Flo Lau grew up watching her mother and aunt working to support her father in running his business. Early on in her life, she realised that she would have to work harder, and face several challenges to climb through in order to achieve what she wanted in her career.
She stepped into the creative world when it was not looked at as a worthy career choice. Confident about her choice and her abilities, she marched through the field, working with Coby Electronics, Haier and Macy’s before joining Shutterstock as a digital designer. Currently, she is the head of creative art Shutterstock. She shares a few of her experiences and lessons gathered along this journey with AsiaBizToday.
Flo’s father owns an eyeglasses business. She acquired her first lessons in the world of business from watching him as a business owner and a leader. Success never made him complacent, she recalls. “In fact, he always sought to learn more from competitors and business partners. I recall stopping at every eyeglasses shop whenever we walked by one so he could look at the latest styles and materials at the store windows,” she shares.
Though she didn’t share his interest in eyeglasses, it was from her father that she learnt the importance of dedication and passion towards one’s job. She saw him work for long hours, travel for work regularly and spend a lot of time away from the family, all because of his passion towards his work. She says she has always aspired to have that passion towards what she would end up doing for earning a living. She truly believes in the adage, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
Career in the Arts
When Flo chose to take up a career in creative designing in the early 2000’s, it wasn’t a well-recognized field of work. Being a designer was not considered as a viable career that would make a good living in general at the time.
Her very Asian family wasn’t too happy with the choice either, wishing her to become a doctor, lawyer or an accountant. “None of my family members, immediate or extended, worked in the creative field, so it was difficult for my parents to accept and encourage my pursuit of a design degree,” she informs.
Despite all the opposition, Flo recognized that the marketing and advertising world was at the cusp of digital transformation, and designers with abilities to design for digital media would be in high demand. She decided to move forward with the program, took on some design internships, and has been making progress in her chosen field ever since.
It is her experiences in the creative field that makes her top advice to youngsters: Always follow your passion. She believes that success will follow naturally if you truly love what you do. At the same time, she suggests not being frustrated when things don’t work out the way you wished they did. “One thing I’ve learnt is to never be discouraged by setbacks and always keep trying. Self-belief and strong resilience will take you places in your career and life!” she advises.
Discrimination at Work
Fifteen years ago when Flo started her foray into the workforce, it was very rare to see women in VP or above positions, and even more rare was to have people of colour (POC) in those positions. Being an Asian American woman in the workplace meant she faced a lot of instances of discrimination, too.
“You have to fight a certain bias and stereotype of being submissive and agreeable due to your background. In past roles, I was told that I was being too ‘aggressive’ when negotiating for a higher salary, or I was being ‘disrespectful’ when I spoke up in meetings,” she shares. Very often, she was told and even encouraged to “work and think like men.”
Looking back, she feels that all those experiences helped build up her ability to disregard negativity and keep marching forward. She feels good to see the drastic movement on diversity, equality and inclusion in the workplace, specifically in the past two year. The biggest testament of the movement’s success, according to her, is the popularity of internal employee resource groups and the increasing number of women and POC in leadership positions.
When asked to describe herself as a leader, Flo says a lot of it is instilling an empathetic collaboration style within the team and encouraging them to use the same approach with external partners as well. At the same time, I encourage all team members to speak up and show up as creative leaders; talents and leadership speak for themselves and they are not defined by ethnicities, genders and sexualities.
Describing the DE&I approach of Shutterstock, she says the company has three focus areas – a culture that holds everyone accountable, advocates community and belonging, and emphasizes cultural competency. “A recruitment and retention strategy has also been set in place to broaden our talent network and reach in order to build and retain a diverse talent pipeline. Externally, we’ve also revamped and modernized curated collections to consciously feature current, relevant, and diverse visuals and contributors,” she informs.
Other than a policy that sets guidelines to ensure contributors depict and describe people in ways that honor and accurately represent their identities, the company also has a grant called the Create Fund. It provides mentorships, cash grants, and other support to historically excluded artists to fill content gaps and further diversify the company’s content library and contributor network.
Creativity in Covid Times
Flo feels that the creative process has become more inclusive now, in terms of who’s involved. “I spent the majority of my career being in creative teams that close the door on their clients or stakeholders right after the briefing section and no communication until the big reveal of the creative concept. This is no longer the case for a lot of creative teams,” she shares. Nowadays, there’s an open line of communication with stakeholders, regular check ins on status, back and forth brainstorming sessions with them and keeping them involved in the creative process. This, she says, really speeds up the process while ensuring the end concept has the strongest potential to drive business results.
The changed workplace and workflow in the pandemic era have disrupted the creative industry, she believes, and many of her colleagues had to be nimble in adapting to new ways of working. While challenging, this had some positive outcomes from a creative standpoint, she feels. The constraints of Covid-19, she says, have inspired creative leaders to take on a new approach in getting things done. “Traditional processes that involved large gatherings, such as photoshoots and filming, have taken a backseat, prompting creative types to refresh their approach and make the most of existing stock content, from images and footage, to music and 3D models. For marketers who need overseas content, they turn to alternatives, such as working together with companies like Shutterstock that can source the local content they need through our global network of contributors,” explains Flo.
In terms of the creative production process, she adds, the pandemic has also widened creative people’s options on how they get things done. As societies slowly reopen, many brands will jump back into the traditional crew filming, studios photoshoot process, but she believes that they won’t dismiss how they pivoted and adapted in the past couple of years and are likely to keep the new ways of working. Although productivity went up during covid but she found that it could cause loss of motivation and the human touch, which would have to be balanced well in the future.
Post Pandemic Transformation
With multiple lockdowns preventing companies from producing original content in the ways they were used to, more businesses are turning to stock assets for their marketing needs. This has made Shutterstock put together a specialized team that is able to work closely with its global network of contributors to help create content that is relevant to the brand through Shutterstock Studios. This also enables them to provide overseas content to companies that weren’t able to fly overseas during this time, or wanted to save costs.
“As a provider of raw material for creative usage, we have been seeing more demand for video content, and this is something we expect to continue even as people become able to interact freely again. Videos have obvious advantages for brands, and in a world saturated with messaging, moving images often have greater ability to stop people from scrolling than still ones,” shares Flo. Essentially, people go over to Shutterstock looking for footage that feels like something they would have shot themselves, even if it is historical or pre-covid, she adds.
This quest for fitting images and videos in the media and marketing industries led to the creation of compelling, editorially-minded content, with the help of the company’s extensive repository of video material. Moving forward, Flo foresees the demand for 3D content rising in parallel to the continued rise of online and social commerce. “This is likely to become more prevalent and for time-poor creatives, whether at agencies, production houses or brands, being able to access readily available material has significant implications for efficiency,” she shares.