05 May 2008
WRITING WELL AND HAVING THE ability to strategise and conceptualise ideas are not the only qualities that make a copywriter, or any advertising person for that matter, successful. The great ones are those who are driven by an almost insane passion for what they do.
WRITING WELL AND HAVING THE ability to strategise and conceptualise ideas are not the only qualities that make a copywriter, or any advertising person for that matter, successful. The great ones are those who are driven by an almost insane passion for what they do.

It is this passion that will reduce mountains to mere molehills, and drive the individual to constantly hunger for increasingly bigger challenges. Janet Lee is a 20-year veteran in advertising with over 80 local and international awards in her portfolio, including being the first Malaysian to win The One Show in 1993. She’s a Founding Member and was Executive Creative Director of Spider Network Sdn. Bhd., and served as Executive Creative Director under CEO Peter Gan at GanForHire.

Janet trained advertising students at Institut Sledgehammer in 2000—many of whom later became award winners. She has even trained National Service Trainers on Character Building, and helped teenage high achievers keep their grades up without neglecting other areas of their lives such as family and personal recreation time. Since 2004, this intelligent and creative lady’s indomitable passion for training, and propensity for mentoring, has made a real difference to the lives of participants at 95% Trainings. Janet’s just got a knack for discovering diamonds in the rough, as well as reviving the lustre and vitality of well-seasoned diamonds. While chatting with Janet, ADOI was struck by how much impact an affirmative attitude can make on the direction one’s life takes. Here is an excerpt from that interview:

Janet in a group buddle with graduating students, flanked by two Kancil Student Award Gold winners: Christopher Choong and Andrew Wong

What, or who, made you decide you wanted to go into advertising?

My dad. I wanted to work in a bank but he stopped me. He said I am the creative type, I’ll hate it in a bank, I should go into advertising. I didn’t know any better so I obediently agreed. Phew, what a narrow escape!

And how has the journey been?

I joined Wings BBDO way back in 1985. Since then I’ve worked my way through Union 45, The Ball Partnership, Spider Network and GanForHire, rising from Copywriter to Executive Creative Director. You could say I enjoyed a great run, achieved my every advertising dream. Then I started looking for the next great challenge…so I got married!

Was there ever a turning point where your professional life changed significantly…

Probably when I accepted Ham’s invitation to be a trainer at Institut Sledgehammer. Of course, I hadn’t realised then that this would change the course of my entire life, and eventually led to my biggest undertaking yet. the creation of 95%, a training centre in Bangsar.

To what do you attribute your success in advertising?

I was fortunate enough to work with the right people at the right time. My epiphany came when I worked with Neil French at Ball. He was our Creative God, and also a brilliant strategist. He could explain the logic behind the creative in a way that was so simple and clear, everyone could understand it, and appreciate its genius. I realised that being able to create great ideas was not enough. You need to be able to explain why the idea is going to make the brand a marketplace success. When you can do this well, you’ll have a much easier time selling outrageous ideas to clients! That’s how we were able to do so well at Spider, and this is what we are training at 95%.

Tell us more about how and why you came to start up 95%…

Firstly, I believe that advertising cannot be learnt by studying textbooks alone. Especially these days, when people’s lifestyles are changing at such an incredibly rapid pace. By the time a successful idea gets published as a case study, it may already be irrelevant. I also believe that you cannot study to be creative. There’s no point in learning the step by step of how to do an ad - this would only produce copycats. To produce original thinkers, the latent talent within each individual needs to be awakened, nurtured and allowed to bloom. Hence, I saw a huge gap between what the academic system was producing and what the agencies are looking for. Following my Sledgehammer experience, I got involved in training in a big way, and this led me to think that maybe I could do something that would make things better for the industry as well as for the young hopefuls. This vision was shared by Peter Gan, CEO of GanForHire where I was ECD, who pushed and shoved me into agreeing to set up 95% together with him as my co-Director.

Do you think anyone can be trained to be creative?

Yes. I think everyone is BORN creative. As we grow up, we learn to self-censor. We stop experimenting because we don’t want to be scolded or laughed at. So we learn to play safe. It doesn’t mean the creativity within has died; it is just hibernating. And it can be re-awakened.

95% has been running for more than three years now. What are some of your proudest achievements?

When our graduates do well, I’m elated. I am especially happy when my graduates’ achievements exceed my own. You know the cliché: if my students do better than me, it means they had the better trainer! Haha, I hope this is true! There is one particular moment that comes to mind. I was a guest at a radio talk show on branding and I met this gentleman named Craig Dasiuk, the General Manager of Myrelo. He was raving enthusiastically about how much his agency had taught him about branding and how much he and his customers love the new look and new brand behaviour. I almost fell off my chair when he revealed the agency’s name…it was CC+J, an agency set up by two of my graduates, Lim Chee Chiaw and Joescher Chee in 2006.

What are your short & long term goals or vision for 95%?

In 2008, we are expanding the Shine training that is commissioned by the 4As. After seven batches, we have trained 225 Shinesters from 52 different companies. This year, we will launch a Shine training for middle-senior management as well as a ‘Part 2’ follow-up for Shinesters. Also, our evening classes are doing well, and we will continue to build on that. We are attracting more and more Designers, Art Directors, Copywriters and even Account Executives who are already working. They come to us because they are ambitious and hungry to learn and get promoted! In the long term, my vision is that people will see their agencies as their ‘joyplace’ instead of their workplace. I’d like to see people getting all excited when they say, “I have to go to work today!”

You’re a dreamer of sorts…

Oh yes, I am a dreamer. And I do believe this can happen one day. The more we develop and expand our ability to cope with the terrible demands and challenges of a deadline-driven environment, the more we will be able to free up our creativity and passion to lead rich, fulfilling lives. Both in and out of the office. Now, this would be my dream come true.

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