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Common Denominators in Uncommon Disciplines: An Interview with Julia Huang, CEO of interTrend Communications

Published on Mon, Sep 16, 2019

By: Ami Pascual Spear

The ubiquitous Toyota commercials you see on social media and other parts of the internet, as well as the popularity of the brand in the Asian American community, share a common denominator: each has been impacted, in no small part, by a design and advertising company in Long Beach, California called interTrend. LA Car’s Ami Pascual Spear set out to learn why and engaged with its founder and CEO, Julia Huang. – Editors (above: interTrend holds a Hybrid CARnival in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles)

Julia Huang of interTrend Communications
Julia Huang of interTrend Communications

It comes as no surprise that Julia Huang, CEO of interTrend Communications
was selected as a Fortune Most Promising Woman Entrepreneur out of a pool of 150 company founders. More recently, Ms. Huang’s spearheading of Pow! Wow! Long Beach earned the city with the prestigious Helen Putnam Award for Excellence in the Economic Development through the Arts category from the League of California Cities.

And the awards keep coming. As President of Renzei Holdings, Inc., the parent company of interTrend, an Asian American design and advertising agency and Imprint Venture Lab, an incubator for creative start-ups, Julia Huang’s body of work is marked by true originality.

POW! WOW! Long Beach is a week-long, city-wide public art event that takes place in the summer throughout Long Beach. It is part of the globally recognized POW! WOW! Worldwide series of street art events, which since 2010 has brought murals to public spaces in Honolulu, Seoul, Washington D.C., Taipei, and Tokyo. In the past 4 years, Pow! Wow! Long Beach has executed murals in over 40 square miles throughout the city, from South Street to Ocean Boulevard, creating a walkable, bikeable public art experience unlike anything else in the country.

As I sat down to interview Ms. Huang at her offices in the renovated and famed Psychic Temple, I was star-struck by her sincerity and unselfconscious genius:

Can you tell me about yourself and about interTrend?

I am Taiwanese but raised in Japan and attended school in North Carolina. My first client was Northwest Airlines. Over dinner with the president of Northwest who I met while working for a venture capital firm in Japan, he asked me why hardly any of Northwest’s passengers were Asian considering that the airline had numerous routes to Asia. I told him that it was probably because their ads were bad! He invited me to pitch an advertising account, and this is how interTrend was born. That was in 1991.

interTrend’s “Unbelievable Stories” for Toyota

I wouldn’t be an LA Car writer if I didn’t ask this question: Toyota Motors is one of your clients, correct?

Yes, Toyota Motor Corporation. Other clients are Chase, the Walt Disney Company, Nestle, Kikkoman, AT & T, State Farm Insurance, Universal and JC Penney.

What makes interTrend stand out from other agencies, past and present?

interTrend is a bilingual, national and international agency, and we connect Fortune 500 companies to Asian American audiences. But more than that, we maintain what worked for advertising agencies back in the day (visual and visceral storytelling) and integrate it with today’s platforms.

What type of platforms?

It can be anything from interactive, scripted web-based series to mobile apps. The narrative plenitude of a good story is the same, regardless of whether you are using presentation boards like the one you have probably seen in Mad Men episodes or if you are telling a story on a podcast. interTrend also urges clients to take calculated risks while protecting their brands.

Architecture for Dogs is a collection of architectural designs interTrend developed in collaboration with world-class architects and designers, with the shared mission of bringing a new kind of joy to the relationship between dogs and humans. Conceived by Kenya Hara, Creative Director of MUJI and Co-founded by Imprint Venture Lab, Architecture for Dogs has traveled to Sao Paulo, Chengdu, Tokyo, Miami, Long Beach, Shanghai, Kanazawa.

What type of services does interTrend provide?

Our services range from creative and content development, media opportunities and sponsorship, research and data analysis, digital strategy development and social media engagement.

KCON is a Korean pop culture convention and concert held
annually in New York and Los Angeles. interTrend served as
the agency of record for the Asian American segment for
Toyota, and helped execute its consumer engagement, media
and sponsorship of the event over the past six years.
The event continues to grow each year as the popularity of
Korean pop culture content expands in the Asian American
segment and beyond. Nearly 130,000 fans attend the
New York and Los Angeles events combined.

You are convention breaking, and you raise the visibility of Asian Americans everywhere you go. In an interview with Voyage LA, you talked about championing diversity for women and the LGBT community.

What successful strategies do you think companies can deploy when incorporating DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) into their operations.

The Art of Bloom is Long Beach’s first immersive pop-up exhibit. interTrend collaborated with Daikoku Design Institute to create this one of a kind experience. “We noticed a trend in Instagram-fueled pop-ups, but wanted to create an installation that was more substantial in meaning. Subsequently, we fell on the theme of Symbiosis for this debut installation and focused on the special relationship between humans and nature.”

I definitely, for one, do not believe in the unproductive exercise of “box-checking” — of having people on Boards of Directors, advisory or executive, for the purpose of representing a specific ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. Companies serious about diversity and inclusion invest training, funding and personnel towards recruitment, onboarding, sustainability, promotion and ongoing advancement. I don’t spend time volunteering on boards unless this is the case.

Prior to the opening of the Hybrid CARnival, showcasing hybrid technology and Toyota’s line of hybrid vehicles at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo (interTrend)

I commit time, though, to being an active member of my community, especially in Long Beach where interTrend’s offices are. Once and for ten years, we were located on the top floor of a building overlooking magnificent views of Long Beach, and I asked myself: are we part of the community? Do interTrend staff know Downtown Long Beach? The answer “no” became the impetus to renovating the long-dilapidated, iconic Psychic Temple building and moving our offices there. interTrend pledged to be a part of the Long Beach community from the ground up.

I read about you hosting an event called Unexpected Connections in Downtown Long Beach and was intrigued by how you brought John C. Jay from the parent company of brands like Uniqlo to Theory, to talk to street artist David Choe. Tell me more about that.

Yes, and you might have also read that my point there was to humanize business and business-fy the humanities. In 2006, we started hosting speaking events to bring together cognitively dissonant people in face-to-face venues. My hope was to look for common denominators in uncommon disciplines.

Thank you so much for making time for LA Car. One of our priorities is to highlight topics not often discussed in the automotive world. Do you have any parting thoughts, tidbits of wisdom to share?

I often tell my friends that although Asian Americans are approximately six percent of the total population in the United States, we are in a position to influence people on a global scale, regardless of background. In the advertising and marketing world, for example, our once niche “Asian” subculture is fast becoming the mass culture.

LA Car’s Ami Pascual Spear with interTrend’s Julia Huang and the interTrend company canine, Renzei
LA Car’s Ami Pascual Spear with interTrend’s Julia Huang and the interTrend company canine, Renzei

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