Saturday, March 31, 2007

46. Meanwhile Back At the… Alma’s Venture

After more than 12 years with Solid Bank, Alma, my wife, quit her job to pursue her pipe dream, the establishment of a high fashion business.
Fashion designing and clothes-making were among her hobbies. She had taken up sewing lessons together with cutting patterns even when she was still employed with the bank. There was a short course on fashion designing offered by Slim’s, one of the popular schools of fashion at that time which she attended.

With her fondness for what is fashionable she naturally gravitated towards this trade and just a few months after her resignation from the bank she ventured into the fashion business by opening a dress shop along Shaw Boulevard in between EDSA and Wack Wack Golf. It was her intention to tap the Mandaluyong market which included the affluent residential subdivisions and the growing office going population in the developing Ortigas commercial area.

Her first year of operations was a flop as the income from the shop was not even enough to cover the rentals of the outlet space. The positioning of her shop was that of mid-price range customized gowns and dresses. This went on for almost a year without any sign of it ever picking up. Undeterred by this, she asked me for additional capital with the intention of trading up the business from a mass based business to an upscale one. I was hesitant to sink in more money into what seemed to be putting in more money after bad.
Alma was one person who cannot be deterred from pursuing her aspirations. Always the supportive husband, I acceded to her entreaty or should I say importuning. Still hurting from the initial failure I had to warn her that the second investment represents the last of our savings, money for the kids’ education and an emergency fund that would only be used in case of dire need.
Most of the second round of investments went into the cosmetic uplifting of the shop premises. We invested on first class furniture and other tasteful and expensive bric-a-bracs. Some items in our personal collection of artworks in the house were commandeered to grace the walls of the new establishment. After all the changes the shop emerged somewhat looking like a Rodeo Drive boutique.
In the fashion business it was the practice to have a grand opening to merit press space. Thus the shop “Alma Roa” was introduced into the business community amidst flashing light bulbs, noisy cocktail chitchat, flowing drinks, sprinklings of holy water in benediction of the premises and a sumptuous array of edibles in a generous buffet table. With the image uplift a price lift was also done to make its transformation into a snobbish and expensive shop complete. As if like magic the business prospered and this made Alma even more confident and aggressive. The dress shop funded the establishment of a tailoring shop for men, a beauty parlor and a small canteen all in the same building. In addition to her booming customized trade she started pushing bids to do office uniforms for banks and other large companies.
All these businesses thrived and it seemed that there was no limit to what she can achieve. The world was her oyster. In the meantime, I was doing very well in my career and already a senior manager in a major multinational company at thirty-two. This, indeed, were happy times for us. In less than two years we were able to buy a lot in Loyola Heights on the same street as my brother’s and parent’s house. Our cherished dream of owning a house came true. We built a five-bedroom bungalow from a housing loan.
Almost as quickly as we have acquired these blessings they were taken away in a fire that engulfed the entire building that housed Alma’s businesses. Nothing can compare with a fire in its thoroughness to wipe out everything. Not a pin was saved and all that remained were twisted sewing machine metal frames and burned debris of other equipment. Nothing of value survived the fire. Even the big earthen replica of the Kamakura Buddha that served as a coin bank was not spared. Someone, presumably a firefighter, broke the base and scooped out all the contents of the Buddha. There were no traces of the tall heaps of bolts of textile materials in storage. What were left of several completed uniform sets were melted plastic bags fused with blackened cloth materials.

The fire happened on Labor Day. We were enjoying ourselves in a private beach in Ternate, Cavite. With the exception of Alma’s sister there was nobody in the shop. She stopped by the shop to make ready the completed sets of uniforms for several major clients scheduled for delivery the following day. Insurance coverage was at a minimum. Because of the phenomenal rise of the business we were not quick enough to update the insurance coverage proportionate to the increased size of the business. What was damaging was the destruction of the completed uniforms that were about to be delivered. The clothing materials used in the uniforms were on credit and the labor costs all paid for. In anticipation of more contracts coming in, the textile storeroom was filled literally to the rafters…all these on credit.

Alma with self portrait

This was a major setback in our lives. Despite her strong determination to get back on her feet success was denied her. The vagaries of life are never explained. Just like grace it visits you without any forewarning and for no apparent reason. We have experienced His grace several times prior to this calamity. We had graciously accepted His blessings in the past, so, in like manner we had to endure the trials that grimly faced us. The prospects for the future were dim. We were faced with the problem of making good the delivery of all the contracted uniforms that were consumed by the fire. While the corporate clients were understanding and patient the onus of delivering the goods as contracted had to be faced. It took me three years to completely settle our accountabilities with the various textile suppliers.

As if these problems were not enough, we also defaulted on the loan that we got into to build our dream house in Loyola heights. We had to sell the property at a loss to salvage whatever value was left after paying off the accumulated interests of the long period of arrearage. Looking back, I feel grateful for the strength He has given to help me perform creditably in my job despite the constant pressures from creditors I had to endure day to day. Both my wife and I were terribly distressed and had at several occasions made erratic decisions on almost everything that we did during those times. The attempts at bouncing back were haphazard and poorly thought of. Somehow good judgment eludes you when you need it most.
Alma decided to quit the fashion business but only after the disappointments and the anguish of a failed dream took its toll on her health. She underwent surgery to correct a collapsed lung that was congenitally weak and aggravated by excessive smoking. At the height of our adversity she was smoking three packs of super king menthol cigarettes a day.

Despite the physical setback that almost debilitated her, Alma just couldn’t remain idle. She had so much time in her hands and being a natural born doer she looked for ways of expending the energy that had welled up during the years of inactivity. She found a way of venting her creative fire that was now hissing like a steam boiler by returning to her erstwhile alma mater to take up a non-credit course in painting in the University of the Philippines’ School of Fine Arts. She did some creditable oils but this clearly was not an area that she could excel in. However, the years spent in the college of painting have greatly refined her fashion sketches and had sharpened her artistic sense and these became manifest in the designs that came after her interlude in the arts.

