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Meet the 40 Over 40 honoree: Steven Moy

Steven Moy is CEO at Barbarian and one of Campaign US' 40 Over 40 honorees. Here, he shares qualities you need to be successful, creativity during the pandemic and how to make the industry diverse.

How did you feel when you saw your name on Campaign’s 40 Over 40 list?

Humbled. It feels good to be recognized for my grey hairs and war wounds.

Sum up your journey to where you are now in fewer than five words?

Engineering is a creative force

Three qualities you need to be successful and achieve longevity in the creative industries?

  • Courage 

  • Experimental

  • Be ready to destroy the old to create the new 

Worst thing about the crazy last few months? Any silver linings?

The isolation gave me time to truly reflect on my strengths and weaknesses as a leader. And what I've learned is that our weaknesses don’t make us weak; recognizing them has helped me lead our clients and teams through the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Best use of creativity you’ve seen during the COVID-19 pandemic?

I’ve always viewed creativity as bigger than just advertising. It’s about finding new ways to problem solve—whether it’s a new approach to create content or selling direct to consumers. During the pandemic, I’ve seen our industry put that creativity towards how we work together and with our clients.

We’ve created new working models internally and externally. We didn’t allow our work to be hindered by the pandemic, rather we took it as another creative guardrail to work with—from elaborate virtual events to remote shoots, and even thinking about how we will continue to work after the pandemic.

For many of our clients, COVID-19 has accelerated their digital transformation, forcing them to think digital-first. We’ve received some of our most creative briefs in the last 6 months, such as creating social and live stream commerce experiences and creating a second screen experience using connected TV to drive direct commerce. 

And lastly, I’ve witnessed a new type of agency emerging in response to the pandemic. This new agency must help clients 1) solve increasingly complex business problems (e.g., what does x business do now that physical foot traffic has halted), 2) communicate and interact with their audiences within every touchpoint of today’s modern digital ecosystem 3) be courageous enough to experiment with innovations that can both differentiate their brand, and capture customer love. 

What needs to happen to make the industry truly diverse?

Many agencies have spun their wheels when it comes to D&I efforts, offering grand gestures, and promoting tokenism. Before all of that, I believe the first step is to understand the difference between diversity and inclusion. Having diverse representation in your teams and leadership is the new standard. Inclusion is listening to your diverse teams and incorporating their voices into your processes and business as a whole. But to make true change, not only do we need to champion D&I within the “walls” of the agency, but it also needs to be shown in the work we put into the world. That may come in the form of more accessible innovations, more inclusive products, or creating new tools that give power to more people. When we truly normalize diversity and inclusion in our work, I believe normalizing diverse talent (vs tokenizing) will follow. 

Purpose in business: A flash in the pan or the fundamental basis for the future?

Purpose is fundamental. 2020 has pushed our industry (and our world) in ways we never thought possible. It is more clear than ever before that the only way to build a lasting business is by doubling down on purpose. You must be clear about the values you hold dear for your employees, clients, and customers. That is the only way that agencies will continue to deliver breakthrough work and courageous innovations in the years to come. 

How does the culture at your organization help you thrive?

Barbarians have an entrepreneurial spirit, are curious by nature, and are incredibly brave. We have a saying at the agency, if it doesn’t exist, we build it. This culture and appreciation for invention reminds me of my days as an engineer. I love that mentality, that passion, and I look to emulate it every single day.

If we took your team out for a drink, how would they describe you?

Always-on, Fast, Curious, and Courageous

Describe one piece of work you produced in the past 12 months that excites you?

We are in the midst of boundary-breaking work with our client Mucinex leveraging social commerce in a way that the OTC category has yet to do. That’s all I can see at the moment, but the work is set to launch in the coming month.  

Who's your biggest inspiration? And why?

My late parents have been my biggest inspiration.  They selflessly migrated our whole family from Hong Kong to America with the sole purpose to create the best opportunities for their children. They left everything behind—friends, family, and careers—to be in this country.  It took courage and they truly inspire my current philosophy of “Destroy to Create” - You need to destroy the old to create the new. 

What advice would you give to someone entering the industry? Any tips for success you'd like to share?

Be fearless, be a sponge, and be agile. Learning everything that is thrown at you. Our industry is a great training platform to learn both the advertising business and our client businesses. To thrive, you need to know how to work with diverse perspectives and practices (Creative, strategy, technology, etc.). And more importantly, listen and ask a lot of questions.

What’s in store for the future of your brand – and the industry in general?

I can’t predict the future. I can say that no one will work as hard to challenge the old to help my clients succeed.  I tell my team, “We will win some and we will fall plenty, but it’s how we pick ourselves back up to overcome anything” even pandemics.


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