In April this year, Sarah Ko was appointed Executive Creative Director at PG ONE Singapore, Publicis Groupe’s dedicated unit for P&G brands.
A multi-awarded creative, Ko has worked on a slew of different categories across 10 markets in APAC and EMEA in previous creative positions at Saatchi & Saatchi in Singapore, Ogilvy in the Philippines, and Regional Creative Director roles at Lowe and Partners and Havas Worldwide in Thailand.
We recently caught up with her to learn more about transitioning into the ECD role, the creative scene in Singapore, the toughest parts of managing a team of creatives, those ‘What on earth am I doing here?’ moments, and more. Sometimes in wonderfully poetic fashion.
Earlier this year you joined PG One after five years at Saatchi & Saatchi. How’s it going? What’s it like transitioning jobs while the world is transitioning from a pandemic?
It’s been challenging but in a good way. It got me out of my bubble and I’m learning new things about our agency and the different parts of our business every day.
Of course, there have been moments when I asked myself, “What on earth am I doing here? Do I even know what I’m doing?” Every person thinks that at one point or another. Fortunately, I’m surrounded by supportive people at PGOne that I can talk to about these feelings.
I’d have regular catchups with my boss and mentor, where we talk about the work, but also about what’s going on with each other’s lives. Knowing that there’s always someone there who sees you and understands you is such a comforting feeling. It makes a huge difference knowing that you’re not alone.
One thing I learned is to give myself time.
Time to figure out my own way and how best I can fill this role.
Time to learn the different styles of the team and how they engage with me.
Time to grow and make mistakes and learn.
As a creative yourself, what would you say are the most difficult parts and the easiest parts of managing a team of creatives?
One big thing I realized is that it’s now a lot less about you.
You’re not just creating the work anymore.
Before, I’d be obsessed with coming up with the best possible idea, the best possible execution. Now, it’s more about shaping and motivating others. The new obsession is finding the things that will bring out the best in them, so that they can come up with their best work, and then helping them see it through all the way to the end.
“One of the best bits of advice I got as a junior creative was to always be a sponge. Soak up the experience. Seek out conversations with people. Say yes to the unfamiliar.”
I guess it’s not so much a question of what’s hard and what’s easy. But whether or not you’re willing to take on the responsibility and put in the effort and energy in people. There will be great days — they’ve cracked a difficult brief or they sold a really great idea. But there will also be days when they struggle, when they feel overly stretched or empty.
This is where you will spend most of your time and energy, this is where you can make the most impact. Motivating them, supporting them and helping them fight for great ideas. At the end of the day, we’re all working towards a common goal. And the best work often comes out when you’re working together.
Singapore has a reputation for being a city of rules. Having worked in Manila, Bangkok, and London, what’s your take on the creative scene in Singapore?
I’m lucky to have been given the opportunity to experience the creative scene in all these places. Such wonderful, vibrant and fun cities!
I’m normally a pretty shy person, but moving to Bangkok, on my own, got me out of my comfort zone. I met so many different creative minds, got exposed to different styles, food, art, culture. It made my world bigger.
“Before, I’d be obsessed with coming up with the best possible idea, the best possible execution. Now, it’s more about shaping and motivating others.”
Moving to Singapore, again nudged me out of the familiar.
The pace is much faster. And there are so many talented minds around.
Different points of view, backgrounds, passions all coming together in one place.
One of the best bits of advice I got as a junior creative was to always be a sponge. Soak up the experience. Seek out conversations with people. Say yes to the unfamiliar. I try to do that wherever in the world I may be.
On the subject of awards, most often they focus on purpose-driven campaigns. Do you think that gives them an advantage in the jury room over more creatively-driven campaigns?
I think both are powerful. And I don’t know if one is “better” than the other.
For me, purposeful work also has to be creatively-driven.
It has to be, in order to stand out, and motivate people into action.
At the same time, I think it’s equally challenging to come up with really fresh thinking and breakthrough ideas especially in categories where it feels like everything’s been done.
“I believe there’s room for all kinds of creativity. It’s not just about what’s on trend or what we think will win at award shows. Embracing and celebrating different kinds of creativity, is to me what leads to better and better work as a whole.”
Whenever I look at these great campaigns, I always look for something new and surprising that I can learn from. Sometimes it’s a powerful insight. Sometimes it’s incredible craft. And sometimes it’s an idea that creates some good in the world. It doesn’t just have to be just one thing.
I believe there’s room for all kinds of creativity. It’s not just about what’s on trend or what we think will win at award shows. Embracing and celebrating different kinds of creativity, is to me what leads to better and better work as a whole.
What are some creative campaigns you’ve worked on over the course of your career that you are most proud of?
I’ll say ‘Annoying the Itch Out of Aussies’ because this campaign just won Silver and Bronze at the APAC EFFIES, which I’m really proud of. It was created by an amazing team for one of our biggest clients, Head & Shoulders, and was designed for one of their toughest markets, one that they haven’t been able to win in.
Half the world gets dandruff and yet there’s still so much stigma around the topic, so we found a cheeky way of talking about it.
It just goes to show what’s possible when you have a client brave enough to buy work that has a little fun with the brand and who trusted us to sprinkle our magic.
Book everyone in the industry should read: (Title & Author)
I don’t really have a book recommendation. The last book I read was “There’s a wocket in my pocket” for my 3-year-old. Ha ha!
But maybe instead I’d say, seek out conversations with random people. Watch people. Listen to their stories. Pick up a new hobby or a sport. Get out of the office, you won’t find inspiration inside a cubicle.
Show you’re watching lately:
I just finished watching Sandman and Extraordinary Attorney Woo.
Something you want to learn or wish you were better at: