Advertising’s favorite girl boss on how to stand out as a creative

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Merlee Jayme, the CEO and “Chairmom” of Dentsu Jayme Syfu, left her family and entered a Benedictine convent at the age of 13, coming out three long years later armed with values that she carries to this day.

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — For the advertising mogul Merlee Jayme, it’s easy to get a person out of a convent, but hard to take the convent out of the person.

These words may sound confusing, especially coming from such an influential figure in advertising, an industry that is known for being the opposite of conservative. But they make more sense when you learn that the CEO and “Chairmom” of Dentsu Jayme Syfu left her family and entered a Benedictine convent at the age of 13, coming out three long years later armed with values that she carries to this day.

Jayme taps into these values — which include simplicity and ora et labora (Latin for “prayer and work”) — in her new book, “Everyone Can Be Creative.” Though she confesses that she doesn’t like being “preachy,” she stresses that writing the book was a way to help her reflect on what she learned in her three years in the cloister.

And the book is just that: a collection of anecdotes, tips, and challenges that prove that all people have a bit of creativity in them.

For Jayme, "the kind of creativity today does not box you into one type." She likes to think that everyone has a side that isn't as serious, and one only has to tap into it to unlock creativity.

 

Slashing the box

Dressed in her daily uniform of a blouse (sleeveless, because of the heat), jeans, and heels, Jayme recalls how she grew up in a time when the “starving artist” idea was what stopped many a creative from actively pursuing art as a main career. In spite of that concern, the multi-award-winning creative took up communication arts upon the advice of her father because it tapped into many different things like acting, writing, and speaking.

Now, Jayme observes, people are more open to experimenting than when she was just starting out. “Before, when you [studied] architecture, you [only became] an architect,” she says. “Today, you study architecture, you’re an architect, [and then] halfway, ‘Uy, celebrity chef!’”

She uses the term “slashers” to describe the people who seem to be doing so many things at once, like persons who manage to be moms by day, fashion bloggers by the afternoon, and children’s clothes designers by night.

For Jayme, “the kind of creativity today does not box you into one type.” She likes to think that everyone has a side that isn’t as serious, and one only has to tap into it to unlock creativity. “I’ve met a lot of brilliant creative minds in advertising who finished, say, chemistry in college,” says Jayme. “Which tells you, sometimes if you have the left side of the brain, when tickled a little bit, it [starts] brilliantly tapping [into] the right side.”

Creatives assemble

After a stint as a copywriter, vice president, and executive creative director at notable advertising agencies like Ace Saatchi & Saatchi and BBDO Guerrero, Jayme set up DM9 Jayme Syfu with Alex Syfu in 2005.

Since its founding, the agency has counted big companies as clients, such as Jollibee and Smart. In 2013, its Txtbks campaign for the latter won for the Philippines the country’s first ever Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, the so-called “Oscars of advertising.”

Having recently merged with the global media group Dentsu Aegis Network, the agency is now known as Dentsu Jayme Syfu.

Merlee Jayme book “Everyone Can Be Creative” by Merlee Jayme is a collection of anecdotes, tips, and challenges that prove that all people have a bit of creativity in them.  

It may sound a bit strange to some, but Jayme thinks of her agency as something like the Justice League or the Avengers in the sense that the creatives come in with their own superpowers that they can strengthen. “The thing is, when I hire [and ask] what makes you different, then I could already place you in my Marvel series,” she explains. “I could sense na kunwari, even in art direction, what is your forte? One is animation, one is illustration, one is real sketching, one is computer graphics — they’re all different, because when the requirement comes, you can’t have the same products. You’d want to experiment.”

Assembling a team of creatives always warrants the need for variety. This is why she says that young people are always welcome in an agency. “You’d want that because the energy they bring in is so different,” she says, “the way of thinking is so different.”

Jayme thinks of her agency as something like the Justice League or the Avengers in the sense that the creatives come in with their own superpowers that they can strengthen.

 

Selfish solutions

But what good is anything if it isn’t used to make a difference in this world?

Jayme likes to think that the best way to start making a difference is by going out and taking action, and advertising is only one of many outlets through which it can be done. According to Jayme, doing something that is close to your heart is one way to genuinely help. This is something she has personally experienced as a member of the women’s organization Gabriela.

While young people nowadays are perceived by some to be selfish and self-absorbed, it is these qualities that can eventually help create solutions to problems. Jayme points to the founders of Airbnb and Uber when she talks about how good ideas can start from very personal needs, like for a place to stay or for a convenient way to get a taxi. She is wide-eyed when she says, “It may sound selfish at first, but once you solve it or create a solution, it may create a solution for everyone else with the same problem.”

While she maintains that observation is still the most important skill for her, she acknowledges the usefulness of other outlets such as social media, including Twitter and Snapchat (where she loves watching her friends’ stories). “Today, very good volunteer work, a very cool idea of lighting a street, or your idea of how people can cross the street safely — someone can just take a video of your idea and post it, and that’s it,” she says. “You’ve helped in your own way.”

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Watch our interview with Merlee Jayme below: