Phang Mei Jeng, who is currently the General Manager of Mediabrands Content Studio (MBCS) and Ensemble Worldwide, learned the importance of having a good memory, multitasking and developing social skills during her first job in as a part-time waitress at her home. uncle’s noodle shop, while finishing college. During this time, she interacted with people from all walks of life and learned to converse with people beyond her circle of comfort. Reminiscing about the time, she says her first paycheck was to buy a comfortable pair of shoes she could stand in all day without getting blisters. It was Phang’s first exposure to the service industry and it also prepared her for the world of advertising, she said.
Meanwhile, his first role in advertising was an account executive at impiric (which eventually took on the name Wunderman). Since then, she has risen through the ranks holding senior positions at BBDO Proximity China, Densu, Naga DDB Tribal and Ensemble. In July, she assumed the dual role of MD of MBCS, which provides a suite of entertainment solutions including media development, talent development, influencer strategies and production partnerships designed to powerfully grow clients’ brands.
Like many in the industry, Phang has faced his share of ups and downs over the course of the year. In this interview, she highlights where she finds inspiration to keep hustling.
A+M: What was your first impression of the ad?
Phang: Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect after graduating. I wanted to be a marketing intern, but when my cousin who was working at impiric at the time told me he was looking for an account manager, I decided to give the interview a shot. The intention was to hone my interview skills. The next thing I knew was that I was offered the job and started working less than a month after graduating.
I got my feet wet with an automotive account where we oversaw the call center. There was a lot of data entry, liaising with the call center, learning how to use Microsoft Excel and Access to do reports, and a lot of waiting and chasing customers for approvals. . It really wasn’t the glamorous part of the ad that I had imagined or seen in the movies, and I got bored super fast. But I finally caught up to the big picture, and the rest, as they say, was history!
Many years later, I have come full circle at MBCS and together, where data-driven creativity is at the heart of what we do. I now really really appreciate the foundation built on that front in my early days.
A+M: Who is the mentor who influenced you the most and how?
Phang: I’ve had many mentors throughout my career, but it was Jennifer Chern who inspired me the most when I was growing up. She was my second account manager at impiric, a perfectionist who set very high standards for herself and those around her.
She’s the one who built my foundation as a costume – being detailed, responsible, able to read the part and be nimble, and taking pride in my work (because as a costume, the responsibility always ends with you).
She also ended up being the person who gave me my biggest career break which cemented my love for advertising. The second time we worked together was when she was at BBDO Shanghai looking for an associate account manager after winning the Cheetos account.
My four and a half year stay in Shanghai really opened my eyes and took my understanding and perspective of advertising to the next level. I couldn’t have been more grateful for the opportunity and the trust she placed in me. She could very easily have hired a local to help her better understand the area, without the language barrier, but she chose to have me by her side instead.
A+M: What is the harshest criticism you have received and how did you deal with it?
Phang: I got a dose of realistic advice (yes, it was harsh and critical) from my general manager during my first few months in Shanghai. A client had wrongly accused me and I burst into tears. My general manager sat me down, showed me the window (our office was on the 42nd floor with floor-to-ceiling windows that overlooked one of Shanghai’s busiest areas) and said, “I want you were looking out of those windows, and remember you’re in China now. It’s a very fast, competitive, dog-eating dog world here. There’s no time for pity. You have to learn to be tougher and stronger if you want to survive here.
It really shook me up. It was a reality check. It made me realize what I had signed up for and that it wasn’t as simple as applying what you knew in another company or another country. It was about really immersing yourself in the culture and wanting to be part of it. It took me a full nine months to start enjoying my time in Shanghai, but once I started to get back on my feet, the growth was phenomenal.
A+M: Now describe your own management style as a leader.
Phang: I’m a mother tiger, and the team knows it. Nurturing young talent is something close to my heart and I’m always there to lend an ear. But I’m also disciplinarian when I need to – watch out for the tiger fangs!
A+M: What is one thing you wish employees understood about being a leader?
Phang: That I really think of them first and want the best for them. They may not always understand the final decision, or it may not necessarily reflect what they wanted, but I hope they know that I always put my team first.
A+M: What do you do in your free time?
Phang: I have a six-year-old daughter, so I’m always looking for new ways to bond with her. I’m also an organic junkie, so reading about organic health products is my jam. And Netflix of course.
A+M: Where do you find your inspiration?
Phang: Traveling! Although that hasn’t happened much in the last couple of years. I’m really fascinated by different cultures and architecture. Traveling the world through Netflix and TV shows also gives me that opportunity. Inspiration is everywhere, so I mostly get it from talking to those around me.
A+M: If it wasn’t for advertising, where would you be?
Phang: I’d probably be in an organic food company making wacky bags to sell. Upon my return from China, I started a small organic granola business (which is still active now), but after a while I missed the adrenaline of the agency and eventually returned to the advertising world.
A+M: What advice would you give to someone looking to start a career in the industry?
Phang: It’s a very exciting industry. You have to love what you do, otherwise you’ll constantly wonder if you made the right choice or if there are better options (because there always will be). But it may not give you the same adrenaline rush and job satisfaction.
A+M: What issue would you like to see change in the industry in 2022?
Phang: There needs to be more talent appreciation in the agencies. The global industry is facing a severe talent shortage, and it is not something our industry can solve on its own. We devote a lot of time and resources to cultivating and training our talents, and we need the same understanding and appreciation from our customers and partners.
Talent is all we have, and the fact is that clients and agencies are interdependent. No party is more important than the other, and mutual respect will take us far.