An Industry of Great Ideas: Media Professionals’ Honest Insights

An unvarnished look at the highs and lows of a career in Media.

Alyssa Marie Loo
Jun 2, 2020 · 12 min read
Photo by Sam McGhee on Unsplash

The media industry is broad and pervasive: the shows we watch on television, the stories we read in the papers, and the advertisements we see peppering the streets. Regardless of the mediums, trained creativity and disciplined grit underlie the work of any Media professional.

On 21st May, SGExams and Praxium hosted a panel with three Media professionals, where they gave a bold and honest look at life in the Media industry. If you are a youth interested in pursuing this industry in the future, this article might answer your burning questions.

  • Grace Yeoh, journalist with background in mass communications;
  • Raziff Lau, systems designer with previous experience as an advertising creative with background in graphic design;
  • Gladys Ng, filmmaker with background in film and media studies;
  • Louis Puah, Founder at Praxium with career coach background;
  • Alyssa Marie Loo, incoming university freshman;
  • and Jeraldine Tan, Junior College student.

What is Media?

Attention and entertainment are no doubt the forefront concerns in the media industry. As Raziff (Ziff) describes, attention is the modern currency that powers the media business, and all genres of media seek to create and publish engaging content for audiences to earn it.

More aspirationally, Media is also about amplifying what matters — or at least, what should matter. Grace sees it as “not just about giving consumers what they want but also (to uphold) our responsibility/duty to society” to produce news that is thoughtful and meaningful.

Gladys expounds that “there’s a certain responsibility in how you shape (your work). Your point-of-view matters, but how it influences people matters as well”, reminding that one should not be indulgent in publishing work only about personal interests.

Ultimately, Media professionals have the unique power to direct attention. It is that power that requires a media creative to be responsible for how their work can shape larger society.

Media is a way to not just tell people what to think about, but also how to think about things. — Grace

What is creative work in Media like?

An overview of the related skills in different media work.

It is with a complete nonchalance that Grace scrolls through 23 pages of verbatim interviews, all compiled for the sake of one article. While interviewing 20 to 30 people is not the standard for all articles, Grace admits, she did not want to “[write] into a void” to “[bring] light to an issue that was (not) fully formed”.

Working with people is quintessential in Media. Gladys, as a director, has to lead dozens of members in a crew to plan shots and run a production. Grace, though an introvert, is comfortable conducting swaths of research calls and interviews to scout and understand stories. “You cannot be afraid of asking sensitive questions,” she stressed, “if you’re not willing to ask those questions you’re [..] going to talk around the issue rather than talk about the issue itself.”

Gladys giving direction to an actress while her production crew prepares for the shot.

There is especially a need to work well with people who may not be familiar with creative work. Ziff spends his time fire-fighting with “suits” — business clients that liaise with creative agencies. Ziff’s team works from “do briefs”, succinct documents from a client summarising the requirements of the campaign. At times where Do Briefs are too vague, Ziff and his team may have to consult the suits to revise it (or to throw it back to the clients altogether).

It becomes clear that the importance of networking cannot be overestimated in the industry. Gladys assembles her film crew for every project from a network of familiar faces she had enjoyed working with before. In searching for locations for filming, it also comes down to “a lot of favours you need to ask”. When Grace requires contacts to interview for a piece, she may reach out to the PR departments of relevant companies. Having networks to tap on is a staple for any media professional.

Long hours and occasional disappointments also seem to be commonplace. Gladys sheepishly states that production for a short film can involve up to four days of 14–15 hour shoots, while Ziff recounts creative proposals that, despite long hours of intense work by the creative team, were entirely rejected by their clients. “The job is very physically taxing,” admits Gladys, and “it can be quite draining if you don’t love the work,” concurs Ziff.

Why media? Why not media?

There is a popular belief that there isn’t much of a rice bowl in the Media industry. Ziff counters that, working in advertising, a creative’s pay can indeed grow exponentially if they win advertising awards or transfer between agencies frequently.

For Grace and Gladys however, income is certainly a concern for the profession. Grace raised that she had transferred out of journalism for a short period to save up with a higher income. For Gladys, she does not expect to earn a living from her films as they are largely funded by grants. She takes on commercial film projects (eg. advertisements), and simultaneously does part-time work at Objectifs to draw stable income outside filmmaking. Gladys admits it is difficult:

“There are many times I feel like giving up. It’s not an easy industry. You don’t earn a lot of money, you put in long hours, no weekends, no holidays. You don’t really get much in return for what you put out.”

