress of creativity across Asia are enormous. His legacy will never be forgotten. But it’s his huge presence as a man, that big charming smile and confident, reassuring demeanor that leaves the biggest hole in the lives of all who knew him. When he walked into any room, the world was immediately alright. It was Jimmy the human being we remember most.
Hong Kong designer Sandy Choi, who worked with Jimmy at Ball Partnership, was just one who was influenced by him back then. “When I worked at Ball, Jimmy Lam was like ‘God’ to me. Years later, every time we had dinner and drinks together, I felt like I was in heaven. He introduced Mayan (Sheung Yan Lo) to me, and that was proven to be a God’s gift.”
CC Tang, himself an influence on many a young talent, summed up his feelings with one word. “Lovercomrade. That’s how we called each other.”
Sheung Yan Lo himself commented “Jimmy meant so much to me in my career development. He had helped open my world and given me so much advice. And when I look at the response in the social network, I am not the only lucky one.”
On hearing of Jimmy’s passing away, Khun Vinit Suraphongchai stated in social media “Together we grew Adfest into a well-respected advertising forum in the Asia Pacific Region. He was a tower of strength throughout. We are at a loss for his untimely passing. His passion and uncompromising commitment for creative excellence will be remembered and sorely missed. He was a mentor, an inspirer, a friend, but most of all, he was family. His legacy will live on. We send our thoughts and prayers to his family during this difficult time.”
In 2008, Jimmy was honoured by the Hong Kong Baptist University School of Communication 40th anniversary as one of its ’40 most distinguished alumni’. With various Chinese language books on advertising to his name, and the ongoing success of the Long Xi creative awards, his memory will remain with us forever.
My condolences to Jimmy’s family on their loss. And also to his bigger family at large, you all know who you are.
Jimmy Lam, truly irreplaceable.
Social media today has remembered the life of Jimmy Lam with personal messages of tribute and memories from around the world. Below are a few and for more see here.
“Did you hear about Jimmy Lam?”
I didn’t like the tone of the early morning Whatsapp message.
I hoped it was good news.
It was not.
The tribute to Jimmy read, “How to bid you farewell Jimmy, when you’re the best of Hong Kong?”
Jimmy Lam wasn’t the best of Hong Kong.
Together with Khun Vinit, Jimmy set the stage for Asian creativity to shine.
Through AdFest, he gave Asian talents a voice that is heard around the world.
Jimmy brought out the best in Asia.
He brought out the best in us.
Every year, Adfest bestows the Legend Award on a deserving creative.
No one deserves it more than Jimmy Lam.
Let us honour him.
Let us celebrate him.
Let us thank him.
Let us keep the creative flame that he ignited with Vinit over 20 years ago burning to light the way forward for future generations of Asian talent.
“All endings are also beginnings,” wrote Mitch Albom. “We just don’t know it at the time.”
Let us keep Jimmy’s creative legacy alive.
I started ADFEST with Jimmy Lam in 1989 over 20 Years ago. Together we grew it into a well-respected advertising forum in the Asia Pacific region. He has been a tower of strength throughout. We are at a loss for his untimely passing. His passion and uncompromising commitment for creative excellence will be remembered and sorely missed. He was a mentor, an inspirer, a friend, but most of all, he was family. His legacy will live on. We send our thoughts and prayers to his family during this difficult time.
Shocked and saddened to hear of Jimmy’s passing. What a loss to the industry. Sincere condolences to the Adfest family and to his loved ones. Jimmy was such a bright light; fighting for creativity, brilliant at bringing people together, and always eager to tease me about my love of Middlesbrough FC. I shall toast his memory when we inevitably lose this afternoon.
Rest in Peace Jimmy I know how much you loved your family, sending them strength today.
That’s so sad. Many condolences to his family and many friends, from all of us at D&AD. RIP Jimmy.
Very sad to hear. A charming man and a true talent.
So sad. He was the life of any award show celebration. He always made us feel at home and welcomed. Jimmy thank you so much.
Dick van Motman
A colleague, friend and inspiration.
Worked with him twice.
First at D‘Arcy in 1998 where we had the typical and rather epic creative-account stand off at the HK office. (Remember Christine Ping/Sue McCusker/Polly Chu?) but went onto to do many great things together.
And of course the many back and forth pranks (David Horry/Ken Wright/Garry Titterton).
Than when I was fortunate enough for him to say yes when asking to join DDB China and discover that cuisine had joined creativity to form the two C’s.
Throughout that time we developed a friendship and respect fueled by many meals, thunderous laughs, heated debates, the concept of the ‘naked idea’ and just sheer passion for creativity, family and people in general.
Many benefited from this latter – not least younger talent.
Thank you my friend.
R.I.P “Jimmy the whip’
Jimmy was a fearless visionary who dreamed big. Deeply saddened to learn of his passing.
So sad. The man who brought Asian advertising to the where it is today. Rest in power, Jimmy
Will always miss his smile, R.I.P Khun Jimmy Lam
I first knew Jimmy as “that guy who started ADFEST with dad.” Their story began after the organiser mistakenly swapped their names when they were judges way back when. And that’s how they met. That encounter turned into a conversation over beef noodle soup, and later grew into a humble regional creative festival.
I later joined that humble festival, and Jimmy became my boss. He had endless passion for his work, his life, and his food. If he’s had his ga-prow moo & durian sticky rice, the meeting was likely to be smooth sailing. I can still hear his giggly laughs and I’ll remember him that way.
Thank you Jimmy for the legacy you have left behind. For continuing to raise the bar and push us forward. It is hard to imagine an ADFEST without you. It has been an honour and privilege to have worked beside you all these years.
Rest in peace Jimmy. You will be dearly missed and remembered Boss.
It is still hard to believe that somebody who had as much energy as Jimmy Lam has left us forever. He inspired me in so many ways, particularly in terms of being a good leader and adman. Looking back at the memories, We have spent some valuable time for decades. He simply didn’t need any frame to get portrayed as a “True Legend”, his personality suited perfectly for it. R.I.P. Jimmy.
Very sad news indeed. He was the life of the Adfest party. Always pushing us to explain why we liked what we liked or voted how we did. And sometimes pushing us on stage to ask others the same questions. I had the honor to work with him on the Adfest Collective and saw close up how passionate he was about Asia’s place in the world. My condolences to Jimmy’s family, Vinit and the entire Adfest family as well.