In conjunction with this year’s WARC Awards for Asian Strategy, this series aims to showcase perspectives from young strategists across Asia, highlighting their take on strategy as a marketing discipline and career path. This week, we talk to some of the young minds residing in the Philippines.

Talent is never in short supply in a market like the Philippines. And while the economy has yet to fully recover from the hit from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is a nation defined by resilience, hard work, generosity and passion.

And these qualities are reflected in the young strategists we spoke to, all of whom hold a considered take on their current profession and its future. They also share a steadfast curiosity about the world around them, driven by a hunger to cut through the noise and get to the heart of any matter. The future looks bright for the young talent rising through the ranks in the archipelago nation.

Josh Bagatsing

Title: Strategist

Company: Ogilvy Philippines

Age: 28

How did you find your way into strategy work? Was it something you’ve always wanted to pursue?

I always knew that I wanted to be an ad man. An advertising course during university and internships in ad agencies only fuelled my interest and liking for this crazy, creativity-fuelled world. But during this time, I wanted to pursue a career in account management – I thought my strengths in interpersonal and organisation skills would be beneficial. But after hearing stories and seeing for myself what suits do, I realised that path wasn’t for me.

Everything changed when I got the opportunity to study in the UK to take up a master’s degree in strategic marketing. It was the first step in unlocking my passion for strategy. And having been able to live in a different country and get the chance to travel made me realise how much I loved listening to people’s stories and immersing myself in new cultures. This only fuelled my natural curiosity – always wanting to find out more, learn more and constantly ask why. From then on, I decided I wanted to pursue a career in strategy – to the point where I realized that I would only want to work in advertising, if and only if it was in strategy. 

As a strategist, how do you spend your time at work? 

This may sound incredibly obvious and clichéd but I really do spend most of my time thinking. 

First is thinking about what’s happening in culture right now, what’s motivating or stopping consumers from truly getting what they want, what’s going on in the category where our brands play in, what’s great about a brand and what problem it is trying to solve. 

Second is thinking about how to process and present all the information and the insights I’ve gathered from research and reports, while simplifying and organising all these to be easily absorbed and understood by my teammates and clients. 

How to enter the WARC Awards for Asian Strategy

The WARC Awards for Asian Strategy are now open for entries. The deadline for submission is July 14, 2021.

Now in their 11th year, the Awards aim to showcase the region’s best strategic thinking with a view to inspire the next generation of strategists.

Entry is free. For more information on how to submit your work, visit the Awards website.

Third is thinking of how to balance all this information with whatever my gut instinct is telling me, eventually leading me to think about my strategic point of view on how to move forward. And lastly, is thinking of how to sell the creative work – finding a way to show how intelligence turns into magic. This, I believe, is the most difficult part but also the most fulfilling and exciting. 

But on top of all this thinking I am also trying my very best not to overthink. 

How do you define the discipline of marketing strategy?

A few years ago, when I was still a baby strategist, a wise man once grilled me on my definition of strategy. After a long and heated discussion, we ended up agreeing on the most basic description – strategy is finding a way to get from point A to point B, as simple as that. And in advertising, that only means one thing – finding a creative solution to solve a business problem. 

Putting this into practice involves a process that starts with identifying the human problem behind the business problem. We then look for that unspoken truth, the insight that sheds new light on the problem. From there we identify the brand’s advantage, the proposition that makes it unique in the eyes of consumers. And after knowing all this, we form our point of view – the strategic way forward on how to solve the problem creatively. 

Even if times change, with more and more concepts, trends and frameworks introduced into the world of advertising, it will always go back to the process of igniting that spark to reach the creative solution. That is exactly how I would define strategy.

What’s on your wish list in terms of strategic thinking/work? 

If there were two things I would continue to push for in terms of strategy work, that would definitely be maximising creative strategy and leveraging on behavioural science. 

I understand that being able to integrate creative strategy in our work can be very challenging, especially since it’s highly dependent on the industry or category of our brands (FMCGs or Pharmaceuticals are naturally logical and cerebral, while QSRs are more open to out-of-the-box thinking) and the openness of our clients in terms of approach. But even if this is the case, that should never stop us from ensuring that our thinking is creatively fertile and constantly finding ways to maximise creativity, starting at the strategy level.

