Staff Reporters
Jan 25, 2024

Creative Minds: Uma Rudd Chia from student rule breaker to breaking new ground as a creative director

Agency leader, keynote speaker, author, and former journalist who once touched Ricky Martin's right butt cheek (all in the name of work) has had a life and career journey as vivid as her spirit.

Creative Minds: Uma Rudd Chia from student rule breaker to breaking new ground as a creative director
In Creative Minds, we ask APAC creatives a long list of questions, from serious to silly, and ask them to pick 11 to answer. (Why 11? Just because.) Want to be featured?

Name: Uma Rudd Chia

Origin: Singapore

Places lived/worked: Malaysia, New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore

Pronouns: She/her


Journalist (political news and features desk), The Star, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong, 1995 – 1999
Freelance Children's Animation & Musical Playwright, 1999 – 2000
Copywriter, McCann, Singapore, 2002 – 2003
Senior copywriter, Crush, Singapore, 2003 – 2004
Group head copy, Euro RSCG (now Havas) 2004 – 2007
Permanent freelance creative, 2007 – 2008
Associate creative director, J Walter Thompson, 2008 – 2010
Regional creative director, Saatchi, 2010 – 2015
Global creative director, Ogilvy, 2015 – 2020
Founder, The Female Idea, 2018 to present
Executive creative director Weber Shandwick, 2020 – 2021
Co-founder and ECD, KVUR, 2021 – 2023
Advisory board member, DDT Singapore Management University, 2023 – present
ExCo global leadership summit, 2022 – 2023

1. How did you end up being a creative?

By accident. I came to Singapore in 2001 and McCann was looking for a copywriter. An art director friend of mine saw some freelance copywriting I'd written and gave me a break. It wasn't full-time. Then, a small agency called Crush offered me a job as a copywriter with them. I ended up winning many awards that year, and that was that. It sure paid a lot better than journalism! Even though in my first year of advertising, I felt like I was selling my soul to the devil because, unlike a journalist where you have a POV, in advertising, your voice is the voice of the brand.

2. What's your favourite piece of work in your portfolio?

It would be the work we did for Johnson & Johnson Vision Care's Bubble Pop Laboratory contact lenses. 
Acuvue wanted to launch Bubble Pop Laboratory (BPL), its coloured contact lens range for teenagers in China. In a highly saturated market with an endless supply of innovative coloured contact lenses from local brands, how could Acuvue lure the fickle Gen Z audience to make BPL their preferred choice?
We launched a metaverse where teenagers could live out their dreams through our lenses: Bubble Pop Universe. We created avatars for BPL’s two variants—Pastel Bubble and Neon Bubble—each with their unique styles. As influencers in the Bubble Pop metaverse, they set unique trends with their style, hobbies and special deals. Consumers visited new worlds via lens purchase and social sharing. The packaging was also revamped to reflect the new aesthetic. It was cool and really eye-catching. 

3. What's your favourite piece of work created by someone else?

I really love Ryan Reynold's 'Match Made in Hell,' where the devil and 2020 (you know the Covid year) are dating in a diabolical ad for It was really on-brand, funny, light-hearted and unexpected.

4. What or who are your key creative influences?
I guess David Ogilvy was the reason I considered advertising. I love how he thinks and writes. I didn't come from an advertising background—meaning my main degrees are theology, political science and journalism. I was always creative—writing musicals, plays, books etc. So I had to really start reading up lots of advertising books and consume a lot of shorts back in the day to hone my craft.
5. What kind of student were you?
I was homeschooled and went to university at 16. I am an overachieving, hyper-motivated student who never bothered to follow the rules because the environment I was schooled in had no rules. Plus, I have clinical ADHD—rules don't help. I also was extremely curious and balancing more than normal was my normal. It kept my mind occupied, calmed my person and ensured I didn't annoy those around me.
6. What's the craziest thing you've ever done?
I covered war in Bosnia during the ethnic cleansing and almost got shot in the head; I touched Ricky Martin's right butt (before he came out) at his insistence to see if it was real; I have ridden camels, yaks, ostriches, elephants but can't ride a bicycle—so define crazy? It's my every day.
7. Do you work best under pressure, or when things are calm?
Under pressure. If things are calm, I drive people nuts. I am the kinda person who shouts at the volcano—don't erupt without me.
8. Tell us about the worst job you ever had.
I worked in an agency full of mean, creatively-challenged and lazy people for a short time during my early days in advertising. I'm not going to shout names, but I can deal with meanness and smartness—they force you to up your game, not that meanness is okay, but you know I always try and rise to the challenge, but the opposite is soul-sapping.
9. Do you have any secret or odd talents?
I can rub the tip of my nose with my tongue—it's a gross party trick but my friends love it when I do it just for kicks. And I am a natural shrink. I can sit down quietly in a park anywhere, anytime and every single time a total stranger comes, sits next to me and tells me about his or her life. Like their entire life, dark secrets and all, it's like I am a walking confessional booth.
10. What app could you absolutely not live without and which one you wish to delete?
I wish I could delete Google Maps and all navigation apps. I think there's joy, mystery and creativity in getting lost and navigating your way to your destination.
11. Extrovert or introvert?
Extrovert on stage, introvert in crowds of people.


Campaign Asia

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