Saturday Nov 01

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The Jureeporn Thaidumrong Hour

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Issue #01 - Interviews

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Jureeporn “Judee” ThaidumrongJureeporn “Judee” Thaidumrong is one of Asia’s most awarded talents. Unless you hail from magical Thailand, she unquestionably boasts one of the most unpronounceable names in the advertising business too ...

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his charming, self effacing ad goddess unfailingly appears atop the Campaign Brief creative rankings and is conspicuous if she is not present on the major global advertising juries. We caught up with Judee prior to Adfest and discussed everything from partying and politics to award overload.

Agency.Asia: It’s been a hell of a tumultuous period for Thailand and arguably one of the most damaging for business and international investment in your country’s rocky political history. Both Ford & Unilever evaporated. How badly has the political hailstorm affected business for Thailand and the advertising industry?

Jureeporn Thaidumrong: Well, it’s not nearly as bad as the ‘Tom Yum Goong’ Crisis of 1997. By comparison, this is kindergarten. It’s a challenging period for advertising, but today we have more clients and work than ever before. Difficult times always bring obstacles as well as great opportunities. For example, as the real estate business slows with the economic slump, we will be expanding into the Indian market with our Thai real estate client.

Agency.Asia: You’re the President and founder of JEH United, which is one of most highly awarded agencies in the world, yet remarkably you studied finance and economics at university. What motivated you to pursue a career in the advertising world, a profession which is notoriously tricky to break into?

Jureeporn Thaidumrong: From the time I was six years old, I knew that I loved advertising. I would play a game with everyone who came to my house. We would guess the next commercial and I would always win because I watched TV all day and knew all of the sequences. When our guests got it wrong, I would drip candle-wax on their heads. And they let me.

At the time, I didn’t know there was such a thing as a career in advertising. I studied business-related subjects because I always got respectable grades and my teachers and parents steered me in that path. Studying business allowed me to see the whole picture, and when we came to marketing I discovered that a career in advertising was a real option.

Agency.Asia: Speaking of getting into the industry, it isn’t uncommon for creatives to send eccentric pieces of direct mail or pull stunts to get noticed. We’ve heard of one team that had themselves lowered down the side of a building and stood banging on the window of the boardroom demanding to be let in, and another team that set down a double bed outside an agency and threatened to have the rest of their rickety furniture delivered unless the creative director phoned them. To what lengths have people gone to get your attention that completely cracked you up? Did you hire them?

Jureeporn “Judee” ThaidumrongJureeporn Thaidumrong: In 2001, when I was a Creative Director at Results Advertising, a second agency of Ogilvy & Mather, I received an application letter from a male graduate who had included a naked photograph of himself.

I made it very clear to my Assistant that I didn’t want to meet this guy, but about a week later he somehow strode into my office and quickly removed all of his clothes. I was peering from between my fingers when he said, “My brain is better than my body, please let me work for you!”

I’m pretty sure I didn’t hire him.

Agency.Asia: Judee, there can’t be too many awards that have eluded you. Of the mountain you’ve won, which one sits atop the summit - and which haven’t you lain hands on that you crave most?

Jureeporn Thaidumrong: The Cannes Gold Lion for Smooth-E ‘The Love Story’ sits on top, but there’s still room on my shelf for a Nobel Peace Prize. Winning for Smooth-E was important for me because it was the first campaign for my own agency. It took everything to make it happen, but when I saw the finished product, I knew the audience was going to love it. As a result we won lots of awards and new clients. The campaign really put JEH United on the advertising map.

Agency.Asia: How do you generally crack a brief? After researching the client, do you sit down with an A3 pad and pen and just keep scribbling until inspiration hits or do you have some magic formula?

Jureeporn Thaidumrong: I’m not the kind of person who sits and waits for anything. There’s always something going on in my head. People who know me, especially my MD, Am, are always telling me to think less. The first thing I will do is to try to get to the heart of the brief. I think of myself as an assassin zeroing in.

Check out Judee's TVC's here.

Agency.Asia: There must be some tres talented people in JEH United’s creative lineup. Would you like to give the guys and gals a shot out and tell us a little of what it takes to assemble such a hot team?

Jureeporn Thaidumrong: First comes Chaowapak ‘Am’ Srikasem, our Creative Managing Director. Without him, I wouldn’t be able to travel. He automatically becomes ECD when I am not able to be in the office… and, I have to say, he’s a better ECD than me.