On top of this, there is a huge opportunity for our clients to fully embrace behavioural science concepts and insights for their brands. While it’s reassuring to know that they are slowly but surely being more open towards this idea, we are only scratching the surface at this point. Understanding and appealing to system 1 and 2 thinking has so much potential to create resonant and effective communications, and that’s why I intend to keep pushing for this whenever possible.

If anything, creative strategy and behavioural science can really open doors for brands to come up with distinctive, exciting and most importantly, effective campaigns – plus, it makes our job as a strategist a lot more fun and enjoyable. 

Where do you see yourself working in 5-10 years? 

While moving to brand, in-house set-ups or consultancies seem very promising, especially since it’s a change of pace where I feel like I can further hone my craft and develop new skills in a different environment, there’s really something about agency life that can really fuel passion and creative energy differently. 

So in the next 5 years, I still see myself working in an advertising agency. If anything, my short-term goal is to grow into becoming the senior strategist that I am being trained to be – one who is able to lead brands into the future through modern advertising, while mentoring junior strategists to help them find their own strategic groove. But my long-term goal is to pursue a regional role and be able to work in a different APAC market. I feel like this opportunity will give me more space to grow and expand my worldview. 

But in the next 10 years, I’m not entirely sure. Will I still be working within the realms of strategy? Yes, most definitely. But will I still be working in advertising? Maybe, maybe not. Who knows, maybe at that point in time I’ll really want that change of pace or environment. 

Where do you see strategy going in the next 10-15 years? 

We often hear the saying “knowledge is power” but for a strategist, we know this to be the lifeblood of our discipline. The more we know and understand, the stronger our point of view is, and therefore, the more valuable we become to our colleagues and clients. The reality is that strategists need to know more, be more and do more, in order to survive and thrive – not just today, but also in the years to come.

And that’s why, I believe that in the next 10-15 years, strategists should continue to evolve into becoming “whole-brained” thinkers. Gone are the days where strategists are only limited to their specified roles and expertise (brand, digital, analytics, etc). The increasing demands of our brands and the evolving landscape call for strategists who are “masters of all” - armed with the knowledge and tools they need to help solve business, brand and communications problems amidst the ever-changing world. 

That’s because whole-brained thinking is, and will continue to be, the new standard of strategy moving forward. Having this skill set will keep our kind relevant and valuable - safeguarding our role not just in advertising agencies, but also within consultancies and brands.

Elizabeth Shie

Title: Associate Insights Director

Company: Mediabrands Philippines

Age: 29

How did you find your way into strategy work? 

I started making decks for fun when I was 12, wherein I presented my animated texts and graphics to my mom. In university, I joined different marketing competitions which entailed crafting communication strategies. I also entered internships in consulting and creative agencies. After all that, it might sound natural for me to dedicate my work to strategy right away but that wasn’t the case.

It took me years of discovery before finally focusing on this expertise. I first started as a management trainee where I had stints in marketing, finance, sales and product development. After that, I entered Mediabrands doing account management and social media management. 

Finally, after years of zigs and zags, I moved to the strategy team where I was able to dedicate my focus on my strengths. 

I believe the sole reason why I can do this work is the teaching of my previous and current bosses and mentors, who have been so generous in imparting their knowledge and wisdom. Moreover, I will not be able to navigate through this path’s ups and downs without the constant encouragement of my family. 

All in all, it wasn’t something I planned, but the people around me saw my potential and helped me realise it as well. For that, I will always be grateful.

As a strategist, how do you spend your time at work? 

After distilling the brief, most of my work goes to researching and transforming information to insight and strategic platforms.

When it comes to research, it’s all about understanding the source of business. I try to get a view of the brand’s right to win against the competition in terms of pricing, proposition and promotions. 

My favourite part is learning more about consumer behaviours which can be done through observation, interviews, FGDs, surveys and social listening. Talking to people often reveals a lot of raw emotions and unmet needs that the brand can serve.