Yet in spite of this, Grace still returned to journalism,and Gladys continues filmmaking.

Grace has always felt writing to be a natural talent, “I’ve always been able to write well, and what I was good at was getting people to tell me things they would not tell anyone else.” Rather than continuing to work in communications or copywriting, however, Grace ultimately found her calling in journalism:

“I found a lot more meaning in creating longer stories; having in-depth, long interviews…and putting together a bigger, more comprehensive story. What made me stay in this industry was the sense of satisfaction and fulfillment that I wasn’t able to get in any other job”.

For Gladys, it is a feeling of obligation to give back to the medium of Film:

I find myself going back to films when I feel really lost. Film is a form of healing experience for me, and I wanted to give it back to someone else. As long as my film can speak to one person, at least, I think that’s good enough for me.”

In the end, as Louis sums:

Satisfaction in a profession is not measured only by income but also if it aligns with your goals to make you feel fulfilled.

Ziff shared that he left advertising as he wanted to “apply [him]self in ways that contributed to something [he] cared for”. While to some colleagues this meant choosing to advertise only for companies they liked, Ziff no longer wanted to use his skills for selling.

Being in a profession with a high income but low personal fulfillment, Louis shares, may lead to spending excessively on material luxuries to justify the dissatisfaction. A high income is then needed to support an expensive lifestyle. Conversely, a lower income in a job that leaves you feeling fulfilled can be perfectly comfortable with a prudent lifestyle. Grace suggests thinking about the following questions:

“How much money do you need to make to live the life you want?

Do you have the skillsets to pursue your interests, or is it better as a hobby? Do you have the means to brush up on those skillsets?

Why this industry specifically — what exactly draws you to the industry and can you get the same things elsewhere?”

Based on our panelists, a desire to communicate, to connect, and create content seem to be common, strong motivations in Media.

But what if i’m not a creative person? How do Media creatives cope with creative blocks?

“The term creativity in itself is a bit problematic.” — Ziff

All panellists agreed that creativity is not an innate trait that you have or don’t. Creativity means having the ability to tackle problems in different ways, which can be done by learning to ask different questions. In this way, creativity can be honed by developing your own toolbox of questions to think about problems. Gladys shares:

“An idea comes when there’s a problem that needs a solution, or an issue that needs to be addressed. And while searching for solutions, ideas arise. Sometimes I find it helpful to go back to basics — who, where, what, when, why, how?”

Creativity is about finding new ways to connect the dots.

Louis illustrated that if creativity is like connecting different dots, “you need ingredients for creativity”. Most times, when facing a creative block, finding inspiration is about finding new dots to experiment with.

This can be as simple as taking a walk, but it can also mean finding inspiration from what others have done. Ziff suggests to “try to take ideas from anything you consume”, from videos, films to simple conversations. Grace agrees that sometimes it requires thinking out of your medium. “If you want to come up with a fresh angle to present an article, don’t just look at similar articles,” she says. Explore related podcasts, film series and social media campaigns for their ideas.

Working with others can also help. “Their stupid ideas and your stupid ideas can come together to make a great idea,” laughs Ziff. Teams can timebox themselves individually to generate ideas and then pass ideas around the team to build. “Like in improv, use the ‘yes, and’ mindset. By the end, you should’ve generated loads of ideas.”

Ziff’s creative process with his team.

But sometimes you still don’t chance upon an idea that “has legs”: an idea that takes off on its own and gives a clear vision of how to execute it. In these cases, the panellists agreed that it’s important to allow yourself to generate and write down even the dumbest ideas. “Release your ego from the process”, reminds Ziff. This flow may allow you to chance on a good idea, or threads from bad ideas may tie together to reveal a good idea.

“Producing something that’s (bad) is better than producing nothing at all”. — Grace

Ultimately, the most important thing is to discipline yourself to create, no matter what. Creative work cannot be driven by waiting around for inspiration. “If I only work when I’m inspired I’d only work one day out of the whole month. You have to build this routine and habit that you continue pushing on even when you’re not inspired. Even when I’m not motivated to write I still try my best to at least push out three paragraphs,” says Grace.

Having something to improve and review is better than having nothing. In this way, anyone can develop creativity by developing the right questions, process, and discipline.