In addition to having found joy in artistic expressions she cultivated friendships in the art circles. Among her close acquaintances were the master abstract painter Benjie Cabangis, the much sought after portraitist Gig de Pio, and the young Michael Cacnio, the son of the watercolor master, Angel Cacnio. Michael blossomed into a masterful craftsman in sculpture. Since she was a non-credit student she joined the art classes of regular students most of whom were half her age. Other noted artists in her coterie were Nestor Vinluan who was the dean of the School of Fine Arts then and the late Jose Joya, the undisputed master painter and national artist who was also a former dean of the school. Her acquaintance with these artists allowed her to add to our collection of art works paintings that were of higher quality. The Joyas in her collection were paid for in easy installments that the master extended only to those close to him. Out of friendship and pure appreciation as well, she included the works of her friends in her trove of art works. After painstaking piece-by-piece acquisition and month-by-month payments the collection is worth a minor fortune now.

It was fourteen years after she closed her business that she decided to reopen at the imploration of a former employee, her master cutter, who desperately needed help after losing all his belongings in a fire that gutted his house. It was easy to empathize with this man’s plight. More out of a desire to help she reopened the shop in a modest commercial apartment in our subdivision, a far cry from the fabulous appointments of her former shop. The second floor served as the residence of the cutter and his family. Much more relaxed and operating without pressure she made the business flourish again. Her short excursion into the art world had a marked influence on her fashion creations. The vibrant colors, their tasteful combinations and classic lines became hallmarks of her new designs. In a few years the business expanded with branches in the main commercial avenue of Alabang and in Shaw Boulevard in Mandaluyong. She also did fashion shows on a regular basis among the Filipino business and socio-civic organizations in Honolulu, Hawaii.

In retrospect, the fire that stemmed the rise of our fortunes at an early age seemed to be more a boon than bane. We were both young, reaping successes and enjoying unrestrained freedom in our separate fields of endeavors. We gave each other space because we both understood that this was necessary in order to attend to the numerous responsibilities, obligations and activities concomitant to success, but then again, maybe we just wanted the freedom. Had this gone on for a few more years a drifting away from each other might have occurred before we even realized it. We got nudged before it was too late. Thank God

Thursday, March 29, 2007

45. Lintas Hemisphere

I was going on my fourth year as Company Media Manager. With all the systems in place the service that we were rendering to Marketing was to their expectation. We could only be that much efficient in media work. I thought of ways to maximize the use of the media money of the company. This was during the early stages of Martial Law, a time when the media industry underwent radical changes. There was a change in industry leadership as the regime favored media house run roughshod the erstwhile premiere media establishment. It took time before the new industry leader was able to establish an audience following that would equal their predecessor.

With the sudden disappearance of the programs that they loyally patronized the bulk of the audience seemed to have been a dispersed lot. The situation provided an opportunity for the smaller media houses to make a strong bid to get a share of the unsettled audience. It gave rise to independent producers and block timers. The absence of a dominant media network made for lower cost efficiency of media plans of advertisers. Instead of concentrating media buys to a few highly rated placements it was necessary to buy in several low audience programs to satisfy the reach objectives of the media campaigns thus causing excessive frequency of exposures on audiences.

With several newcomers in the media industry, most of which were not financially stable, we were able to negotiate for generous early payment discounts, in addition to the other concessions of volume buying. This compensated for the inefficiency of media usage because of the prevailing situation. Considering that media had the largest budget allocation by the brands its contribution to the company coffers was substantial. This was a windfall since it was not accounted for in our projections. We argued for having the money ploughed back to the support budget but the Commercial Director ruled that the discounts were given on the basis of a monetary function. We got thanked for it but were not allowed to use it as additional support money for the brands.
I left media work when the opportunity to be seconded to a position outside PRC came about. The secondment entailed a promotion to senior management. On the first year of my appointment I was the youngest in the roster of senior managers, a distinction I enjoyed until the year end promotions brought in someone younger. There were some who were happy for my good fortune and as always, some not.

I was given the assignment to facilitate the transfer of some Unilever brands to a newly set up affiliation of a local ad agency with Lintas (Lever International Advertising Services), an international ad agency that was owned by Unilever. This happened at the time that Unilever was rationalizing the business and were looking at divesting itself of the non-core businesses in its portfolio. What ensued was the wholesale spinning off of departments, even of entire divisions. This was even prior to the trend in the early eighties when companies went through the rigors of lean manning and other downsizing exercises. The trend was moving towards farming out of commercial and marketing service functions to third party suppliers as well as getting toll manufacturers to do production of their brands.

L to R: Ed Custodio, Gil Yuzon, Ed Roa, Tom Garcia
The Unilever concern felt that they had responsibility to ensure the well being of affected associates…bit of corporate conscience. Assistance was provided to the spun off units so that they can start on the right foot when they go it alone. My secondment to the ad agency may have been part of this assistance to Lintas. The terms of reference of the new job entailed primarily to help ensure that the affiliation venture gets off to a good start and, equally important, was that the basic advertising philosophy of the concern is impressed upon the newly affiliated agency. Unilever may not have been all that altruistic since my salary and perquisites were paid for by the ad agency. The transferring of some big budget brands to the new agency more than compensated for this. Like most major multinational consumer goods marketing companies the concern have established ways of doing things not only in marketing and advertising but also in technical and commercial operations. This ensured continuity, lessened errant adventurism that young marketing and advertising men and women are prone to. Marketing bibles, international guidelines they call them. Non-negotiable guidelines, procedures etched in stone tablets.
Joining me in the newly affiliated agency was a Brit named David Jones who came from J Walter Thompson where he was one of the creative directors servicing the Unilever account. He did not stay too long. Living a bohemian lifestyle, he couldn’t sustain the physical well-being and passionate spirit needed to be effective in his job as head creative person.
Gil Yuzon was the President of Hemisphere, the agency that Lintas affiliated with in their initial effort to establish a presence in the Philippines. He was an astute businessman who recognized the opportunity that a team-up with an international agency who had Unilever ties can bring to his fledgling agency. For starters our entry into Hemisphere brought in Lifebuoy and Ovaltine (Unilever handled marketing and distribution for Wander at that time) into their clientele. This was a substantial boost in their total billings. Prior to our entry Hemisphere’s big account was comprised of the Banco Filipino group, a big advertiser but was already moribund at that time and a smattering of a few small budget accounts.