After that, I focus on transforming information into an insight and strategic platform. After looking at a lot of data, this will be distilled and translated to an insight that contains the opportunity for growth for the brand, which is the pain point that it can address. The strategic platform is the means to capture this opportunity, articulated succinctly and compellingly. 

Aside from these major tasks, I also give time to learn the latest consumer trends and technologies. Strategists must be updated and informed because of the fast-changing nature of the industry.

How do you define the discipline of marketing strategy?

I believe marketing strategy is helping companies and consumers to mutually realise value. 

Marketing strategy assists companies by providing a roadmap of clear and actionable choices to enable them to be better than their competition or their source of business to achieve their target sales, shares and revenues. 

Being better should encompass affordability (perceived value over price), accessibility (online and offline), availability (always in-stock and present on-shelf), awareness (of the brand and its advantages), and affinity (brand love).

At the other end, marketing strategy helps consumers by giving them the right product or service at the right time and place, and it serves them through delightful customer journeys. And this can only be done by having a deep knowledge about their needs, wants and behaviours. 

I believe that adding value to both companies and consumers is what makes marketing strategy truly effective. If the consumer is not in mind, there is a tendency to overpromise and underdeliver, and if the company is deprioritised, it gives way to wastage and unsustainability. 

Making choices for the good of both are at the heart of the discipline of marketing strategy.

Aside from my personal experience, this definition of marketing strategy is heavily influenced by my clients, marketing mentors (Albet Buddahim, Maita Consulta, Jesca Bantayan and Venus Navalta), and the books I’ve read, specifically Principles and Practices of Marketing by Josiah Go and Chiqui Escareal-Go and Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works by AG Lafley and Roger L Martin.

What’s on your wish list in terms of strategic thinking/work? 

Currently, campaigns are all about business outcomes but it shouldn’t end there. It is my ultimate wish to make a positive social impact an integral part of campaigns.

The pandemic has elevated the role of brands to be catalysts of change. The momentum of advocacy projects is beginning but it is not going to reach its tipping point until the paradigm of marketers shifts from it being a “nice-to-have” to a “must-have.” 

I believe there is an opportunity to establish evidence that a better world does result in better outcomes and to create a framework that enables brands to reach desired business results while contributing to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. 

Some companies are already doing this, such as Unilever, P&G and Coca-Cola but reaching tangible results will entail the collective effort of many rather than a few.

I believe as strategists, we owe it to our clients to help them reach their revenue targets but we owe it to society to use our influence for the greater good.

Where do you see yourself working in 5-10 years? 

I intend my career to develop in terms of the scale of impact. Currently, I am more than happy to be helping corporations and consumers in the Philippines. As I progress, I hope to be of service to people of different countries and even reach a global level. 

Aside from agencies, I look forward to working in industries where strategists can add tremendous value such as churches, governments, social enterprises and non-profit organisations.

Where do you see strategy going in the next 10-15 years?

I see the strategy discipline evolving in 4 areas: 

  • Agility – Agile marketing will be fully embraced and testing and iteration will be standard practice. Through technology, multiple strategies are going to be created and tested, and this will be preferred over spending on one big campaign that exposes the brand to more risk. Strategists will champion a mindset of experimentation.
  • Automation – Many of the processes in the past have already been automated but it will accelerate in the future given the presence of machine learning and AI. Strategists will no longer be doing manual researches and will be focused on more complex and creative thinking.
  • Autonomy – Observing the evolving services of agencies in the future, strategists will most likely have autonomy from fixed roles of research, media, creative and consulting. Instead of bucketing roles as such, strategists will be expected to provide value for marketing from end to end. 
  • Advocacy – Seeing how more people are expecting brands to use their influence for the greater good, advocacies are going to be a common practice and a means to achieve business results. 

Jean Arboleda

Title: Digital Planner
Company: TBWA\SMP
Age: 30

How did you find your way into strategy work? 