Suwit ‘Wit’ Ekudompong, our Senior Copywriter, is one of the best writers in Thailand. I thought I was quiet, but he is quieter still. Like me, he is always thinking. That’s why he’s one of the best.

If Am is my right hand, then Putthikoon ‘Yard’ Penwan is my left. He devotes himself to the company. He has the courage to search for truly original ideas, and the stamina to follow them through.

Komsan ‘Gift’ Wattanavanitchakorn, our ACD, is also like me, in that he works hard and plays hard. I have found that the people in our company always have something big in common with me. Gift is dedicated to being the best. And he will be.

Our creative planning team are hungry for information, and always ready to learn. They are unlike planners in any other agency because they have real taste in creative work.

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Noppakate ‘Kate’ Thawanunnop, our Project Director, brings laughter to the office, and always has something to surprise us with, while Pattima ‘Boom’ Chayanuwat, our Project Manager, is loved by all our clients.

Lastly, but my no means least, is Daniel ‘Dan Soda’ Soder, our International Creative Director. He is the passionate think tank and soul of the office. When he walks in through the door, it’s like the whole team has suddenly knocked back a double-shot of espresso.

Everyone thinks that when you start your own agency, it’s difficult to get the right people to join your team, but I’ve found that it’s not true at all. In my experience, if people know who you are and what kind of opportunity they can have, they will choose a start-up local agency over a larger international network.

Agency.Asia: It seems that every time you open the trade press there’s a new regional creative award. At US$175 for a single press entry at Adfest, let alone the menagerie of other awards, we’re wondering how deep agencies’ pockets are these days. Can you give us an indication of what gets spent?

Difficult times always bring obstacles as well as great opportunities.

Jureeporn Thaidumrong: The important thing is to make great work for real people, and if it’s good enough, it will be recognized. Making ads just for awards is “wroooooong,” as South Park’s Eric Cartman would say.

Being successful in awards can have two benefits. One is that the team who produced the ad will be motivated to continue producing really great work. The second is that it confirms your true worth to the client when it stands-out internationally.

I never set a budget for awards, but if we produce stellar work that has tongues wagging, I will send it to every important competition there is.

Agency.Asia: Do you predict that there will be some unofficial gathering of prominent ECDs that will decide which festivals are going to survive the recession? When will the industry say enough is enough?

Jureeporn Thaidumrong: Why would ECDs gather? That would be nonsense. Every ECD already knows in their hearts which awards are worth winning, and it should be up to each agency to decide whether or not to enter their work.

There are agencies out there that produce great work and also those that choose not to enter competitions at all. However, some of these agencies still grow their client list each year, and continue to produce fantastic work that the industry as a whole can look up to.

Agency.Asia: Thailand’s Adfest is a very well run show and it is kind of fun. Do you think, however, that it is time it moved away from the embarrassing sleaze of Pattaya and up to cosmopolitan Bangkok?

Jureeporn Thaidumrong: Why Cannes and not Paris? As a Thai woman, the sleaze factor is a little embarrassing. While Bangkok has a lot more to offer when it comes to sophistication, this is possibly outstripped (no pun intended) by the sheer number of distractions in the capital... Bangkok can also be a very frustrating place for those who aren’t familiar with strategizing against the city’s infamous gridlock.

Agency.Asia: A phrase coined by the Economist, “womenomics” refers to the ever-increasing purchasing and physical power of women on the economic frontlines, even in what were once considered male categories. Your highly awarded work for Smooth E spoke to a female audience and it completely turned the dreary cosmetics category on its head. It must have been a very difficult campaign to sell such irreverent - yet relevant - ideas to clients accustomed to before and after style ads.

Jureeporn Thaidumrong: I think women have always been powerful, not just today. My work for Smooth E is meant for everybody to enjoy, but the original product itself was meant for women. After Thai men began unexpectedly making up more and more of their customers, my client decided to launch Smooth E For Men.

It took all of my experience and talent to make the Smooth E ‘Love Story’ campaign. When it comes to ground-breaking ideas, it is usually extremely hard to convince your client, simply because it’s something that’s never been done before. It can be a life-consuming challenge right up until the client sees the finished campaign. For one whole month, I slept for less than three hours every day. In order to keep the client’s confidence levels raised, I would call them at 6am to report every minor development. From casting to wardrobe.

