Serviceplan's Julie Kang on Award-Winning Creativity and Tackling the Glass Ceiling
Serviceplan Korea is an integrated full-service agency based in Seoul, making a significant contribution to the success of the Serviceplan Group internationally and the agency locally, in particular with the groundbreaking DOT, the world’s first braille smartwatch for the visually impaired. Partnering with DOT Incorporation, Serviceplan Korea and Germany helped bring the DOT braille smartwatch to life as partner, shareholder and holistic advisor covering areas from design and development to branding, communication strategy and business development.
Julie Kang is CEO and Managing Director of Serviceplan Korea, and was instrumental in developing strategy and creative-partner status for the DOT campaign with Serviceplan Germany. A year ago Kang took up the post of Managing Director at Serviceplan Korea, something of a milestone given Korea’s patriarchal society combined with the fact that she is a working mother juggling a high-flying career with motherhood. Kang talks to LBB about being the first female Korean CEO, the accelerated globalisation of the Serviceplan International, and her admiration for Serviceplan Group’s policy of hiring based on capability, and appointing her as a female leader at a young age. Serviceplan's increased internationalisation is based on the philosophy of hiring the best talent, not on gender or age.
In university, I was mainly into French, liberal arts and literature. I kicked off my career as a professional sales rep and marketer on the client side, but I was never satisfied with what I was doing and was always eager to move on to what would come next in my career. In Korea, women face glass ceilings and many restrictions that prevent them from moving forward. Since I have worked in a creative environment, I could work more freely than others since creativity is independent of gender or age.
Luckily, in 2002, I had an opportunity to join one of the most creative independent agencies, Grape Communications. My experience there was the starting point of my advertising career.
Before I took up the position of Managing Director at Serviceplan Korea, its financial maintenance depended on a single client, as it was the source of more than 80 percent of our revenue. The company was dependent on our clients, and I was eager to bring about a revolution. Being independent means being able to make one’s own decision and hold a creative hegemony solitarily so that there is no need to rely on others. Being heavily dependent is unhealthy for an agency as it hinders creative innovation. Now, I am completely changing this dependency and trying to build up a healthier and more sustainable business model that will have longevity.
Serviceplan Group is a very open-minded agency that seeks a life-time relationship with its colleagues. The company highly values passion and commitment. In that sense, it gave me a clear sign of trustworthy commitment and respect by appointing me as the lead in Korea. Also, I admire the company’s policy of hiring based on capability as I was appointed at a young age and as a female leader, not having to experience any discrimination.
I know that gender inequality in C-level positions is still an issue in Korea, and that in many of the big chaebols (conglomerates) in Korea, women face glass ceilings and many restrictions that prevent them from moving forward. However, since I have worked in a creative environment, I could work more freely than others since creativity is independent of gender or age.
I had more difficulty trying to work efficiently and take good care of my son at the same time. Thus, myself and my friends, who are in female leadership positions, pay attention to solving these kind of parenting issues that face working women and try to offer advice for younger people who might face similar pains.
During my 15 year career in the Koran business world, I have sought more transparency in our working environment and have tried to create a friendly environment. Even though a CEO knows someone, these days, he or she needs to respect certain processes and rules defined internally.
It is about mutual promises and trust to carry out a fair culture in that company. In that sense, a better way of 'entrepreneurship' is now quite well established.
My advice to a brand who wants to create engagement with Korean customers, is to venture off in a new way. Becoming a different kind of pioneer is not achieved by simply following the same paths that others take.
Julie Kang is CEO & Managing Partner at Serviceplan Korea