Celebrating the Lunar New Year at McCann
IPG’s Asian Heritage Group brought a Lunar New Year celebration to our New York offices with an evening of traditional performance, conversation and networking. The Lunar New Year is celebrated by a quarter of the world’s population over the course of two weeks. Typically, people associate this holiday with Chinese culture, but the Indonesian, Filipino, Vietnamese and Korean cultures, along with many others, also partake in the festivities. Each year is associated with a zodiac animal, which refreshes on a twelve year cycle. 2018 is year of the dog and celebrates year 4716.
Going back to the programming, the night kicked off with an energizing lion dance performed to the beats of drums, gongs and cymbals. The significance of this entrancing dance is to bring good luck and scare away the evil spirits as everyone enters the New Year. Once the performance wrapped, folks had a few minutes to nosh on traditional fare like pork buns, dumplings and noodles. For the Lunar New Year, different foods are eaten for different symbolic reasons. Dumplings are eaten for wealth, fish for prosperity, and noodles for happiness and longevity.
Soon after, the panel discussion began. Helene Yan of IPG moderated a conversation between Sung Chang (Chief Creative Officer at MRM//McCann), Steven Moy (Chief Technology Officer of R/GA), and Clifton Mok (North American Chief Financial Officer of Orion).
The panelists started off by sharing how they never quite envisioned a career in advertising because in Asian culture, career success usually means becoming a doctor or lawyer. Sung has degrees in architecture, Steven in engineering, tech and business, and Clifton in business. “There’s more pressure to make your parents proud, as a minority,” said Sung, as he went on to describe feeling like a black sheep growing up since his family was the only non-white family in his childhood neighborhood. Sung and his brother were the only Asians at his high school, and he went to a predominantly Jewish college.
After emigrating to the U.S. from Hong Kong, Steven says that he had similar feelings, but was able to embrace the feeling of being different and throughout life, decided to “take the road that made him uncomfortable.” With his diverse educational background, he eventually worked his way up in the agency world holding technology leadership roles at Sapient Nitro, Isobar and now R/GA. Steven shared an anecdote in which a colleague asked if he was planning on taking speech classes to soften his Chinese accent. Steven made the poignant statement that clients don’t care about your accent as long as you have something important and intelligent to say: “It’s not about your accent. It’s about your content and context.”
The conversation then transitioned to mentorship and career advancement. Clifton shared that though he never had a formal mentor/mentee relationship with his boss, he was very fortunate that every time his boss advanced, he was elevated with him. Sung then added that when he first came into his role at MRM//McCann, one of the first things he did was rewrite job descriptions to ensure that all employees had mentors. Steven explained that mentorship needs to be a two way relationship: “I can show you the path, but you have to walk the path.”
During the audience QA, the panelists addressed the topic of how to advocate for oneself if they are “the only one” in the room with no mentor, particularly when it comes to client-facing work. “Sometimes you have to realize that you are the most enlightened person in the room,” said Helene. They also discussed how to be culturally sensitive with foreign clients. Sung encouraged everyone to immerse themselves in other cultures to see what’s resonating and hopefully take away some inspiration as well.
As the conversation came to a close, Steven gave some good, lighthearted advice: “Don’t take yourself too seriously. Have fun in your career. And once you get bored, don’t be afraid to try something new.”
Attending this event as a young Asian American professional was really encouraging. It was great to see IPG and its companies celebrating a holiday that means a lot to me, in a meaningful way. It was even more amazing to hear from senior leadership that looks like me and that can empathize with my experiences.