The added billings and the association with Unilever greatly increased their stature in the advertising industry. Later on after the Lintas affiliation was discontinued Gil would seek and would be successful in forging an affiliation with Leo Burnett. Under his management the agency prospered. I remember him inviting me to join and invest on the new affiliation long after I was recalled to Unilever. I was getting bored in Unisearch and was tempted to say yes to the invitation but Rey Alejandro dissuaded me from leaving since the economy was uncertain at that time. In retrospect, Rey had good judgment.

So there I was, for two years working as vice president for Account and Media Managements. The Creative Director for the Unilever account who succeeded David Jones was Marilyn Pascual, the wife of Joe Pascual of San Miguel. Joe would become my biggest third party client in Unisearch when I came to head it. The Art Director at that time was Nards de la Cruz, an old hand in advertising and an accomplished painter. Later on we took on the services of Jimmy Bautista to be exclusive art director for the Unilever account. The other senior members of Hemisphere:Lintas who were in account management were Ed Custodio and Tom Garcia. They were not involved in the Unilever account and handled separate account groups. Media was directly under me. The Media department manager was Vic Sindingan, an old hand in media work.

Primarily my job was to see to it that the advertising direction of the international brands that were assigned to the new advertising agency do not stray from the hallowed practices and discouraged the creative people in the agency from the tendency to challenge “best practice” from the center. Without the help of the British creative director who came in with me I became directly involved with the creative aspect of the job. The creative guys never liked me for this and must have been the delight of the name-callers in the creative department.

L o R: Tom Garcia, David Jones, Gil Yuzon, Ed Roa

My second time around in advertising was not lovelier. During my younger days in advertising I was creating advertising…getting scolded and praised for it, beating deadlines, delighting clients, burning the midnight oil but all the while enjoying every minute of it. As Vice President in Lintas I metamorphosed into an old fart, a stick in the mud who imposed rules on everyone. The rewards of seniority and higher responsibility, I suppose, would always have a tradeoff. Account servicing and managing the media department was easy enough to do. Where I failed was in making the creative people work effectively because I wielded the stone tablets.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

44. Media Work

In the media department I had two media planners who both came from market research. Our General Marketing Manager, Bert Timbol, was originally from market research and this could explain the mobility of market researchers within the marketing division. One of the planners, Cely Corpuz was from the field interviewers group. She was married to a supervisor in the personnel department. Cely in time would go up the ladder in the marketing services division and assume several important positions. Even after retirement PRC hired her as a consultant. The other planner, Sandy Mombay, was formerly a shop audit field man. Two other members of the team were Ronnie Montelibano, the budget supervisor and Flor Santos, his assistant.

Media Briefing in launch conference
Ronnie is quite a peculiar person. He was the best golfer in PRC at that time. He came from a prominent family in Bacolod and like most scions of these families he spent most of his time in the golf course. Despite his privileged background Ronnie was as timid as a mouse and had a tentativeness about him. He was the type of person who would not dare assert himself even in the most needful situations. An anecdote the brand group will find difficult to forget was when he was playing liar’s dice with the then Marketing Manager, Gus Villanueva. Gus was the epitome of the young, confident and aggressive marketing man who gets impatient with any wishy-washiness shown by subordinates. Ronnie was pushed into a corner by the last call of Gus. He had a lot of aces in his box and just couldn’t make up his mind. Gus couldn’t contain his impatience and in his usual abrasive self shouted at him, “Tira na Bakla!” (“make a call you faggot!”). Ronnie fidgeting in contained agitation shouted back without looking up “eight sixes…tarantado!!” (“eight sixes you addle headed fool!!”) Stunned by Ronnie’s retort it took a few seconds before Gus could shake off his shock then burst into laughter, throwing his dice box in the air and then left the room. We could still hear his laughter even as he reached the end of the corridor. Hooray for Ronnie!

Two Eds

My staff was a hardworking lot. We didn’t have the luxury of computers at that time so the myriad details in media schedules (especially for radio) had to be worked out manually. There were several brands that were into national advertising. The planners had to monitor their placements, keep track of commercial materials on air, make estimates of audience consumption of media based on latest surveys, check on soap opera properties in more than forty radio cities, do forward placement reservations for the trimedia and vigilantly observe movements of Colgate and P&G media placements.

There was a regular schedule of media trips to look into the production centers of our soap operas, check technical facilities and their upkeep. Most of the time, my assistant and I traveled with the ad agency’s media executives. Our big boss the General Marketing Manager, Bert Timbol was fond of making these trips and would often accompany us. When the big boss traveled with us the agency saw to it that they match the ranks of the clients’ traveling party. The essential working party could be reduced to just two people, one from each company but with the agency’s policy of rank matching it became a sizeable crowd. From the agency’s end at least one vice president will be in the entourage. The most frequent accompanying big man from the agency would be, Jay Jay Calero, the account supervisor for the PRC account who would later on become the JWT, Phils. President. He was a very likeable person who had a knack for maintaining good relationships with everybody in PRC marketing. As a member of the Opus Dei he was a bit of a spoilsport who saw to it that our evenings were spent together, short of tucking us in bed at the end of each day. He would insist that everybody would be on wake-up call at five thirty in the morning and trek to the nearest church for mass. Occasionally, one of the guys would feign a bum tummy at dinnertime and would excuse himself for an early night. We would find out later that this was all a ruse to free himself from the group and enjoy the evening delights with the local media guys.

There would at least be five of us in the entourage who were poker players.. In addition to the top bosses there was Nap Cruz, JWT’s media buyer, Frido Ong, senior account representative for PRC who later would marry Yoly Villanueva, owner of Campaigns ad agency and Ed Cruz, my assistant. It was as if being a poker player was a qualification for inclusion in the travel party. Most of our free hours were spent on a poker table. The only time we did not play poker was on flight. We played poker in the Visayan ferry crossing, we had makeshift tables set up on the road, in hotel rooms and when traveling the length of Luzon Bert Timbol would borrow the Consumer Research Van from the market research department. The Consumer Research Van was a first in the research industry. It was customized to have a living room setup complete with television and other basic items of a small household. The van was used for doing group discussion work and ad materials testing. With this facility our time for poker was greatly extended.

