Five Thoughts from Five Years in Advertising

It has been five years since I became an adman.

About one month before I put pen to paper, I was going through a mini “quarter life crisis”. I had very little resources, very little work experience (just 18 months at that point), and not many choices. I had just finished the Foreign Service Officer (FSO) Examinations – the toughest and most draining test I’ve ever taken – and with a pending application at Shell (the oil company), I would either be an anonymous researcher in the petroleum industry, or an agent of the government.

Neither one was particularly glamorous for someone barely out of school.

The Beginning

My contract at my first job, a university, was winding down, and truth be told I wasn’t particularly busy. It was in this period and with this free time that I began writing for Before long, my competitive side came out and I wanted my articles to be seen more and read more. I began a self-study routine (which lasts to this day) to learn about “search engine optimisation” and how it magically helps articles get on the first page of Google search results.

Without knowing it, I (sort of) stumbled upon digital marketing, still relatively novel as an industry in the Philippines, let alone it being a desirable career path for most first jobbers.

As my articles in piled up, so did the fantasy about owning my own blog grew in strength. Within a couple of weeks, three friends I met on social media convinced me it was time; my first blog on running, social media, and positive thinking was born. And no – I didn’t have much of a niche with that combo.

These three friends (Clement Yeung, Ruhani Rabin, and Lotay Yang) would continue to play important roles in my life, mostly as mentors who did nothing but believe in me and that I would “make it someday”.

In the next months, I lived positive thinking more, wrote less about running, and wrote more – much more – on social media. I had no formal education on marketing, and so it was brave (and not a little foolish, in retrospect) to have so many opinions on how brands and bloggers (my main audience) should be using social.

Let’s grab a cup of coffee.

My editor-in-chief at the time, Vince Golangco, recommended “a guy looking for a job, and he kinda knows SEO” to a friend of his, who was on the hunt for people to join a small industry revolution he was leading in a growing and promising digital agency.

The friend was Dr. Donald Lim.

The digital agency was MRM//McCann.

In the industry, “grabbing a cup of coffee” is essentially Job Interview – Phase One. I was invited for coffee by “Boss D”, as I would grow to call him, and we talked about everything but the job. Looking back, I now know he wasn’t just looking for ability (of which, at the time, I had very little of) but for character, too.

The chat over coffee went well, and I would go on to meet my first direct boss, the tough love-dishing mother hen Denise Luchangco, who explained to me, matter-of-factly, that “Donald thinks you can do the job, so I guess you’re ready to start.”

On Monday, May 21, 2012, I pressed “5” as the Active Fun Building lift took me to start my first day at McCann Worldgroup Philippines.

Sixty months later.

I began this journey as the social ‘voice’ of Coca-Cola, my very first brand. It will always have a special, well-defended place in my heart.

I became a junior manager, and a terrible one at that, until I was guided and disciplined by a man who was so much more than a boss to me. He became the big brother I did not know I was looking for, and I am thankful that my friendship (and the occasional mentoring) with Atty. Yves Gonzalez is strong to this day. It is also to the Social Team members’ credit, over the past half-decade, that I steadily learned (and I am still learning) the delicate business of leadership.

But perhaps nothing quite shaped most of my five years in our agency more than my involvement with pitches. One hundred and seventeen of them later (nearly eighty in which I had the privilege of presenting), I look forward to racking up even more.

Time flies.

The past five years has had profound effects on who I am as a person, and I wish to share five of the most compelling “life lessons”, if we could call them that, working in advertising taught me.

Five years, five thoughts.

  1. No man is an island. With every passing year and every milestone I reach, I become more aware that I am surrounded by nurturing mentors, colleagues who push me to be better each day, and an incredible support system of family and friends. I am massively grateful and thankful to them.
  2. The agency life is amazing. Working in advertising agencies carry a certain, often unfair stain: that we are sleep-deprived slaves; that we are unfeeling robots; that we sacrifice ourselves and our families for the work. I beg to disagree. The agency life, young as I am in it, is extraordinarily fulfilling.
  3. There are no stupid questions. There aren’t many lines of work that updates and outdates itself in a flash. Today’s hot new trend is passé tomorrow. I’ve come to realise that the ones who ask the most fearless of questions learn the fastest, and often adapt the best.
  4. Fortune favours the bold. It’s a tough place to grow, career-wise, but what I love about the craft of marketing in general, and advertising in particular, is how it rewards based on merit and guts. Sometimes we need to risk ‘losing face’ and push an idea, or a never-tried-before product to win big.
  5. When the dust settles, we’re all in this together. I can say with some confidence that some of my closest and realest friendships were forged through fire – a furnace lit with sleepless pitch nights, lost weekends, and sacrifices too many to mention. Trials do build the best relationships.

I’m quite excited, and more than ready, for Season 6.

I have been very lucky to have ‘front line’ mentors and enablers like the ones named in the article, but there so many more people behind the scenes as well. They keep me grounded, and focused on my north star. From the patience and understanding of PJ, to the cheerleader pride of my parents, to the brotherhood built between myself, Nate, Earl, and Dane, to the fatherly wisdom of my ‘office dads’ Manny and Gino, and to the friendship, loyalty, and support shown to me by my two work families of Social and Planning – you all make me look forward to the next five years (and more). 

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