GenLeo Duo: Brooke Chai and Rhea Rannie
In Summer 2019, Leo Burnett Summer interns Brooke Chai and Rhea Rannie were paired up as a creative duo; two years later, the two are a tight-knit team who are making names for themselves as Junior Copywriter and Junior Art Director, respectively. In addition to their frequent virtual brainstorms and the occasional bag of sour gummies, the two focus their attentions on pushing for inclusive creative content and industry-wide change. In the newest edition of GenLeo, Brooke and Rhea open up about these efforts, their upbringings as second-generation Americans and ways their cultural identities shape their work.
1. You two met through the Leo Burnett Summer Internship Program, where you were paired up; now, you continue to work as a pair on the Dixie account. Speaking from your experience, what things make—or break—a solid creative partnership?
Hi, it’s Brooke! I’ll be speaking on behalf of both of us—but I swear on the life of my favorite work pajamas that Rhea’s thoughts are 100% represented.
We’re very aware that we have different working habits, communication styles and creative processing practices. If there was a lot of ego involved, all those things would be cause for conflict. But since we hold a huge amount of respect for each other as growing creatives, it’s easy to troubleshoot areas that cause stress or to pivot to collaborative practices that work better than what we’re doing. At the end of the day, we always try to approach our differences positively and use them to create synergy– things that add spice and help create a better end result than we would’ve achieved alone. It also helps immensely to genuinely like your partner as a human being.
On that second point, I don’t think it’s a secret that creative partners who work well together are also just really good friends. Even though we’re early in the game, we already we were incredibly lucky to have been partnered. Because the job is not only to write well or art direct well, but to come up with creative ideas and being able to bring your truest self to work is indispensable.
2. And in the midst of the WFH era, how has your work as a duo been impacted? How have you maintained an effective creative relationship in this time of Zoom?
I think we’re doing our best to make lemonade out of lemons, but we’d honestly just prefer apple juice, you know?
Working casually at the office–like with half your body stuck in a beanbag in an enclave room or chatting while grabbing coffee on the 21st floor–is what re-charged us and helped us get our best work done. Clearly, that exact type of casual, change-in-environment collaboration isn’t possible when you’re WFH, but we did our best to kind of mimic that virtually.
We’ll use video chats pretty informally to create sessions where we’ll just be working, even if it’s silent and we’re working on different projects. There’s also a lot of content sharing to keep each other inspired or at least laughing, so Teams screensharing has been a godsend. I think we’ve definitely had more brainstorms than not where someone is cooking or walking their dog or folding laundry.
3. Going back to your time as interns, which was not that long ago, what pieces of advice can you offer other young individuals who are trying to break into the industry?
A cliché but true: be yourself. Be comfortable with yourself and don’t try to mimic the way others act or speak, because at the end of the day you’re the one who has to get a job. And you’ll sleep better at night knowing you got it by being you and not someone you pretended to be.
A practical tip: Don’t just follow the agencies on LinkedIn, try to find and connect directly with the recruiting leads at the agency. They’ll usually put out the first feelers on new openings as a personal post before it makes it into a public job board. Nobody tells you these things when you’re in school.
A community tip: There are amazing communities and programs out there to get new talent through the door who might otherwise had been overlooked. Hit them up! Not just to get closer to a job, but hopefully to find people in the industry who you can genuinely hang with, who will have your back, keep cheering for you, and give it to you straight when you need it. Here are some: WeAreNext (Coffee At a Distance), One Club (Creative Boot Camp, Here Are All The Black People), 100 Roses From Concrete, No Fixed Agency, AAF's Most Promising Multicultural Students, 4 A's MAIP, AEF’s MADE program.
4. As second-generation Americans – Brooke, your parents immigrated from Taiwan, and Rhea, your parents from the Caribbean – how has this part of your identity shaped, and continues to shape, the work you do at Arc?
We both grew up rarely seeing our race and cultures represented in mainstream media, let alone in ads, so it definitely influences how we see the work we do at Arc. It’s exciting to be working in advertising at a time when brands and industry standards are being challenged, and especially at an agency that has shown up and is committed to producing representative work.
We approach a lot of our work understanding there’s a wider scope of people who are seeing the content than traditional brands are used to believing and that they’re just as important to be speaking to. That thought really influences the way that we present our ideas–right from the culture fuel we’re inspired by to the names we choose in script drafts.
Our cultural identities are so much a part of who we are, and we’re aware it shows as soon as we walk into a room or turn on our cameras, so we might as well also bring it up in our work. It’s exciting to think that there’s a possibility that someone somewhere could look at our work and feel seen, even if it’s as simple as seeing a face that looks like theirs on a :06 second ad.
5. While your upbringings as second-generation Americans were both hugely different from one another, there is a shared understanding you both possess coming from underrepresented groups. Looking back on your experience thus far as up-and-comers in advertising, how can the industry do better when it comes to including and representing diverse voices?
Thankfully, the industry is getting much better at hiring junior level diverse talent. One thing we’ve heard at every DE&I event, conference, livestream, panel, etc.– straight from the leading diverse voices in the industry–is to promote up and pay up. So, we’ll just echo that.
6. 2020 was a trying year, to say the least. Mental health and wellness are at the forefront of every conversation and industry interaction. What do you two do to prioritize your mental health and keep sane in this unpredictable time we’re living in?
Brooke: That’s a good question.
In all seriousness, we’re still grappling with the consequences of having so many historic moments happen at a time when we’re still adjusting to an entire shift in our own life stages. We’ve reached a point now where more than half our professional career has been done online, which is insane to think about.
Our main priority is to remind ourselves that it’s okay not to be okay and to build on our mental health journey at a pace that is sustainable. Every day we’re still finding the mental health tools that work for us and building a personalized toolbox we can reach into when we feel like screaming (which is actually a great option). But some other non-screaming tools: checking in on house plants, cooking, meditation, going for a walk, retail therapy, making coffee, binge-watching Netflix and the ‘Do Not Disturb’ phone function.
7. Three things people may not know about you two:
Rhea keeps this partnership well stocked in sour gummy candies.
We used to have elevator dance parties to relieve stress on the way up or down between floors 21 and 32. You may have seen us, sorry.
We helped name our ACD’s dog. Shout out to Zach Basten and @harpertheawesomeaussie.
Thanks, Brooke and Rhea! Also, our 2021 internship applications are now open! Send along those resumés and portfolios that represent your authentic self. Deadline is March 31, 2021.