Willy Ocampo, Bert Timbol, Ed R, Jay Jay Calero

One time we were playing poker in a hotel in Cebu when I had to excuse myself to answer a phone call from the office in Manila. It took some time before I could come back to the table. I offered my apologies for the disruption and the game resumed. It was a seven card stud and I was dealt a pair of aces in hand. At the flop an ace was dealt which gave me a trio of aces with two cards to go. The other cards in the flop were a king and a queen. I made a cautious bet and three of the guys stayed while one dropped out. The fourth displayed card was another ace which gave me a fantastic “cuadro de ace”. The cards on the table were showing a pair of aces, a queen and a King. I had an almost unbeatable hand and did not push in all my money because another round of betting was still to happen. The bet was a sizeable one but two players Frido and Jay Jay chose to stay. I was quite sure that at least one would have a trio of Kings and possibly another had a trio of Queens. The last card dealt on the table was a King...somebody made a “cuadro King”. Now my joy was complete and without much hesitation pushed in all the money I had to the center of the table. After a bit of wavering Ed said he was in but could not cover the entire bet and pushed the last of the few chips towards the pot and JJ counted the size of the bet, set aside the pot that Ed played and since he had enough chips he covered the bet. Ed showed a Queen and a Jack in hand, a two pair hand, Jay Jay asked me what I have got. Absolutely sure that Jay Jay would have a cuadro King I slapped the two aces on the table and proceeded to gather the pot to my side of the table. “not so fast…not so fast” he said. And having said that he bared his ten and Jack of hearts which complimented the Queen, King and Ace of hearts on the table, a royal flush. I slumped on the chair looking devastated, still in disbelief that my four aces was beaten. I excused myself to go out for a breath of air after the debacle. As I sidled towards the door Jay Jay stopped me and said that he will return my money. “You won it fair and square. It’s yours” I said. As if on cue everybody at the table burst out laughing. It irritated me to see everyone so happy at my misfortune until JJ explained that it was all a set up. They had fixed the deck while I was on the phone.

Media houses often organize get-togethers for PRC as opportunities to present new programs, enhanced technical facilities and as a venue to have the marketing people meet the media sales group. Media parties have always been fun. Sumptuous food, flowing drinks, lively conversations with movie and TV stars and entertainment from singers in their talent pool are the usual fare in these events. The brand group loved these events and would go to lengths to be invited. Ding Salvador, a brand manager, like most in marketing, was fond of attending these media socials and would constantly remind me to have him in the guest list. I don’t know what gave him the notion that I controlled the number of invitees. Actually, I inform everyone in marketing about these except on a few occasions when the media house issued personalized invitations to a limited few.

Ding was a brash and aggressive guy who loved to be in the center of things. The word bombastic was coined with this guy in mind but despite his loudness and ebullience he did not come across as obnoxious. It was as if all these intense and robust characteristics were a perfect fit into the personality that was naturally a Ding Salvador. I guess it was this peculiarity that propelled him to great heights in his career, the crowning glory of which was his appointment as President of the multinational Johnson and Johnson for the whole ASEAN.

I found media work enjoyable. My responsibilities were extended to include commercial production but mostly on budget control. The media budget of the brands included the cost of producing radio-TV commercials as well as the cost of artworks and mechanicals of print ads. This gave me the opportunity to attend internal discussions and agency briefings on commercial production as well as pre production meetings with the agency and film suppliers. The knowledge gained from these would prove useful in a future appointment.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

43. Tonytol

Sometime after my appointment a Marketing Services Manager position was created and this was filled up by one of the marketing managers. Tony Tolentino or Tonytol as fondly called by friends, assumed the position. His role was to provide support to Bert Timbol who had his hands full with major brand development work and the launch of an international toothpaste brand as well as new variants of powdered detergents. Tonytol’s scope included promotions and media. The only services group that was not included in his aegis was market research, which by then had grown into a full service research unit and had a senior manager heading it reporting directly to the General Marketing Manager.

Tonytol was a very likeable person and was supportive of initiatives that I proposed to him. At about the same time a manager from Market Research, Ed Cruz, was appointed as my assistant. The three of us got along well together. It may have been the similarity of our temperaments that made us get along famously. One of our shared passions is eating. Often times we would have breakfast at Country Bake Shop ordering our favorite called “mestizo” which comprised of toasted “ensaymada” with “kesong puti” and marmalade. This was accompanied by strong “barako’ coffee or “tablea” hot chocolate drink. Country Bake Shop was popular with politicians and influential and highly acknowledged columnists who would commandeer a center set of tables where they would discuss and debate issues of the day. Sometimes a master columnist like Doroy Valencia or Joe Guevarra would hold court there to do their soliloquies in front of an enthralled audience. Patrons go there to eavesdrop on the loud conversations of the politicians and media men who were more than willing to share or plant rumors to their audience. We went there for the “mestizo”.

To satisfy our gustatory curiosity we used to scour China Town for the latest small hole in the wall restaurants that featured some great dishes but were completely devoid of ambience and would not have meritorious citations from the City Sanitary Inspector’s Office hanging on the wall.

For the China town sorties a regular group of adventurous street food connoisseurs would include Meng Lim from Market research, people from brand Angie de Villa Lacson, Dedette Gamboa, Tony Bautista, Ding Salvador and some guys from Technical and Commercial divisions like Tony Lorenzana, Manny Cusi and others.

These exotic holes in the walls discoveries in Ongpin and Gandara would only be a notch higher than a Chinaman’s corner sari-sari store that cooked and served food on the side. Before the mid sixties the Chinese corner sari-sari store that offered food was a ubiquitous sight in Manila’s street corners. By the seventies this example of Chinese business ingenuity was already on the wane.

