In May of 2017, renowned creative agency 72andSunny expanded into the Asia-Pacific with offices in Singapore and Sydney led on the creative side of things by Johnny Tan as Executive Creative Director.
For Tan, a native of Singapore, the move to 72andSunny marked a homecoming following a decade in Shanghai as a founding member of BBH China. Prior to BBH, the former Army lieutenant was the executive creative director at BBDO China, and a creative director at Y&R New York.
Branding in Asia recently caught up with Johnny Tan to talk about his move to 72andSunny, the importance of creative sales skills in the pitch process and more.
What’s been keeping you busy lately?
Busy learning, Busy building, Busy experimenting. Building two offices in two different countries, all in a year, has been challenging yet exhilarating all at the same time.
You were at BBH for more than a decade before taking the gig at 72andSunny. Tell us about the move and how it feels to leave behind something you dedicated a long time to building.
It’s always hard to leave a place that is so dear to me especially having been a part of building it from the ground up. I miss my partners and everyone there. Sometimes, in a twisted sort of way, I even miss the ‘China chaos and insanity’.
I ask my team to be as aware, as creative and as surprising in the way they sell as they are in the way they create great work.
But equally, it’s awesome trying something new and scary. It’s good to be uncomfortable so to speak. “Learn as if you were to live forever” says Gandhi. And to learn, we need to put ourselves out there and fearlessly give it a go.
Some people say, BBH China won’t be the same. I say that’s a great thing. I‘m confident it’ll thrive even more. And if I’ve done something right, it certainly will.
Recently you joked that your litmus test for great work was jealousy at not having thought of it first. Is competition between creatives in the ad field as strong as it is in sports?
Haha… I was kidding. I don’t think it’s that kind of competition. Truth is, admiring brilliance is a pretty natural thing. It’s a healthy, respectful form of jealousy. In many ways, a great motivator. Great creative work should have significant cultural impact and be of great service to brands.
I’m not sure creators of such work are necessarily in a ‘gladiators’ pit”. It’s pretty sad if it is. That said, a healthy dose of one-upmanship is essential in order to break new ground.
As you get things rolling with the 72andSunny presence in Asia, what are your top objectives for the coming year?
To build a strong and unique culture for the offices out here. One that could attract amazing people who’d love to come to work everyday and kill it. Pioneer new things. Create work that has significant cultural impact. Make weird shit.
You had a great line a while back about creatives pitching more effectively, when you said, “If you can sell it to millions of people in 30-seconds, you’ve gotta be able to sell it to one guy in the room.” How do you guide your team to pitch better?
It’s weird but “selling well” is something that still remains pretty underrated. In many cases, it’s assumed that it’s a skill that comes naturally with age or seniority.
I still ask myself if I have listened well enough or if I’ve fully understood the problem that needs to be solved. And, if I’ve gotten a ‘scary’ enough idea that solves that problem? That discipline doesn’t change.
I ask my team to be as aware, as creative and as surprising in the way they sell as they are in the way they create great work. This has nothing to do with being theatrical or to put up a show. To put it simply; be super smart and creative in selling confidence and possibilities to the person sitting across from you.
You spent a lot of time in China working with brands that tend to be more risk averse creatively. How does that affect your pitch now in less risk averse markets?
Brands are risk averse no matter where you are. I don’t think it has affected the way I approach things. I still ask myself if I have listened well enough or if I’ve fully understood the problem that needs to be solved. And, if I’ve gotten a ‘scary’ enough idea that solves that problem? That discipline doesn’t change.
Enough about work. What are you doing with your free time? What’s your creative outlet outside of the office?
My favorite thing to do is to hang out with my wife and daughter and be a total goof ball. Ashley’s also the most creative person I know. It’s amazing how much I learn from her.