‘When it’s done right, there’s real magic’: Beyond the Brief with Michelle Wong, Dailey

Michelle Wong, Dailey

To celebrate its 100th Anniversary, the 4A’s has partnered with us at The Drum to pull back the curtain and look at an industry full of problem solvers, creative types and analytical minds. But what keeps them going once the briefs are written, the campaigns executed, and the pitches won (or lost)? The Drum is now interviewing 100 people at 4A’s member agencies — across all disciplines, levels, regions, and agency types — to get a glimpse into what drives them at work and what fuels them in life.

Michelle Wong is the managing partner at Dailey. Before she got her start in advertising, she graduated with a Grand Diplôme from Le Cordon Bleu in London. With a passion for food and the pace of a kitchen, she took her fast-paced life and started at Leo Burnett in Chicago, then worked at FCB Chicago before moving back to L.A. to work at M&C Saatchi. Now she has been at Dailey for nine years and is a managing partner of the independent agency.

Wong’s love for food and cooking, as well as her desire to innovate with brands such as Philip Morris, SC Johnson, The Getty, City National Bank and Nestlé, shows how she is living beyond the brief.

What was the biggest surprise when you started in advertising?

I started out working as a sous pastry chef at the Grosvenor House in London. It was intense. You were in the kitchen dealing with long hours, huge egos, people screaming at each other, stress all the time -- everyone was incredibly talented, but also just crazy. After a while I realized I was not cut out for it. When I started in advertising, I couldn’t believe that I walked into basically the same environment. Except in advertising, people didn’t have knives.

What is the moment you knew you wanted to be in advertising?

It was my first day on the Philip Morris Account at Leo Burnett, and I was riding the elevator to our offices, which were on like the 25th floor. The doors opened and there standing in front of me were three Marlboro men -- three real live, incredibly good looking cowboys who ran the Marlboro Ranch in Montana. Somebody told me that they were at the agency for meetings. I remember thinking, “This is the coolest job ever.” The excitement of working on such an iconic brand and being part of that legacy was totally wrapped up in that moment for me.

If you weren’t in advertising, what would you be doing?

I’d still want to be in marketing and branding and work in food, so not a whole lot would change! I’m always coming up with new recipes at home and working with different ingredients, and I’d love to do the same for brands. I love the whole life cycle — from developing product innovations to thinking about how it’s packaged at the shelf to marketing it to consumers. When it’s done right, there’s real magic — and I’d love to do that over and over again.

Where was the last place you traveled to? What did you learn from that trip?

One of my favorite things to do when I travel anywhere is to go grocery shopping. When I was in London a couple months ago, I hit all the food stores – Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Sainsbury, Waitrose, Lidl – all to see what people are eating and how food is marketed differently. Generally, I find that flavors are more interesting and brands outside the U.S. tend to experiment more, so seeing what's new or trending is super fun for me. And of course, I also get to take home an entire suitcase full of foodie treasures!

Is work too personal or not personal enough at times? Why is that?

I love how personal work is. I think it should be more personal. My colleagues at Dailey and I know so much about each other, and that’s what helps us trust each other and get through the chaotic times. Dailey feels like a family. I work with my friends and feel really lucky to have it that way.

What is an art that you cannot live without?

I’m obsessed with live theatre, especially musicals. All the moving parts that have to work together perfectly, the one shot to do it right, and the act of giving yourself to the audience at every performance is just thrilling to me. It’s a beautiful mix of creativity and discipline, and I love it.

To pitch someone from a 4A's member agency for Beyond the Brief, please complete this linked form.

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Haley Velasco

Haley Velasco is a writer based in Chicago, IL, who has a background in PR for a sports media company and has reported on a variety of topics, including sports, opinion, politics and celebrity news. Based in the Windy City, she covers industry happenings in the Midwest and throughout North America. She has been reporting for The Drum since May 2016.

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