Tonytol, Ed Roa, Angie Lacson, Freddie Lozano, Tony Lorenzana
There was one such holdout near PRC which was adjacent to the former Isaac Peral Bowling Lanes whose building was later used to house Unisearch. BJ as we named it (BJ for bejo, a name given to all Chinese then) was a sari-sari store that transformed itself into a small eating place at lunchtime serving all sorts of pancit, asados, pinsek prito and lechon kawali with the obligatory fried rice. BJ was a great cook. His mouthwatering entrees were quite an experience but you just had to ignore the sometimes “quaint” ways BJ cleaned his cooking ware. One time I saw him cleaning his wok with a “walis tingting”, a native broom mainly used for sweeping kitchen and bathroom floors. Even the most squeamish of the ladies in the marketing department had at one time or another sampled the celestial mandarin’s heavenly food. We ate there during lean days, which invariably were a few days before payday.

Tonytol, himself was a good cook. His version of chili con carne is legendary. When Tonytol played host for a poker game more than the maximum number of a poker quorum would come most of who would be there just to be able to sample Tonytol’s masterpiece. After retirement he opened a small eatery in the Green Hills commercial mall and called it “Chili”. I can only speculate why it failed. While he really had a super chili offering, the shop had limited alternative dishes in the menu. The chili dish by itself could not induce regular repeat visits from patrons.

Fishing was one of the passions of Tonytol and he organized regular weekend trips to Nasugbu in Batangas together with his brother in law and uncle. I frequently joined the fishing excursions. Ed Cruz would on occasion be with us. We would always have a grand time, catch or no catch, calm or rough seas sunny or stormy weather. We were not just fair weather friends so to speak.

2002 CDBL Visit
Front: Ferdie Baena, Chris Barber Lomax, Nilo Santos, Tony tol
Back: Joe Feliciano, Tony Marquez, Ernie del Castillo, Meckoy Quiogue, Ed Roa, Bert Timbol, Ding Camua

Tonytol is gone now but the memory of those days remain as vivid as a “tanigue’s” exuberant leap when struck or as insistent as the savory smell of “gawgaw” soup and Lomi in Delicious CafĂ©, a ptomaine-prone hole somewhere in Ongpin.

Monday, March 26, 2007

42. A New Appointment

Bert Timbol took me out of brand management and gave me the position of Company Media Manager. Prior to my appointment I was called to his office to be told about the planned transfer. I didn’t take it as welcome news. I couldn’t hide my displeasure because I was totally taken by surprise. He was the person who gave me the additional brand assignments which I thought was a sign of confidence in my work. A transfer to marketing services from brand management to my mind was a demotion. Not used to being argued at he got peeved by my having a closed mind about it. Seeing how adamant I was he discontinued the meeting and told me to think about it some more and we could continue our discussion at another time.

The second time we met I told him that I was still unhappy with his decision to have me transferred. He once again extolled the benefits and the advantages of being Company Media Manager and how best suited I was to the job. I was getting impatient and was trying to get in a word edgewise to stop his rambling but he said to let him finish first. Finally, he said the company recognized the importance of the position that he has so eloquently described at the start of his monologue and that he got permission from the Marketing Director to make it a middle management position. What’s a guy to do? The last promotion I had was more than two years ago and the increased compensation will really come in handy when my eldest goes to preschool at the opening of the school season. I said yes to the appointment and for him to forget the obstinacy that I had shown earlier…just blame it on my youth. I will come to love the job and be the best media manager ever.

Media was an expertise that I once had but had neglected. Ever since I entered PRC marketing was my main preoccupation. I spent most of my time boning up on it to keep pace with my better-grounded contemporaries. It had been years since I last gave media a thought. As I was wont to do I scoured around for reading materials. There was very little within the company. Books on media planning and other books on media of a didactic sort were non-existent. What I thought would be peripheral reading proved to be of direct relevance to media work. I didn’t think that reading Macluhan would give my interest in media a boost. Provocative notions like “…the medium is the message” and the notion of “hot” and “cold” media had definite influence on how media should be regarded in media mix setting and in the content of the advertising. The vision of global villages and the caveat on information overload asserted by Toffler sparked new thinking in media and in marketing and advertising and more so in the context of total communication. It was the very early seventies and I thought that I was again blessed by the timeliness of these high-level auguries and observations. These moved me to review our use of media and sought ways for their practical application in company media work.

I had access to real and hard information about media when I attended the Unilever Executive Advertising course in the Unilever training center in Four Acres in Kingston Hill, in the Warren Coombe Estate, UK. Four Acres is the international training center of Unilever. Hundreds of young managers from all over the Unilever world were sent there for training every year to either prepare them for more senior posts or to enhance their skills in their current responsibilities.

It was not in the course itself that I was able to get the media reading materials but on my visit to Lintas, UK, the Unilever owned advertising agency. Just like in the Philippines they did centralized buying of media on the principle that you could insist on preferential rates and treatment in exchange for the big volume of collective media moneys from advertised brands of Unilever. Special media placement rates are the most apparent benefits of volume buying. However preferential treatment plays an equally important role because of the scarcity of available commercial time in most media markets. The clout of big volume should be patently impressed on media houses to ensure that the best placements are offered first to Unilever. In addition to bigness maintaining good relationships with media houses was an essential factor. In the industry there would be other companies who would be as big as we were and could demand similar concessions.

In terms of protocols of central media buying there was little to add to our practice in PRC. However, Lintas was a treasure trove of reading materials for media planning rationales, actual schedule forms, norms applied in assessing media plans, the researches that were in current use to measure audiences, estimation of reach and frequency. There were examples of scheduling patterns and how these relate to a system of continuous researches as cause and effect indicators. With sufficient readings continuous researches may be used in modeling to provide predictive analyses. A few years back, in one of my odd jobs in a small ad agency, the media plans I came up with were reliant on begged, borrowed and peered-over-the-shoulders audience surveys and intuitive judgements. Now with corporate support, my knowledge took a quantum leap, and in addition, an easy access to the required information for media planning and a budget to commission research.