Agency.Asia: Thailand has a reputation for being one of the best creative and fun loving nations on the planet and agencies like JEH United, JWT, Creative Juice/G1 and half a dozen others continue the tradition. While Singapore undoubtedly does some brilliant print work, a good deal of its television is arguably left wanting in the humour department, often tending to be syrupy and sentimental. What is it about the Thais that make you adore really hilarious advertising and makes you so damned funny?

Jureeporn Thaidumrong: In Thailand, we have a phrase that sums it up. “Mai bpen rai”. Compared to our neighbours, we don’t take ourselves too seriously, and we love to have a good joke with each other. We tend to respond to slapstick humour, and really aren’t afraid of making fun of ourselves. It’s a Buddhist thing, not to hold on to oneself too much.

Agency.Asia: Hailing back to our womenomics question, we’re really going to put you on the spot. Jureeporn Thaidumrong, do you consider that female creatives connect better with women?

Jureeporn Thaidumrong: Yes, because they are women. We are all human, but men and women have different ways of seeing and responding to the world.

Agency.Asia: When inspiration seems to elude you, how do you overcome the block? We hear from a source close to you that you rather like to party - and you’re also an excellent kick boxer by all accounts. Do you simply go kick the stuffing out of your sparring partner, get hammered at Q-Bar and go back and start afresh tomorrow - or do you doggedly refuse to leave your post until you crack the big idea?

Jureeporn Thaidumrong: Firstly, I’ve been to Q-Bar less than five times in my whole life. To update you, ‘Happy Monday’ Bar on Ekkamai soi 10, near our office, has become the official JEH United hang-out. I have always been able to work anywhere I go, and I prefer to think outside of the office. Ask my staff: we are often still talking about what to present our clients next week over a communal bottle of Sangsom.

Agency.Asia: What are the advertising annuals or books like Archive that you enjoy reading the most – and what are the best few biographies or works of fiction that you just couldn’t put down?

These days, I don’t read advertising books that much. I use websites to see who is doing what in the advertising world. These are my favourite four:

1. Creativity.com
2. CampaignBriefAsia.com
3. BestAdsOnTV.com
And of course… 4. Agency.Asia

When it comes to books, I prefer to read about either technology or philosophy, especially Chai Na Pol’s ‘The Foolish, The Clever & The Wise’. I’ve been re-reading it for a year now. I want to really understand every word.

Agency.Asia: We’re going to put you on the spot just once more and hope you’ll forgive our candor. Very soon Agency.Asia will be launching an entertaining podcast thingy, “So you think you can do ads?” It’s somewhat like that dancing show, but for young creatives from throughout SE Asia. It’s going to be a laugh – hopefully with the all the mandatory meltdowns and tears too!! We’d be very pleased if you’d agree to be one of our esteemed judges. We’ll put on drinks and canapés!

Jureeporn Thaidumrong: Sure, I will be a part of your podcast. Just as long as the hospitality extends to a good beef noodle, lots of Sangsom and spicy som tam.

Actually, we just decided that we are going to host Portfolio Night Bangkok this year on May 7th. It’s a rare chance for young Creatives to discuss their work with senior international figures in the industry. Check www.portfolionight.com for upcoming details.

Agency.Asia: That's great to see. Let's hope everyone keeps their clothes on. We ask our guest to suggest a special someone that they feel our readers would be most interested to meet in the next issue of Agency.Asia. Naming one from the agency world and another who interests you on the client side, who would you care to nominate? Thanks, Judee.

Jureeporn Thaidumrong: I would like to mention Neil French at this point. I don’t think you can have enough of him. I think he should be a permanent fixture in your magazine.

Agency.Asia:  [ED: As it happens, Neil has most graciously agreed to be a special guest and write for us from time to time. We're kicking around names for his column. Stay tuned for an announcement any day! Thanks to you, Judee.]   

Jureeporn Thaidumrong: Who else? My collaborator, and Thailand’s number one TVC Director, Thanonchai ‘Tor’ Sornsriwichai, always has a very fresh way of seeing things. The deservedly legendary Stefan Segmeister always has fascinating stories to tell. Ze Frank is also a uniquely experimental and creative individual. You should look them up sometime.

One of my all-time favourite clients is the ever-charming and -passionate Khun Kitti, real estate mogul and creator of Khao Yai’s MUTHI MAYA forest pool villa resort. While working together on the resort launch, we would sample fine wines together in our office while he imparted wisdom through his captivating life stories. As a client, he would enjoy being close the hub of creativity.

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