Roger caught up with the up-and-coming branding professional, Valerie Chen, who is currently part of an eCommerce company in Singapore. Through his chat with her, Roger found out more about her career story – going from a brand agency to being a brand guardian.
Why did you choose to start your career in a brand agency?
I’ve always been impressed with how intelligently creative famous big brands are. To find out what goes on behind the scenes and wanting to get quick exposure, I decided to begin with an agency.
What energised you in the agencies you’ve worked at before?
In agencies, things are always quickly evolving; time is of the essence. With the fast pace and steep learning curve at the beginning, I had to adapt quickly. I remember even switching to comfortable footwear so I could literally run projects – by shuffling from desk to desk to coordinate with different people.
Environment aside, having the opportunity to work on numerous brands on a regional scale excited me. I picked up many insights about adapting to different markets’ cultural and consumer preferences. For example, how Asians simply love the colour gold. And how a premium minimalist design for Europe might come across as lacklustre in China.
So when did you get the niggling feeling that you had to move on from agency life?
At some point, work began to feel repetitive. For every project, I was always working on the creation phase of a brand’s life cycle. I knew that if I wanted to understand about building brands over a long term, I needed to seek an opportunity that allows me to be involved in solving business problems at every stage of a brand’s life cycle.
I really admire your courage in moving from agency to client. You had offers from agencies that you turned down.
Yes, I went through a painful 9-month job search period, where I questioned my career switch decision, and even my abilities – it was an emotional rollercoaster ride. So when offers from agencies came, I was tempted to just take the easy way out. But I reminded myself that it was a short-term pain for a long-term gain.
What kept you going?
A support network of positive people who were very encouraging, motivating and ready to go all out to help me.
When you make career decisions like this, everyone around you will have an opinion or two. It’s important to ignore the naysayers and those who don’t offer constructive advice. Focus on the support by the positive people. Along the way, you also learn who are the friends who have your back.
What ideas did you have about your career when you were younger?
A large part of my identity was defined in university. A lot of people thought that studying hard and getting good grades was the answer to success, but I felt otherwise. I knew there was more to it than following a system. So I didn’t just want to go with the flow. While others were rushing to score a spot in a prestigious Management Trainee programme upon graduation, I took up a seasonal job in a U.S. National Park. And while others took up well-paying mundane jobs, I chose to rough it out at an agency, with the belief I would get more mileage out of it.
What’s your vision now?
To master brand building – how to take a brand from just having a functional purpose, to being a meaningful part of people’s lives.
Specific to my career now, I want to help take a start-up brand towards its next stage of being a well-loved brand.
That was a great conversation. Anything else you would like readers to know?
There’s a line that spoke to me a few years back. It says: ‘Stop living your life in the grey zone’. It took me a few years to finally achieve this, amidst loads of soul searching, self-doubt and rejection. But if you have a clear purpose and are persistent enough, things will fall into place one day. Very clichéd I know, but hard work pays off.
Big thanks to Valerie for sharing her story!
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About Roger Grant, CEO of PERSONNA
Roger helps organisations turn ideas into real business impact. The change comes from the inside out.
He has more than 20 years of experience leading large diverse teams to create innovative customer-centric technology services, including the launch of Nokia’s first enterprise mobile device support service.
Photo credit: Valerie Chen