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After TMU — Phil Adrien

March 23, 2021
Phil Adrien

Phil Adrien
Radio and Television Arts ’09
CEO, Creative APAC at Dentsu International

Why did you choose to study at Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson University)?

During my time in CEGEP in Montreal, one of my favourite classes was video production. Our teacher would remind us constantly that if we wanted to do this for a living and learn from the best, TMU’s Radio and Television Arts (RTA) program was the top program in Canada to get into. He also warned me that it was a hard program to get into only accepting over a hundred students a year. I feel fortunate and lucky that I made the cut!

What are some skills you developed through university that are applicable to your career?

I’ve lived outside of Canada for almost a decade now, I’ve been based in Dubai, and now Singapore is home and have been fortunate enough to have a career which has afforded me a lot of travel. No matter where I’ve worked in the world these 3 skills I sharpened at TMU have really helped me to connect with people and grow as a person.

  1. How to work effectively as a team, this was probably most important. How to set shared goals, communicate progress, motivate, debate. We had a fair share of group work and these skills were really foundational to helping me grow into the leader I am today. I’ve had the privilege of leading diverse teams and companies in different corners of the globe, and TMU helped to prepare me in spades.
  2. How to sell ideas, and overcome objections to those ideas. We had many different creative project briefs in my time in RTA, from documentaries to short films, to commercials, websites, radio shows and everything in between. These projects would often require you to sell your idea to your classmates to convince them to join your group. This required honing your pitch skills before even getting to the final presentation. Once we had completed the work, I loved getting the chance to share it with the class — why we thought it met the brief, how we did it and what we learned. In the marketing and communications industry it’s paramount that you can clearly articulate why your ideas or solutions deliver on a given brief or challenge. I can confidently say that TMU provided the perfect training ground.
  3. Technical creative skills, although I don’t use them as often as I did in my early days after graduation, the technical skills I picked up at TMU, and knowing how to shoot an edit video, and build beautiful websites helped to launch my career and get me to where I am today.

How did your experience at TMU help you find your first position?

I graduated in the global recession of 2009, and through TMU landed an internship at a television production company. I was eventually hired on after my internship and it was an amazing experience to work on tv sets and to be involved in a real production. Unfortunately I was laid off as the full impact of the recession hit, but I used my skills I had built at TMU to launch my own digital design and content agency which helped to propel me to where I am today.

What are some attributes or skills required to be successful in your field of work?

  1. having both the right and good intent
  2. radically collaborative with an open mind
  3. being resilient, sometimes a client may not like an idea that’s okay it doesn’t mean they don’t like you
  4. being a great communicator
  5. creative to the core

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career? How did you overcome them?

Being laid off not even a year after graduating was a low point in my career. But, if that hadn't happened, I’d have never taken the leap and started my own company. So, with every challenge there is opportunity, and that opportunity has since allowed me to live and travel in different corners of the world through my work and the skills I developed at TMU.

I have no idea what my life would have been like had I stayed in Canada but by working hard and being open, ready and receptive to new opportunities as they’ve presented themselves I’ve been afforded some incredible life and career experiences. From pitching to launch a non-alcoholic beer brand in Riyadh, to a pitch in Beijing where I managed to squeeze in a visit to the Forbidden City and the Great Wall, to leading a digital marketing seminar in Tokyo, to getting the chance to tour Silicon Valley, to celebrating our industries best work in Cannes — sometimes I need to pinch myself. Partly to reflect on how fortunate I’ve been, but also to remember how I felt when I was laid off, and use that as motivation and drive.

You’re a strong advocate for gender parity and diversity in the workplace. What are some of the initiatives you’re working on to advance these causes?

On International Women’s Day we launched a short concept film (external link, opens in new window) , giving viewers a peek into the real lives of the women at Dentsu whose lives have changed as a result of the pandemic. We all know from personal experience what a difference the pandemic has made to our own lives, and this gives a view into the lives of 22 women from nine countries in Asia. It’s resulted in a really raw and emotional piece of content, and led to equally open and honest conversations in and outside of dentsu on where and how we can be more supportive to the brilliant and talented women in our organisation. 

Phil Adrien sits on a panel for Grow with Google’s Women Will program in Asia.

Phil Adrien sits on a panel for Google’s Women Will program in Asia.

What advice would you give alumni interested in working internationally?

Working in different markets around the world has been the most rewarding decision I’ve ever made. I also get loads of joy from helping friends and colleagues realise their ambitions of living and working overseas. If you’re interested in working overseas, start networking and connecting with peers in that market. Make connections, leverage your own network and see who you may already know there who can introduce you to relevant recruiters or leaders. It takes hustle. I had a friend who came to visit me in Dubai and wanted to move there immediately after visiting. It took him two years of hustling and doing exactly what I described above before he finally made it but he never gave up.

What is a typical Day in Your Work Life like?

I wake up, have a cup of tea while my kids eat breakfast before school. Since the onset of the pandemic I’ve been working a lot more from home, so I’ll be on catch ups, brainstorms, presentations and pitch calls with clients and colleagues from Singapore, Shanghai, Manila, London, New York and even Toronto! I’m in the office once or twice a week but I’ve fully embraced working from home.

We also live across from one of the most beautiful parks in Singapore (and dare I say the world), called East Coast Park and on the odd occasion I can swing it I’ll squeeze in a coffee, lunch or just a walk in the park with my wife, while the kids are at school.

What are the best parts of your work; what are the necessary evils?

The best part of my work is getting the opportunity to help a truly diverse set of clients tackle some of their biggest problems, with some of the smartest, nicest and most passionate people you could ever dream of assembling on a team.

A necessary evil, at this point is a lot of video calls across varying time zones. I’m a super productive morning person so by the time that 9:30pm call with the Americas rolls around, I sometimes require a quick hit of caffeine or some well-placed tape under my eye lids (just kidding!).

What do you wish you could tell your university self?

You’re going to be okay. Have some fun and worry just a little bit less. To be honest my older self needs reminding of this sometimes too!

Thanks for having me and a big shout out to some of my former RTA teachers who helped shape who I am today, a few that come to mind are, Marion Coomey, Lori Beckstead, Michael Coutanche, Rick Grunberg, Laurie Petrou and I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few!