What is success in the Media industry?

Like any other industry, there are different types of success depending on individual goals. Our three panellists also differed in their opinions.

Ziff suggests that Media professionals often aim to become one of three types: the “Craftsman”, the “Leader” or the “Influencer”.

“A person that has a deep understanding of the industry standards and their own principles on the process. Given any brief this person would be able to thoughtfully define and frame the problem, and produce appropriate and effective work for the client. Craft in skill can refer to writing, designing graphics, storytelling, developing strategy, designing interfaces, coding, etc. Some are generalists and some are specialists. Everyone possesses a different mixture of these skills, so it’s easy to get lost in the weeds when defining who you want to be. Experts know what they are and don’t try to be what they’re not. If the work is great enough, it becomes popular and the industry references it for inspiration/case studies.”

“As a designer, sometimes you are forced to “do” less and manage more. That means managing teams, clients or the project. The invisible skill here that’s needed is managing expectations and managing time. Both incredibly difficult and rarely taught in schools! But I haven’t been in school in a while so maybe I’m wrong. It’s human skills and while we aren’t all natural leaders, trying to be better humans usually helps in being a better leader.”

“Experts that have the ability to make something that seems complex, simple. They can see patterns that others don’t. Imagine the observations a coach makes versus a regular fan. The influencer is able to communicate what they see simply to a regular fan. Sometimes these patterns they see become simple enough ideas that anyone in the industry appreciates. When they share these ideas, they become famous for their insight.”

For Gladys, it’s about focusing on her craft and journey.

Success is an abstract concept to me. It’s easy to fall into the rabbit hole of trying to quantify it. I find doing that both problematic and destructive. Rather, I try to focus on the process of creating work.

The definition of success is different for all of us. One thing I know for sure, though, that success is not competition. As an altruistic person (as most filmmakers are), the definition is fluid, but loosely speaking, it is looking back and knowing that you’ve worked really hard and came through.

For Grace, it’s about being accountable to herself.

I judge my success by whether I like myself. That is my only criteria.

What can I do to start entering this industry?

  1. Build a Portfolio: Show your thinking and process.
  2. Get an Internship: Roles in marketing, communications, PR, etc.
  3. Network: Build contacts with all sorts of people, especially creative ones.

Putting together a portfolio is a must. Ziff gives some advice on building one:

“What I think makes a good portfolio is something that’s not overly designed. The work should stand for itself. Beyond displaying the work, it helps to demonstrate your thinking by sharing your approach and your struggles with the project. Maybe even (detail) what more you would do (if) given an opportunity. Don’t be afraid to put yourself into it. Show some personality.”

The second unanimous suggestion was to get internships to work in the field. Internships give a great opportunity to network and understand what the industry is like from the inside.

“Make sure to have conversations with those in the field, especially about what the shitty days are like. Imagine living that every day, week in, week out, month on month for the next few decades,” advises Ziff. For filmmaking, Gladys suggests starting by helping out on a film set as a Production Assistant (PA). “Observe and learn, then eventually decide which role suits you best.”

Above all, honing soft skills is important. Especially for internships, Ziff explains that “what people look for in interns are capable (and affordable) pair of hands and a sense of hope.” Always be open to new ideas, willing to learn, and eager to explore. Grace concludes:

“Stay curious — not just about the world around you, but also about yourself. Talk to all sorts of people, take up all sorts of opportunities, ask all sorts of questions. Challenge your biases.

This industry is built on great ideas, so you will need to constantly and consciously expand your worldview.”

This article was co-published on SGExams.

Found this article on Media useful? Follow our publication for more in-depth, insight articles coming soon on topics like Healthcare, the Arts and IT.

Thank you to Gladys, Ziff, and Grace for sharing their thoughts and time with us on our panel, as well as our student participants for their active engagement during the QnA!

If you’d like to get in contact with the panellists or other industry professionals in the other sectors, do DM @praxiumsg on Instagram or Facebook. We can make our network of professionals from various industries available.

Alternatively, you can also sign up for Praxium’s Mentorship Programme 2020 to get first-hand interactions and guidance from our network of mentors, and explore the reality of working in your industry of interest here! Submissions close on 8 June (Monday).

Follow Praxium on our channel for more updates and events about career guidance and self-discovery: Praxium Youth Community on Telegram

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