My having been a brand manager helped me in devising a media-planning brief that I would ask the brand managers to prepare for all advertised brands. As a brand manager I knew the extent of information available in the brand files and what of these would be useful in planning the media effort for a brand. This was helpful not only for the individual brands but to the assembling of a corporate media plan which was the necessary document for setting the approach to negotiations with the major networks at the start of each fiscal year. It was particularly helpful in managing corporate media properties, their allocation in terms of priority based on time and importance and the allocation of bonuses earned by the total volume. This made settling disputes between brands on priority conflicts, which there were many of, a lot easier.

One of the things that I asked for upon assuming the position of Company Media Manager was for a budget that would allow me to pay for lunches, dinners and other expenses for meetings with any media representative. As a rule we did not allow ourselves to be treated by media in any form. Stories of lavish daytime repasts and after office cocktails and other nighttime delights were rife. Media was known to be inveterate corruptors and the last thing we needed was for the media department to be stained by any form of venality. Like in the Purchasing department, jokes that hint of position abuse and rumors about being on the take are proverbial in Media. We would not allow others in the company to suggest, serious or in jest, that we have taken advantage of our position as media buyers. I told my staff to be offended and immediately repudiate anyone, who, even as much as just hint of any dishonesty in our department. Jokes of this kind begin to sound factual when told often enough.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

41. Mang Bert

Ed Roa, Bert Timbol & Bing Madrinan
Bert Timbol or “Mang Bert” as he is popularly known in media and marketing circles was head of Market Research, then held the Marketing Services Manager position before being promoted to General Marketing Manager, a phenomenal rise in the organization. He was responsible for bringing the status of the research department into a full service department. During his term as head of Market Research he introduced for the first time research techniques that were being employed in the more advanced Unilever markets. In addition, a lot of innovations in research service were started in the early sixties such as the Consumer Research Van, and the Mobile Test Kitchen. Retail Audit and Television Coincidental surveys were among the first in the industry could be attributed to him.

Seated: Alma &Ed Roa, Alec Lever Standing: Bert and Tita Timbol

He did such a remarkable job in Market research and was rewarded by a promotion to Marketing Services Manager. The services within his responsibility were composed of market research, promotions and advertising. It was such a comprehensive responsibility that found him involved in almost everything that concerned the brands.

What set him apart from most of the managers were his glibness and his wide range of interests and knowledge. He was conversant about most topics dealing with humanities, politics and world history. The traditional perception of a researcher would be some sort of an egghead, a numbers whiz kid and nerd whose interests were caged in insipid narrow confines. He was completely the opposite of this. His incisive analysis of data and the sagacity of his interpretations lead to sound marketing decisions. Presentation was his forte. What made his presentations impressive was the way he embellished them with apt analogies that made the data come alive and his flair for the dramatic.

You could say that he was a virtual Renaissance man and as such would be allowed some latitude for eccentricities. What contributed to the perception of his being a larger than life personality was his penchant to share the highlights of his life story to anyone who was willing to listen. He gave a variety of accounts of himself being portrayed as characters of almost heroic proportions. He would be the boy courier in the resistance during the war, the artist and art connoisseur, an orator with few equals and could trace his ancestry to a noble lineage whose coat of arms he proudly displayed.

Bert’s favorite character was that of a wrangler whom he loved living the part down to the gaudy boots, blue denims, big ornate brass buckles and the cowboy hat. This earned him the monicker “Cowboy Cabalen”. He was quite like James Thurber’s Walter Mitty in the flesh.

Bert was quite capable of handling the demands of the job and became indispensable in marketing and was again rewarded by a promotion to General Marketing Manager, a position that extended itself as head of all marketing inclusive of brand groups and marketing Services. His frustration was that despite the tremendous weight of the responsibility of his position he was never conferred the marketing directorship of the company that at that time was held by Brian Roberts-Wray, a British expatriate.

Some in marketing did not applaud the promotion. He had detractors who thought that he was nothing but a despotic and opinionated charlatan. I thought that with all the items going through his tray everyday and the round-the-clock frequency of decisions that he had to make gave him little time to brook contrary opinions. Some of my contemporaries left the concern because of Bert’s peremptoriness. He definitely was the rising star and naturally some latched on to his wagon as he was on a winning run.

Given the magnitude of the job that Bert had to do each day he had to have somebody to assist him as he waded through the piles of paper needing his signature, proposals to read and consider, responding to correspondences both local and international, the myriad administrative items to attend to and his jammed meeting schedules. He recognized the mettle of the youthful and talented Boy de Claro and depended on him to play the role of a backstop and virtual factotum. Boy, in later years became the president of Wyeth a large multinational pharmaceutical company.

Bert was influential to the development of my career in PRC. As virtual head of marketing at that time all my movements in the organization were either initiated by him or were with his consent.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

40. In the Foods Group

Brand assignments were reviewed regularly resulting in changes of assignments in what we called “rigodon”. The changes were done to ensure that fresh thinking was infused on the brands. Sometimes the junior brand managers who have shown exceptional performance were rewarded with assignments to “premier” brands.

From Toilet Soaps I was transferred to the Foods Group to handle the cooking oil brand Camia. I inherited the brand from Meckoy Quiogue. Meckoy is now the President and COO of GMA 7, which shares the leadership in audience following with ABS CBN’s Channel 2. GMA 7 reached parity position with ABS CBN 2 during Meckoy’s term. Marketing Manager of the Foods Group was the mild mannered Jes Dinglasan who later on became the CEO of a large distribution outfit. A guy named Frankie Gonzalez managed Royco soups. A bit offbeat and eccentric he called everyone “general”. His greeting to anyone he met was “Good morning general” and this was at any time of the day. Peter Garrucho looked after the non-distributive brands of margarine and shortening, Whiteband and Redband. Peter later on became cabinet secretary during the latter part of Cory Aquino’s term and was President and director of some the larger companies in the industry. We had Luvi Lim as our “kygmy”. “Kygmy” was an affectionate term for brand assistants borrowed from Al Capp’s bowling pin like creatures in Li’l Abner who thrived on being kicked around. Loveable little masochists.

