Chris Kyme: Postcard from Hong Kong

Chris Kyme_April2016.jpgIn our latest "postcard from..." series, Chris Kyme wonders if Hong Kong is working too hard.

Does our Hong Kong industry work too hard? I grew up in an ad industry where the philosophy instilled in us was definitely work hard play hard. You worked your asses off to crack briefs and deliver the goods..then you went out to let off steam. Of course for me it was also about being young free and single and totally into what I was doing. There was no line between work time and off time. And, unless you're a creative genius (which last time I looked I'm definitely not!) the only way to crack out anything good was bloody hard work. Fast forward to Hong Kong today and you can definitely say that the hard work ethic is still there. But also chuck in mad work ethic. Crazy late hours work ethic. Nothing but work ethic.
Chris Kyme 2.jpgAm I wrong? I was recently curious as to whether there is any particular hangout in the local industry where today's young free and single like to go and mingle (that was a soul record you know) on a Friday night to put the week behind them and exorcise their creative demons over a few glasses. Like the way agency folks would gather at Zouk Wine Bar in Singapore on a Friday, which was always good for rubbing shoulders with your contemporaries because you knew they would be there, and you could get into an argument with Steve Elrick (not difficult) or learn about the latest rare indie Scottish-Armenian experimental ambient house up and comers from Graham Kelly. Others cities have them. In London in the 80s, certain pubs were marked territory for any number of agencies in the vicinity (mine was FCB, DDB, FCO and AMV...which was probably the only way I was ever going to be discussing the merits of typography with some of London's finest) and it was always a brilliant vibe. Not always just on Friday's too. I'm not sure Hong Kong ever had such a place. Over the years some bars did tend to be considered 'in' places for agency folks..or at least 'up Lan Kwai Fong way' you were certain to bump into certain people. Some agencies had their own bars of course. And Friday was a tradition. But these days on a Friday come 6pm (or 1pm if you're Australian) when you should be able to put the work tools down and chill out, for most of the big agencies it's business as usual...keep NOT calm and carry on until you're so knackered and you have to eat. I place great importance on the Friday chill-out.

Chris Kyme 3.jpgIn my humble little agency, at 5pm I put cold beers and other refreshments on the table, rally our team, and discuss stuff. Anything. Mostly with creativity in mind. Watch some ads. Review some websites. Anything cool we've seen. Just open our minds a bit. It has to be a balance. I was asking around a bit here to see if any agencies do anything similar. Whether they go to a particular place to let their hair down. Ben Li, Marketing & Communications Director at Grey Hong Kong has been trying to nurture a sort of TGIF thing, as he had me up there to speak recently (I mean, I speak most of the time of course, usually when I want to say something...so not only on Fridays...but this was to give a talk on something) and it was a nice scene and atmosphere. I asked him where his agency people usually go to hang on at the end of the week and he said "As most of the colleagues here are Hong Kongers, we don't really drink much - they start work late and stay till midnight or beyond, as you know HK people like to eat, eat and eat more. I remember when I worked at Campaign, some ECD from Dentsu organised a sharing session in a pub in Wan Chai and showcased some creative work from Japan, not just from Dentsu, and it was great, very informal."

Chris Kyme 4.jpgNothing wrong with eating of course and a Friday chillout ain't just about getting plastered. It should be about sharing. Talking. Not looking at your mobile for 5 seconds. CC Tang at Havas told me "We go around town..never a fixed place. We do it occasionally. Unplanned. But it's hard to have everyone joining." Another CD (I'll let him remain nameless) said " In all honesty, there isn't much socializing. We're usually here in the office." So I asked Mr 'Catch me if you can' Thierry Halbroth, who many will know is a hardworking bugger himself, what his views were on the HK relaxation policy. "I think it deserves a night. I've tried so many times. Nobody cares." Sad really.

Why am I writing about this? Why is it important? Well without getting too much into 'All work and no play makes Jack..' etc, I think relaxation-based networking is important to any creative industry. We're not civil servants. Our industry is full of diverse, colourful personalities. People who are interesting to talk to. Our work is (or should be) fascinating and interesting. Personally I want to meet other people from agencies. I want to ask what they're doing. How they're doing. Hong Kong and China industry guru Kitty Lun thinks it would be a good idea. "If someone starts a networking invitation, I am sure the creatives would love to join."

We should mingle. Meet. Compare notes (headhunt?). It opens our minds and feeds into our creativity. Agencies themselves should be nurturing this. Maybe the industry should be. Maybe it's why 95% of the work we see in major-spend media these days is completely boring. Maybe I take this too seriously. Maybe I need a drink.

Chris Kyme is chief executive officer at Kymechow, Hong Kong.

3 Comments

Mark said:

Well captain. In the olden days of the late 70's and early 80's we would all go to The Den at the old Hilton or to The Excesior hotel's Dickens bar. Tony Morias would have friday drinks at Post Production Shop from the late 80's to mid-90's and every cd in town would be there. We would congregate and hit the Wanch together. From the late 90's all that disappeared to be replaced by mad deadlines and anti-socialism. Good piece, but you know the history.

Gimme a break said:

Nothing reveals the two class agency divide than a 'friday night chill out'.

The usual swans and poseurs (invariably expats) are out boozing, while the client facing suits, retail creatives and studio (invariably local) are still slogging out to rush and meet the friday night deadline, between bites of instant noodles.

It was so in the 80s and till this day.

This particular walk down memory lane is as insensitive as a plantation owner in South Carolina talking about the good old days, between sips of iced mint joolips.

michael said:

@gimmee a break :))

The very idea that someone should feel nostalgic for hanging out in Dickens Bar is painful. If anything the decline of the 'Friday night drinks' actually shows how far the industry has moved forward.

Nothing worse than an expat pining for the good old days in HK.

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