Sean Lee-Davies moved quickly to expand his start in the magazine business into an exciting array of projects in photography and television.
Assignments including fashion shoots for glamour magazines, plus writing, producing and directing shows for TVB, National Geographic and Channel News Asia, have made him a leading light among a younger generation now forging careers in the multimedia sector.
But with the attention that brings, he is also keen to raise awareness in Asia about the trade in endangered species. To that end, he has set up a non-profit organisation (Project C:Change) as a way of doing something useful and meaningful in an area which is close to his heart and a complete contrast with the often frenetic media scene where change is now a constant.
“In the last few years, we have seen technology totally disrupting the media industry; the traditional publishers and TV broadcasters have suffered greatly,” Lee-Davies says. “Everything now has to be done through the prism of social media. And we are currently seeing the ramifications of that in the US and the UK, where social media is being used and manipulated against the democratic process.”
He notes that, with the overall media industry becoming more fragmented and decentralised, it is harder to put a single, consistent message before the public. That complicates life for big-name brands and their marketing plans. It can also make it more difficult to get the truth out which, when considering the bigger picture, is a worry for democracy.
So, youngsters keen to go into the media sector must be ready to work in an environment where the conventions, priorities and formats will continue to change. They must be adept with the latest technology and online tools in order to write stories and put video and images together. And they must be able not just to record events and pass on information, but to express ideas with a unique voice and show genuine creativity.
“You have to be a generalist and be able to do everything, but then you must use those tools to find a way to really stand out,” Lee-Davies says. “That makes multimedia a difficult field to be in, but it also incredibly exciting. For example, you can create videos, apps and posters with free online tools, something that would take a team of six to eight people to do the layout, writing and put the images up just a few years ago. Therefore, if you have an idea and a vision, this is probably one of the most interesting times to be creative. The hardest part is getting someone to pay for your creativity.”
Increasingly, though, that money comes from brands and other organisations with special interests or particular agendas to promote. As a result, even with the better known media outlets and online publications, the line or balance between editorial and advertorial content is not always easy to distinguish.
For the average reader or viewer, it is becoming increasingly harder to see what is truthful or not, what is being paid for by someone, or what is being manipulated to comply with the dictates of overbearing data analysis.
“That is the shame about the digitalisation and disruption of the media industry. In this respect, there are still some massive issues to overcome,” Lee-Davies says. “The tools you have at your disposal are incredible – an 11-year-old kid now has the world at his fingertips. But how we handle the information and create content that people will pay for is probably the toughest challenge we face.”
When it comes to hiring, Lee-Davies typically looks for people with an obvious passion for telling stories and creating a “product” they are proud of. The modern expectation may be that, with good timing and a little luck, anyone can get rich quick. But those going into the media sector see a culture that supports innovation, start-ups, and investment by venture capitalists. With that support, anyone with a media background can branch out more easily into areas like digital marketing, SEO (search engine optimisation) and website design.
“I always try to see things from the outside, to have an alternative perspective and a different way of thinking,” Lee-Davies says. “When I meet a candidate, I look at the work in their portfolio more than their qualifications. At the end of the day, if you’re going to be in the media, it boils down to passion. You have to want to do the job better than you need to.”