This the 4th part of our 5-part Challenge Accepted series for International Women’s Day 2021. This week we feature Jenn Chia and our conversation about her creative process, staying true to her principles as an influencer and how she’s planted a seed by co-founding her very own creative agency.
However, Jenn is not merely a midpoint between the two. Behind the scenes, she is an artist who swishes and swashes, draws elaborate blueprints, becomes the paint on the canvas if need be and even surrogates for the eye of the viewer.
Perhaps this sense of being an auteur of your work has something to do and say about the reality we live in. At a time where there is an oversupply of talented resources, a lack of job opportunities and a pandemic that has flipped conventional tables on its heels – the people that stand out are the ones who are not afraid to archive what they’ve been taught in college and challenge their boundaries of learning new things.
In that sense, Jenn who is a content creator, social media influencer and now co-founder of a creative agency, doesn’t just make it from rock to rock when the floor is lava, she dances through them with grace.
Jenn’s passion for creating videos started organically while she was in college and after graduating with a degree in psychology and communications, Jenn’s first job out of college was with a production company. According to her, one of the pivotal moments that gave Jenn the confidence to further pursue her passion for film and entertainment was when she worked on her first client project, Nestle’s Corn Flakes.
After presenting her deck to a room of decision makers, Jenn was pleasantly surprised when her ideas were eagerly accepted by the clients. “From there, seeing the project through, from conception to execution, filled me with a sense of excitement and validation,” she recalled.
The confidence led her to pursue endeavors as a freelancer and thus gave birth to soimjenn and subsequently her creative agency, Seed. Creatives.
As one of the earliest social media influencers in Malaysia, Jenn has established a strong foundation of trust between her and her followers because of her originality and genuineness. Aside from her impressive set of creative skills behind and in-front of the camera, what makes Jenn’s candid online presence unique is her personal philosophy to remain honest when endorsing a brand and its product.
Although interestingly, Jenn explained that having this philosophy was one of the biggest challenges she faced in the beginning of her career as a content creator and influencer. Specifically, her struggle was educating brands that authenticity is something that cannot be bought and must instead be built.
“My ‘opinion’, which is the currency of trust between my followers and I, cannot be bought and this is something I emphasised early on,” Jenn said. “In the beginning, when clients would insist I endorse a brand for something it isn’t, it made me question my ideals and future as a creator but I knew that any product I endorsed must be something I would personally use and once I realised that and stuck by it, moving forward became easier.”
Jenn’s journey in the creative industry started with YouTube. As a singer and songwriter, she started by uploading her home videos of covers and original songs. However, Jenn’s always had a comedian in her and back then, female comedians in Malaysia was even more rare than it is now.
“When the YouTube scene started in Malaysia, it was all men and I remember asking myself ‘how come only men can be funny?’”, Jenn said. “There was a serious lack of local representation when it came to funny women and I personally wanted to prove that women are funny when they want to be.”
“Crazy Bra Lady” posted in April 2013 was Jenn’s first funny video which gained a lot of attention. While there wasn’t even much production value to the video, Jenn’s creativity to tackle what some might consider a “touchy” subject by adding a refreshingly honest and comical twist to it, made her stand out.
Jenn Chia on the evolving social media landscape
“The evolution of social media itself exists because of the audience and because they have changed,” Jenn said. “The audience have become more sophisticated and they can tell when something is an ad and will think you’re a sellout if there’s too much of it.”
Jenn is someone who competes with her past self. Each time she receives a client brief, she is determined to top the last video she produced and according to her, one of the biggest challenges with this is maintaining originality.
With an internet full of global content, each video that appears on our timeline is competing to make an impression and not drown among the sea of “another video”. Understanding this, Jenn is determined to never do the same thing twice and to be consistently creative.
The problem with that is, creativity by nature is not consistent but in this ultra-competitive industry, creativity means a whole less if it isn’t consistent.
“For me, there is a finite amount of creativity in a day but when I choose my job, it’s about creativity with constraints because there’s a client involved and in my opinion, that’s the best kind because it forces you to be most creative,” Jenn said. “I also understand my audience which allows me to create content that fits their personality.”
One of Jenn’s most memorable ads was made in collaboration with Clinique which hit a million views. The ad for the skin care brand’s product is the perfect example of the kind of content Jenn and her team are capable of. It features a fussy client, an apathetic director and a confused talent, all of whom are played by Jenn herself.
The script which was written by Jenn uses wordplay and relatable characters to deliver a truly memorable ad that in fact, doesn’t even feel like one. Yesterday, Jenn and her team also released a second part to the ad.
Advice to budding creatives
As a creative and entrepreneur of more than 7 years, Jenn’s advice to budding creatives is to not allow anyone to buy their opinion.
“Authenticity lasts longer than money and once you build your audience, the brands will come in,” Jenn said.
She also added that financial security affords you the freedom to stay authentic and not accept jobs out of desperation. But if someone who’s starting out doesn’t have a financial security blanket, she says they should find another channel as a source of income.
“I used to do copywriting for property developers or any other copywriting jobs that were available so I could save more money and have the liberty to choose my jobs when it came to my true passion,” Jenn said.
Plans for the future
According to Jenn, many of her friends in the industry are branching out to do their own business and to be accountable for their own time. “More and more people are aware that the whole landscape of being an influencer doesn’t last forever,” Jenn said. “ An entrepreneurial mindset is pivotal for sustainability, being famous doesn’t last.”
Last year, Jenn and her partner, Jon, co-founded Seed. Creatives to combine their creative and technical skills with an entrepreneurial outlook. “I’m going to plant a seed here and see what happens,” Jenn said when first starting Seed. Creatives.
Since then the agency has worked with some of the biggest brands and most recently worked with Leo Burnett to produce McDonalds Malaysia’s Chinese New Year ad. The short film was also one of the top 10 winners of MARKETING Magazine’s Experts’ Choice Awards 2021 CNY TVC edition.
When I asked Jenn what she hopes her career will look like in 5 years, she said it is to grow Seed. Creatives to function on its own. While she’s enjoyed her time in-front-of the camera, Jenn prefers to be behind them, providing creative direction and guidance.
Aside from that, Jenn wants to be known for doing stop motion by mastering the skill. Stop-motion is incredibly tedious and difficult to produce, taking hours upon hours to build the sets and move each character motion-by-motion but for Jenn, stop-motion frees her from her inability to animate.
“Using my imagination to literally create a story by hand brings me back to my childhood,” Jenn said. “It’s romantic and exciting to anime something out of inanimate objects.”
Main image courtesy of: Jenn Chia
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