At that time the price of coconut oil was subject to erratic fluctuations. This was creating havoc to price setting for Camia. Predicting the price copra could only go as far as your nose and the changes were from day to day. To manage the situation we had frequent early morning meetings to set the suggested retail price based on the previous hours’ price average and the historical cost of products in the pipeline. After agreements were reached the SRP’s (suggested retail price) were wired to all sales offices nationally. At first it was just the price of coconut oil that we were monitoring and basing our pricing decisions on. To get more flexibility we developed other formulations using palm oil, fish oil and the combinations of these with coconut oil at different mixes. With these added variables setting the price of cooking oil became much more complicated and involved. The formulations with the alternative oils and their combinations had to be consumer tested to limit the permutations to only those within the range that consumers will accept in terms of taste and price. To arrive at the optimum pricing of Camia it was necessary to monitor the prices of the alternative oils as well as coconut oil prices. I had to come up with a table to cope with the numerous permutations of variables of current prices and type of oils and their proportions which we used to discuss every morning to set prices of cooking oil. Regular attendees to this early morning meetings were Lito Jimenez of Oil Milling, Pepe Esteva or Louie Duran of Copra buying and either Coke del Villar or Ito Tuazon of Sales. It would have been so much easier if we had PCs then which can easily do the task using an Excel spreadsheet.

Later on, with the loss of a brand manager in the Personal Products group, an interim assignment to handle Personal Products brands was added to my responsibilities by the General Marketing Manager, Bert Timbol. This was not for long. With the recruitment of a brand manager for the Personal Products Group the brands I temporarily handled were given to the new entrant.

Friday, March 23, 2007

39. The Games

Chris Barber-Lomax left about a year after I joined PRC. Ray Harrison succeeded him as Marketing Director. Ray’s coming was preceded by a year of intense rivalry between the Technical Division and the Marketing Division not only in work but also in the interdivisional sports competition mainly in the basketball games. It seemed like there was a hint of personal one-upsmanship between Chris Barber-Lomax and Nene Zayco, the Technical Director. The Interdivisional competition was designed to foster camaraderie among the employees, however, it became a source of more ill will than good. With the assumption of Ray as head of the marketing division the rivalry seemed to have abated; at least the intense basketball wars were over.

At the time of the heated rivalry the technical division was recruiting basketball players from the factory workers many of whom resided within the Paco district and necessarily had the support of the locals most of whom were not employed in PRC but watched the games through the interlink fence fronting United Nations Avenue. Their enthusiastic support did not limit itself to cheering but sometimes went into downright stone pelting from their perches atop the bridge on UN Avenue spanning the estero.

Marketing recruited from the brand group and sales. We had quite a number of varsity players from Lasalle and Ateneo in brand and marketing services. Bert Laconico played in the LaSalle varsity team. From the Ateneo varsity team were Jimmy Pinzon, Ding Camua and Nonoy Reyes. Meckoy Quiogue was with the Ateneo training team. Other Marketing first stringers were Gauttier Biznar and a hot shooter named Winston Verzosa who was from the Bicol sales group. The Manila based players were augmented by some good cagers from the Sales Department in the provinces. In time with the games, they were given special assignments in Manila just so they can play with the Marketing team.

The technical team star players were the hulking Buensuceso and the talented Jun Salazar. Jun was said to be the uncle of Bobby Jaworski and that he taught the Big J the finer points of basketball. No wonder the Big J knew all the subtle nudges employed in Paco street ball. I don’t even remember who eventually won. Anyway, regardless of who won it was camaraderie and company unity that suffered the greatest loss. It was decided to discontinue the games indefinitely. I don’t think it was ever reinstated. What were started later on were brand teams that were composed of members from across all divisions. It was ok but it did not create the same kind of ardor, excitement and oneness, albeit insular, that the interdivisional games generated.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

38. Happiness

Eric at 6 months - Our first car, a Fiat 600
My wife had her second child more than a year after I entered PRC. The first time Alma gave birth she labored for twelve hours and I was there from the time we brought her to the hospital to the time she gave birth. This time around, thinking that it will be sometime before she would give birth, I went back to the office after bringing her to the hospital. The hospital was on the same street as the office. Just a few hours later I received a call from my sister-in-law saying that Alma had given birth. I excused myself from a meeting I was having with George Balagtas who was then an account executive of JWT, assigned to Camia and hurried to the hospital.
Lyn was a delightful baby girl who came into this world at about the time I was to be promoted to a management position in Unilever. She was a real harbinger of joy as Eric was when I was taken in by PRC.


It was the late sixties; now, with a loving wife, two healthy and lovely babies and doing a satisfactory job of managing PRC brands I couldn’t imagine how life could be better.

God’s providence is bestowed to the deserving and the undeserving alike and in all humility I received these blessings knowing full well that there was nothing in what I was or what I did that would make me worthy of such good fortune. Such is God’s grace.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

37. Socials

Tagaytay Excursion- Ed&Alma, Francis Trillana at right bg

Chris Barber-Lomax, our marketing director loved to socialize. He was a bachelor who lived alone in a big apartment in the Ermita district. No special occasion was needed for him to organize a dance party. The wives loved these socials for they were almost always invited. These parties brought about good fellowship that helped strengthen the bonding that existed among us in marketing.

Typical PRC Jam session in the late sixties- Alma Roa at foreground, Raf Zaide at right

Party at our house in A.Melchor, Loyola Heights- Henry Jaravata, Ludy Tolentino, Mrs. Benny Sanchez, Tita Timbol

My first corporate party was in honor of a visiting executive from the Coordination group in the center. This was held in the house of our president in Forbes Park. Being new to the group the PRC President, Alun Griffiths, gave more attention to my wife and me during the party. He took us over to the visiting executive for introductions. There was dancing and as my wife and I were enjoying a dance I felt a tap on my shoulder. The President asked if he could have the pleasure of dancing with the beautiful young lady. I, of course, graciously acceded. He took my wife by the hand and they gracefully glided to the middle of the dance floor. Boy Feliciano, the Breeze brand manager took notice of this and kidded me that my future in the company was now assured.

