Q&A with The Misfits Chairmom Merlee Jaymee on Creativity

Merlee Jayme serves as the Chairmom of The Misfits Camp, a post-school initiative connecting creatives with disabilities to diverse career opportunities. She has earned accolades such as the Hall of Fame Award from the 4As Creative Guild, The New York Festivals Creative Achievement Award, and CEO of the Year by the International Association of Business Communicators.

Recognized as the SEA Creative of the Year in 2013 and the Asian Marketing Federation Woman Marketer of the Year in 2019, she continues to champion Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. In 2022, Campaign Asia honored her as the Women Leading Change Women’s Advancement Champion. The 2019 Drum Global Ranking featured Merlee Jayme among the top 100 Chief Creative Officers globally, with only eight women on the list. Her remarkable contributions led to her receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award from the 4As of the Philippines in 2023. She recently launched her new book ‘Ten Talks, Ten Cities,’ available at National Book Store.

Q1: What qualities do you believe are essential for a successful creative leader?

A1: In my book, there are two types of creative people: the Natural and the Learned. The natural creative is born with talent, while the learned has little talent but learns to make this better and stronger as they grow older.

Now, both types can be great leaders for the creative leadership role. The natural ones are inspiring, while the learned ones are usually very disciplined and get things done in this world.

Whether natural or learned, the qualities I look for when I train creative leaders are pretty simple. I always look for people who are curious—always asking questions, challenging the status quo, and looking for fresher ways of doing things.

And, significantly, they can give inspiration and starter ideas to guide their teams whenever the latter find it challenging to create from the briefs at hand.

Q2: What role does data-driven decision-making play in the creative process, and how do you balance creativity with the analytical aspects of a campaign?

A2: Data can be a source of inspiration for ideas. Some brave and award-winning ideas came from hard facts. Think of last year’s Cannes Lions Creative Data Grand Prix winner: The Artois Probability. The beer brand Stella Artois explored the probability of its existence in historical paintings. It collected data from museum archives and created an algorithm to ascertain that the painted beers on those old paintings were indeed Stella Artois.

Here are the other roles of data in creativity:

Data can confirm the credibility of an idea.

Data can enhance and bring depth into creative thinking.

Data is not the idea, but it can help sell to clients who are very pragmatic and safe. When you use data to explain an idea, you are actually speaking the client’s language; thus, they usually understand and appreciate the thinking more.

Q3: What do you believe are the most critical skills for young creatives entering the industry today?

A3: Being in a very competitive industry, one would need to master some skills like AI prompts, tools like Photoshop, Illustrator, Adobe Premiere, and social media content creation. However, personally, they need sterner stuff to survive in this creative world today.

Most Gen Zs today may not believe in years of hard work and long for instant success; thus, my answer may be less popular: A resilient, creative mind. The ability to “bounce back”. In this industry, your idea gets killed in seconds. By your partner, your boss, the bigger boss, the accounts, the clients. You will experience many idea deaths. The strong creative should train to live through this. Frustrations are allowed, only for a day. Then, bounce back and create again.

I always tell my young creatives that our job is like the factory floor for ideas. If the quality of the product doesn’t get approval, we create again.

This is why I have many exercises that push the “elasticity” of the brain for the young. This way, resilience is built from within.

Q4: What advice do you have for aspiring creatives looking to make a meaningful impact in both advertising and advocacy?

A4: Authenticity is one big, important word. In working for brands, being honest and real is a significant value. I remember McCann Worldgroup used to have the line “Truth well told.” This may sound old, but it still holds. Consumers are so savvy that they avoid brands that push fakeness and overly sell under pretenses. Gen Z consumers, targeted every day by most marketing teams, are “woke” and look for brands that align with their purpose. I’m not saying that advertising should always be “purpose-driven.” Just be genuine in your intentions, keep your values intact and reflected in your work, and help make this world a better place.

Q5: How has the transition from an agency role to consulting and advocacy impacted your approach to creative work?

A5: After winning the Cannes Grand Prix years ago, I proudly explained how significant this was to my parents. For years, they couldn’t understand what my job was until that day, my Mom said, in a very “aha” moment: “I finally got what you do…you try to convince people to buy things they don’t need.” I became defensive when I heard that. However, that remark stayed on with me. When Dentsu acquired my agency, the vision I put on the wall said, “Create ideas that change people’s lives and the world for the better.” We consciously inserted values and learnings in all our work, whether selling detergent or a hamburger. We created ads that showed love, kindness, and acceptance.

Before I left Dentsu, I was given a role close to my heart aside from that of the chief creative officer. This was the Executive Sponsor for diversity equity and inclusion in Asia Pacific. I got immersed in the challenges that truly mattered to me: women empowerment, Gender equality and identity, and Neurodiversity. I created a team that developed campaigns to help make the network more open and accepting of better changes. My creativity was being pushed in the right direction, and my energy and efforts were in the right place. The feeling of fulfillment has reached a different level.

Q6: Could you provide a brief overview of The Misfits Bootcamp and how it intends to impact the creative industry?

A6: As the famous Apple ad mentioned, being a misfit means we are square pegs in a round hole. Square pegs with mental problems, quirks, learning disorders, or hard of hearing. Square pegs with different creative perspectives, new problem-solving ideas, and mind-blowing talent. So, we thought of creating a safe space where all misfits can be trained, learn, grow, develop, and be celebrated for who we are. We believe that everyone diagnosed with Autism, ADHD, Bipolar syndrome, or deafness and gifted with creativity can shine in the world.

The Misfits Camp is a non-stock, non-profit organization that aims to provide unique creative training for persons with disabilities.

Our organization is dedicated to empowering young adults with disabilities Mental and Sensory (diagnosed with neurodiversity autism spectrum disorder/ADHD and deafness) by harnessing their creative skills and talents for meaningful employment in the creative industry.

We aim to bridge the gap between these talented individuals and opportunities within advertising, marketing, digital, media, and production companies. We strive to facilitate their seamless integration into these sectors through specialized training programs, mentorship, and support, fostering inclusivity and diversity in the workplace.

The goal? We want the creative industry to change its outlook. To stop judging the disorder and appreciate the talent. To change the conversation. To turn disability to diversability. Diversability is the power to embrace the uniqueness and potential in every human being, disabled or non-disabled. In the era of AI threatening our creative jobs, diversity might be the answer for human creativity to win in our world.

Josiah Go is the chair and chief innovation strategist of Mansmith and Fielders Inc. Join Merlee Jayme and 14 CEO thought leaders at the 15th Mansmith Market Masters Conference on May 8, 2024. For more details, visit www.marketmastersconference.com

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Josiah Go features the movers and shakers of the business world and writes about marketing, strategy, innovation, execution and entrepreneurship


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