Barry Lustig
Jul 25, 2022

Dentsu's Jean Lin on her internet beginnings and the need for 'idea engineers'

The Dentsu executive officer explains how creative departments need to change to involve idea innovators and software engineers, and discusses her latest role.

Dentsu's Jean Lin on her internet beginnings and the need for 'idea engineers'
Jean Lin is a member of the Grand jury for the upcoming 2022 Gerety Awards, the only global creative prize to reward the best in advertising from a female perspective, of which Campaign is a media partner. This interview is one in a series of interviews of Gerety jury members in APAC by Campaign contributor Barry Lustig. 

A pioneer in digital advertising, Jean Lin founded one of the first independent digital agencies in Asia in 1999, wwwins Consulting. After her company was acquired, she has since held a variety of senior positions, including Isobar’s global CEO and Dentsu's international CEO of Creative. Last summer, Lin was promoted to executive officer at Dentsu Group. Her mission is to help the agency and its clients embrace innovative and sustainable business solutions in and beyond communications.

In this interview, Lin argues that passion and strong personal values are necessary for success in the creative industry. She also shares how Dentsu plans to help its clients create and realise opportunities for business growth that are compatible with doing good.

You began your career at Ogilvy. How did you become an entrepreneur and start your own agency?

The start was actually quite random. I was on maternity leave. If you know about Chinese culture, you know that during the first month after a baby is born, you are not able to do anything. Traditionally, you can't even wash your hair or take a bath. One of the key things is that you can't read a book, because if you overuse your eyes, it's going to be disastrous for the rest of your life, right? My mom was at home when I had my daughter, and she was watching over me. She took away all my books. That was killing me. What she didn't know is that there was something called the internet and I had a computer in my room. So, I spent a lot of time online. That was in 1999, when the internet was just taking off. I was just saying to myself, "This is fascinating. This is going change how businesses interact with people, how people interact with people, how commerce will be done, and how communities will be built. I want to do something with this.” So, that's the starting point, when I was in my maternity leave.

As an entrepreneur, what are the essential skills you need to run an agency?

You definitely need to have the passion, love and curiosity for things that you try to create. You have a big idea, but you don't know exactly how you’re going to create it. Passion and curiosity, beyond all skills, is critical. Those are things that keep you awake at night and wake you up in the morning.

Obviously, there are basic business skills that you need to have. You need to know to engage and create opportunities with clients. You need to know how to sell your ideas. You need to be able to execute and see things through. But I feel that curiosity and passion is the way to bring diverse people and perspectives together. This is the way to innovate and learn. When you are learning, the other pressures become less relevant.

If I look back on my own journey, I would say that my objective was never to make a lot of money. I always believe if you do something useful then people will buy it. The starting point [for my company and myself] is to see how much we can push the boundary of how technology, creativity, and innovation. How can we come together to help a brand to create a hyper relationship with their customer or a potential customer?

[When we started wwwins Consulting] we felt like we were going to school every morning. Every day at 5:00 PM, we’d get together and share new things about what we learned. This collective learning was one of the most exciting times for all of us during the day. We did this for quite a long time.

What are you passionate about now?

I'm passionate about how to make the world kinder and more sustainable. We have to think smartly about how to grow from good. You should be able to grow your business and do good at the same time.

Dentsu has been in business for over 120 years. It always started with the motto of “Good Innovation,” meaning innovating while providing good things for society. It takes a lot of creative thinking and diverse capabilities to come together and make things better for the next generation to come. I feel that this is really important.

How will focusing on sustainability benefit Dentsu’s clients, business and society?

From this perspective, we're thinking about how to build an ecosystem that engages different and diverse stakeholders to deliver cultural transformation. We will bring together an ecosystem of NGOs, start-ups, and our clients. We are focusing on making things work.

Dentsu’s perspective is clear. Our innovation credential has been built over the decades: how we invent new business models; how we use technology and ideas for actually trying to solve problems. In Japan, many people inside Dentsu do not feel that we are just an advertising agency. We feel that we are a client’s growth partner. There are a lot of ways that we support business beyond the scope of advertising.

What are the most important aspects of cultural transformation that agencies should embrace?

I think the creative department needs to change from the old structure of art direction and copywriting. We’ve moved into a space where there are only two types of people. One is people that actually innovate ideas. The other is people who have the skills of a software engineer. They can bring any idea to life and connect it to people through technology.

In the new world, if you work for a creative business, almost everyone needs to be an “idea engineer.” You need to be able to innovate and touch the heart. You also need to learn how a good idea can be engineered into the customer journey. Technology and data gives a creative idea more energy and soul so that it can evolve and grow organically.

What do you hope your contribution will be in your new role? 

My time is 100% dedicated to focusing on how we can create a viable and sustainable solutions for our clients. I want to mobilise our brilliant minds around the world, recognizing the issues that our clients are trying to solve. It’s essential to create opportunities for how our clients can sustainably grow their business without compromising the needs of generations to come.

As a female leader, how do you feel that gender has influenced your career?

For me, gender is a strength in my character. It helped me to know myself and what kind of leader I want to be.

As a female leader, inevitably you carry some of the expectations that come with your gender. I'm glad that for the younger generation this is not a barrier. This is important because they [young female leaders] can face themselves and be confident being exactly who they are … full of bravery and courage. Understanding this is the most important thing. Authenticity is more important than perfection.

Embrace yourself.

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