Working in advertising and marketing wasn’t originally part of my plans. I’ve always been very curious about how the world works, what makes people tick and what drives change — I just used to look at it through a different lens. Armed with an academic background in international relations, my career initially took me towards public service, working in research for the government’s communications office. That was where I learnt how to distil data and complicated information into a message that will stick. 

My interest in crafting communication strategy and managing digital platforms eventually led me to social and digital marketing in the telco, retail and tech industries, which all offered me vastly different perspectives on marketing. Strategy work felt like a natural progression for my career, as I always believed effective marketing requires a successful mix of strategic thinking and creative inspiration, whether you’re on the client or agency side.

As a strategist, how do you spend your time at work? 

My nephew’s favourite game used to be “Why?”, where he would keep asking me why until I gave a satisfactory answer. Turns out this was good training for my work as a strategist!

The majority of my time at work involves trying to learn as much as I can. Every day is like starting on a treasure hunt, where every new piece of information (hopefully) leads me closer to that ever-elusive insight that will inspire creative work. I stalk competitors, review historical data, keep track of trends, trawl hundreds of tweets and even reach the dark depths of TikTok. This is all part of the process of defining the “box” that we must think outside of, which is a crucial step in strategic thinking at TBWA.

I also spend a lot of time with our analytics tools, using all the different data points to try to paint a clear picture of the client’s business or a specific audience. I analyse the brand’s performance, compare it against their competitors or their historical benchmarks, and provide actionable insights to achieve business objectives. A former boss once told me the main hallmark of good client servicing is understanding your client’s business better than they do — advice I’ve since taken to heart.

How do you define the discipline of marketing strategy?

Strategy can seem like a nebulous concept but at its core, marketing strategy is simply about understanding where we are now, figuring out where we want to go and determining how to get there. Planners are both navigators and pilots, charting the best way forward. 

A clear strategy, with a strong insight rooted in a human truth, is the foundation of any excellent creative work. It takes a lot of research and introspection, a lot of “what ifs” and “WTFs,” and maybe some time staring at a blank document waiting for inspiration to strike. 

What’s on your wish list in terms of strategic thinking/work? 

The past year has truly shown which brands and companies have what it takes to survive and thrive. Some were paralysed into inaction, while others flourished. In a world that’s rapidly changing by the day, it’s the brands that know their value and can adapt quickly that will last longest. 

I’d love to work with clients on strategic planning that goes beyond short-term goals and focuses instead on long-term value and growth. I’ve seen some businesses that are very reactive and they pursue a direction that don’t solve the real problem, only to have to change course after a year or two. It would also be interesting to help clients adopt design thinking or agile project planning techniques in their business processes.

Where do you see yourself working in 5-10 years? 

My short-term goals include honing my skills in data science and other aspects of tech innovation. Strategic thinking is role-agnostic, so my job title may change but the skills still apply. Having been on both sides of the fence, I’ve found agencies offer the most flexibility and opportunities to learn and grow, and I’ll most likely still be in an agency setting in the near future. 

My long-term goals remain unchanged: stay curious, stay hungry and never compromise on my values. 

Where do you see strategy going in the next 10-15 years?

I grew up during a period of rapid modernisation and witnessed exponential change first-hand. I’ve seen category leaders fall and challenger brands take their place. I’ve seen completely new industries emerge. Accelerating trends in technology will mean that strat planners have to evolve into more of a generalist role and learn skills that may have been separate specialisations in the past, such as media buying, UI/UX or CRM. 

Strategic planning as a discipline will also evolve, from focusing on just communications to finding long-term value and growth opportunities for clients. I think TBWA is uniquely positioned to address change because disruption has always been part of the agency DNA and that’s what’s needed to survive.

Share your take on the Future of Strategy

In a changing agency environment, the future of strategy is uncertain - particularly for young strategists yet to establish themselves in the industry. This year's survey – for our annual Future of Strategy report – focuses on the modern strategy role and how the strategy career path is changing.

The survey will take just a few minutes of your time and all responses will be kept strictly anonymous. Everyone who completes the survey will receive a copy of the published report when it launches.

Take the survey. (Survey closes 11 June)