Best Advice from Christina Yu

For International Women’s Day we’re resharing stories about women in the industry, and the ways brands are changing the conversation on equality in progressive ways

“Best Advice” is a recurring column on The Message, in which industry veterans Jack Neary and Kevin Spreekmeester—and some of their colleagues—dispense practical advice for people who are just entering the industry.

This week Best Advice talks with Christina Yu, managing partner, creative, at Rethink Toronto. Prior to that, in 2010, Yu launched Red Urban—an agency that quickly won international accolades from Cannes, The One Show, and D&AD. She began her career at Taxi before moving to BBDO as VP, ACD, on Pepsi, Frito Lay and FedEx. Here, she cemented her reputation as a force in advertising, being named to Canada’s “Top 30 under 30.”

Yu was also CD at Lowe Roche, Canada’s Agency of the Year during her tenure, working on Audi, J&J and Stella Artois Global. She has judged at Cannes, the Clios, D&AD and CA. She’s been recognized as one of Canada’s “Marketing Icons in the Making” and Canada’s “Top 100 Thought Leaders.” She’s also a mother of twins.

What was the greatest hurdle at the start of your career?

It sounds simplistic, but getting my first job was my greatest hurdle. I made a list of my top three agencies and was determined to get into one of them. It took several months and the willingness to pass on full-time offers with more money. I actually turned down a couple of offers. Holding out proved worth it, as I ended up getting my dream job.

What was the most valuable lesson you learned early on in your career?

I learned very early to surround yourself with people who will mentor you and lift you up.

What’s the best advice you can offer young creative people entering the ad agency world today?

Don’t pick the ad agency based on the brand and its popularity, but rather the person or persons that will be mentoring you. It’s all about who you’re working with and supported by.

Who did you lean on most when you started your career?

I’d have to say my family. My grandmother gave me the best advice: Work hard and be nice to people. Coincidentally, these words are framed in one of Rethink’s boardrooms.

Did you ever make any missteps that really mattered, and if so, how did you recover?

That’s a hard question to answer. I feel like I make missteps every day. I was taught that it is better to try and fail than to not try at all. The struggle for me is finding the courage to be okay with the choices you make.

What should young people be most aware of when starting in today’s advertising industry environment?

That a great idea can still be simple.

If you had to boil down your best advice as succinctly as possible, what is the one golden rule for someone planning a career in creative today?

This might sound a little corny, but be passionate about the work you create. If you love something and feel strongly about it, you’ll convince clients and colleagues to love it too. Passion’s the thing.