Baguio staff house: Ed & Alma Roa,Ding and Evelyn Claudio with Solid Bank friends
Cocktails were quite plentiful and were organized every time a visiting “fireman” from the Central Office came around. This occasion was seen as an opportunity to be more familiar with the rest of the executives in the organization who were not in the working milieu of marketing. It was also a good time to engage bosses in conversations with topics other than work and learn a little more of their person at leisure and outside their authority zone. Of course one also tried to make a good impression on the visitor. It would help during the business discussions if the “fireman” was a tad friendlier.

Baguio Staff House: Ed & Alma Roa, Aida & Tony Pacheco, Tony & Lita Sison, Evelyn & Ding Salvador
What were quite popular with the Brand group were the cocktails sponsored by media houses. The occasions for these were for previews of upcoming shows and also as sponsors during industry to-dos like the Advertising Congress or any event where marketing executives were expected to congregate. Invariably media cocktails would always have flowing drinks, superb entertainment, interesting guests and fabulous raffle prizes.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

36. Brand Work

We had some very successful brands in our toilet soaps portfolio. Lifebuoy was the market leader in the health soaps although a P&G brand was posing a strong challenge with a comer brand, Safeguard. We had Lux, an international brand that was pitted against the major beauty toilet soap brands of P&G and Colgate. I was handling Ever, a local brand that had quite a following and a developmental international deodorant brand, Reward.

Front: Vic de la Torre, Hank Nijk,Tony Tolentino, Ato Manigat Back: Ed Roa, Gus Villanueva, Ding Camua, Jes Dinglasan, Gilbert de los Reyes, Frankie Gonzales, Joe Feliciano
 The total share of the company in the toilet soaps market was the bigger than all of the competing companies taken together. We had more than 60% of the market at the height of our dominance. At that time we were relentlessly being besieged by the P&G entries in all segments of the toilet soap market. Lux, being an international brand was given development priority to strengthen the defense of our total market leadership. It was waging an intense war against P&G’s Camay. Lifebuoy although a stalwart brand at that time needed to be modernized and given a less masculine and workman’s utilitarian image. Its carbolic soap reputation that was associated with soaps used by kids with scabies and as a dog’s soap also needed to be addressed. It was beleaguered by the aggressive onslaughts of Safeguard, a heavily supported brand from P&G.

I had two brands. Ever toilet soap was positioned as a fragrance soap and had a sizeable share but was losing shares for lack of logistical support. The other brand was a developmental one. Reward was a premium deodorant soap that unabashedly promised social acceptance through freedom from body odor. Body odor was considered a touchy subject and was never directly addressed by any antibacterial brand of soap except for those highly specialized medicinal ones.

I inherited Ever from Boy Feliciano. Boy was a promising manager who was recently assigned to handle Breeze detergent one of the premier brands in PRC. Later on he would become the head of the big international courier service company, DHL, for the Philippine operations. Ever had a reasonable share of 11% of the toilet soaps market. Its platform was that of a perfumed soap. Among its users it had the image of being young and with an attractive scent and was used by university coeds but not of colegialas. On the negative side its image among the toilet soap users was that of having a strong scent, the kind of scent preferred by the “bellas” or the taxi dancers and hostesses of nightclubs. Ever could have been successfully restaged. An 11 % market share was a good enough franchise level to build on. The decision to let the international brands play the role of staving off the P&G onslaught meant concentrating the support budgets on the international brands Lux and Lifefuoy and this was to the detriment of Ever.

Seated: Gat Maggay  Back: Barry Mason, Ed R,Tony Tol, Yener Tugay, angie Lacson,Freddie Lozano, Tony Lorenzana

I took over an ongoing promotion involving coupon redemption. Printed at the backside of the box wrapper was a coupon with a ten-centavo value. I was told by Boy Feliciano, that the promo redemption was recently launched and was well on its way to becoming a successful one. The redemption rate was steadily increasing and this was mostly in the national capital region, a heavily populated area with the highest disposable income. Despite the success of the promotion I wondered why this was not being reflected in the sales results. The more experienced guys in brand told me that there is usually a time lag of about two to three weeks since distribution took that long to get completed. I could not buy that explanation because these were in specially printed packs and a redeemed pack should correspond to a bought and used soap. I initiated an investigation. A close examination of the redeemed packs revealed fake coupons and further probing unmasked one of the sales managers as a collaborator of the perpetrator of the scam. Before we could stop the fraud the redemption rate stood at 80%, an ignominious record of sorts.

Ed Roa,Meckoy Quiogue, Willy Ocampo, Frankie Gonzales

Despite Ever’s limited funds I was able to mount a promotion that was tied up with Max Factor. Apart from being a schematic effort the Ever Beauty Box Bingo was also intended to help upgrade its image by association with Max Factor an upmarket name in cosmetics. The reason I was able to get my Marketing Manager to approve the promotions proposal was it did not commit the brand to a fixed expense because the deal with Max Factor was that payment will only be made on the actual redemption of their products. The promotion was a flop. From the start it was saddled by trade resistance. Despite the accompanying trade incentives some of the big wholesalers were reluctant to stock up on the promoted brand because they still had high inventories of the regular packs in their bodegas. Besides, the dealers felt that there wasn’t enough media support behind the promo launch. The brand had slid to a low level that even a strong temporary added value like Max Factor products could not win over new triers or bring back the users who have abandoned the brand.

Every month we had a sales cycle meeting wherein each brand manager was allowed to talk about the immediate initiatives of the brand to the sales managers. Ever was seldom highlighted because it could only afford a few promotional activities. The Beauty Box Bingo promotion didn’t have enough media money supporting it. Our General Sales Manager Coke del Villar, a grizzled veteran of the sales wars against P&G and Colgate, likened my brand’s effort to that of Admiral Montojo’s cannons in the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish American War. The guns were big, well aimed and made loud booming sounds but the cannon balls ended up as splashes in front of Admiral Dewey’s battleships for the lack of gun powder. The best-laid plans end up as splashes in the watery vastness without financial fodder to propel them.