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Dream Teams: Solving the Wrong Brief with Daniel Kee and Sheng Jin Ang

Advertising Agency
Singapore, Singapore
LBB’s Tom Loudon speaks to Mullenlowe Singapore’s dynamic ECD duo Daniel Kee and Sheng Jin Ang to learn how their finely-tuned machine works
When Daniel and Sheng Jin first properly met, it was in a “smoke-and-lasers-filled” bar in Pattaya Thailand. The two were in different offices of the same company and had heard of each other without meeting, until it came time to participate in a regional industry workshop.

Recalling the evening, Daniel says, “I was feeling rather overstimulated, and Sheng Jin the Singaporean came to my rescue with a glass of whisky that would have cost this Malaysian half a week’s salary. I’d already admired his work from afar, and now he was right before me with no ego, no airs, just a big, welcoming grin and an overpriced glass of whisky. What a guy.”

According to Sheng Jin, the meeting left an impression on him. He later pursued Daniel to join MullenLowe on three separate occasions, eventually convincing his creative partner.

Twelve years on, and the creative duo is still going strong. Even after all that time, the pair still manages to keep the work fresh—something they attribute to their ability to balance each other out.

“I’m a starter, Sheng Jin’s a finisher,” Daniel explains. “I’m a little more irresponsible, Sheng Jin ensures everything is in its place and on time. Without Sheng Jin, I’d be moving from one new, barely finished thought to another.”

The pair ascribe this difference in approach to Daniel’s artful process and Sheng Jin’s cool, calm modus operandi.

Nowadays, as the pair rise through the ranks, their roles require more time in meetings and presentations than strictly creative work. But that doesn’t stop them from continuing to learn from each other.

“Every now and then,” Daniel explains, “Sheng Jin will quietly, single-handedly pull off something craft-wise that gets me excited, makes me sit up and point and go, ‘That’s it!’ — and it’s not even necessarily on a job we’re working on. Sometimes it’s a build on an ex-colleague’s work, or a suggestion given to one of the many students he coaches, or just a personal experiment. It constantly renews my respect for him as the real deal.”

For Sheng Jin, Daniel’s ability as a writer is a constant source of inspiration for new creative projects, which the two tend to collaborate on from the brief. When working on a project together, a shared understanding of the brief is the first step for Daniel and Sheng Jin.

As Daniel explains, “Some briefs contain a dozen asks, so we like to throw the essential questions back at them — why are we doing this in the first place? Is it a product problem? A consumer problem? Or more interestingly, a client problem?”

For Daniel and Sheng Jin, and many other creatives, the campaign angle can be obfuscated by a complex and wayward brief in its early stages. Understanding the true motivations behind the brief helps crack the case much more efficiently.

“When you start to probe,” Sheng Jin says, “you’ll find that maybe a brand feels neglected, and a request to rush something out in a ridiculously short amount of time is a reaction to insecurity. There may be a better brief behind it. And we could help come up with that brief, instead of solving the wrong one.”

After some years together now, Daniel and Sheng Jin’s creative credits have piled up beyond their expectations. Still, when it comes to their work together, some projects stand out above the others.

Daniel, a self-confessed introvert, recalls staying home in Singapore while Sheng Jin went to Cannes, where they ultimately won their first Gold Lion for Unilever’s Clear shampoo.

“Sheng Jin finally got to go up on stage to receive it, and I recall how happy he was,” Daniel says. “We were both happy for quite different reasons, and it taught me that in a good partnership, we don’t always have to share the same needs, we just need to find the same fulfilment.”

“During Daniel's absence on leave, I took on the responsibility of shortlisting ideas with the creative team,” he says. “I was inspired and shortlisted the team's fresh approach to addressing societal issues, particularly the stigmatisation of labelling LGBTQ+ individuals as a disease in Vietnam. Upon Daniel's return, he provided valuable input on the project's phrasing. This initiative not only challenged community perceptions but also led to the Vietnamese Ministry enacting legislation recognising that being LGBTQ+ is not a disease.”

A partnership like Daniel and Sheng Jin’s is built on a foundation of trust, which is not always easily earned. Well, that is, not always easy for everyone else.

“We both trust too easily and naturally, our default stance is never suspicion,” Daniel explains. “We approach everything and everyone openly until they start waving red flags.”

The pair have learned over the years to voice their disagreements, and to put their contentious work out there for scrutiny. By learning that sometimes the other is right and they are wrong, and vice versa, Daniel and Sheng Jin decided not to hide their disagreements from their team, openly airing their thoughts as transparently as possible.

“I strongly believe that partnership requires two-way communication where we openly share our views,” Sheng Jin says.

For Daniel and Sheng Jin, the mountain of outstanding creative work is only a part of their job satisfaction. Their greatest joy? Seeing their young creatives grow and succeed, and to have their achievements recognised by others.

Their creative department at Mullenlowe Singapore has already outlasted many others, and now Daniel and Sheng Jin believe it will outlast even their own professional careers.

“Much of the core team at Mullenlowe Singapore are kids who started with us as interns or fresh graduates, found early success, found a way to consistently maintain it, and are now leading the way for the new joiners,” says Daniel. “I am thankful every day to join these people at work, to see them grow, and to stick around and make a difference. There is a reason Sheng Jin and I have been here for over ten years.”

“Through this partnership, I have come to appreciate having someone who always looks out for me and constantly strives to improve our work.”

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