Fact is, few among his family or friends really wanted Ramon Jimenez Jr. to leave advertising and join the government as tourism secretary in 2011. Then again, the nation would never have had the chance to experience the historic tourism campaign, “It’s More Fun in the Philippines,” which Jimenez selflessly continued from the previous administration, improved on and refined—and which kicked the industry into unprecedented overdrive.
The country’s favorite marketeer, by all accounts a brilliant, empathetic and visionary leader—Monet to family, Mon J to advertising colleagues and mentees, and Secretary Mon in the Department of Tourism (DOT)—passed away April 27 at age 64. In a statement, his family confirmed that he died early in the morning in his home, “due to reasons unrelated to COVID-19 (new coronavirus disease),” and thanked everyone for “the outpouring of love and support.”
“Yes, initially there was quite a pushback against him joining government,” confirms older daughter Nina, CEO of the advertising agency Woo Consultants Inc., which Jimenez and his wife Abby established. “But eventually, patriotism and his obvious passion for the challenge triumphed. In the end, we were all converts, and are extremely proud of the work he did with the DOT.”
“Before he assumed his position, he called the whole family, from Papa to the youngest baby, to a meeting in their home,” recounts Jimenez’s younger brother, Jim, a lawyer. “We all listened to Monet announce that he would take the job, and he had only one request of us: Behave!”
Lawrence Tan, chief marketing officer and head of digital at Viva Entertainment, who first met Jimenez in advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi some 30 years ago, was less subtle: “I walked into his office and asked him, ‘Why, Mon? Why?’ He looked up, smiled and said, ‘I want to serve the Filipino people.’ There was no arguing with that. So I just shut up.”
Jimenez was the fourth among 10 close-knit children of renowned labor lawyer Ramon Jimenez Sr. and Florencia Reyes. (His father’s older brother, former Philippine ambassador to Korea and World War II veteran Col. Nicanor Jimenez, was the father of late Inquirer editor in chief Letty Jimenez Magsanoc.)
“We loved role-playing as kids,” recalls younger sister Florie de Leon. “One moment Monet was acting as priest, Jim would be his sacristan, and the rest of us, the younger ones, his parishioners.”
“What I can’t forget,” his sister Anna Roberts adds, “is Mon making our own vending machine out of carton. He cut slots for inserting coins as payment, plus an old doll’s arm on the side to serve the goodies.”
Still, he already had considerable focus, even then: His sister, Cecile Jimenez, recalls how he didn’t want to be disturbed while watching TV. “Bawal mag-ingay. And his favorite shows were documentaries about history, nature and space.”
Jimenez studied visual communications at the University of the Philippines, and started his career in the creative department of Saatchi & Saatchi, formerly Ace Compton, where he met his future wife. “As to who was attracted to whom first, it depends on which one of them you asked,” says daughter Nina, “but one thing was sure: Theirs was a love to be envied.”
“As far as I knew, Abby was Monet’s first and only girlfriend,” says Jimenez’s sister, Carina Mirasol. “And as early as then, I could see how Monet loved and respected Abby, knowing she was going to be his for the rest of his life.”
In the late 1990s, the couple established Jimenez & Partners. By 2011, the company had become Publicis JimenezBasic, one of the country’s largest and most creative agencies, run by the super couple as co-CEOs—and role models even outside the office.
Kindness and compassion
“Their success came from their respect for the work, and their kindness and compassion for all—employees, clients, suppliers, everyone,” says Tan.
“Their unique combination brought wonderful ideas and results. Mon and Abby loved advertising, but they kept their values and beliefs intact, no matter how big and fast the agency was growing.”
“I think they were the first ‘creatives’ to go off and start their own agency. They were among the best at what they did,” recalls Jojo Isorena, one of Jimenez & Partners’ first employees. “Mon wrote the Hallmark campaign and the tagline, ‘No one throws a Hallmark card away. No one throws away memories.’ Mon was the ideas guy.”
“I was a very fortunate witness to the ardent love they shared,” says Chiqui Lara, Jimenez & Partners’ general manager from 1995 to 2000. “They were not very showy, no holding hands when walking. But Mon could not hide his love for Abby! She was his everything.”
“Our parents were a tremendous influence on us, as evidenced by the careers we chose,” says Nina. “I followed them into advertising, while my sister Sassa went into fashion. We are extremely proud of our dad’s achievements, and have been witness to many of his professional highs. We, with many others, looked up to my dad as a mentor not just for our careers, but for life.”
Nina describes Jimenez as a father—“always thoughtful and achingly sweet. He taught us to be curious about life and to see humor in everything. As a husband, he was completely devoted and romantic. Being wise, he also always knew when to defer to our mom!”
Some nuggets of wisdom Isorena collected from Jimenez: “Creating great advertising is about finding the argument that you cannot refute, and transforming it into an offer you cannot refuse.” Or, “Behind every stupid comment from a client is an opportunity to do a great ad.” “That’s how he was. Always optimistic. Always finding the good in bad situations.”
In a Facebook post, film producer Kara Magsanoc Alikpala, daughter of Jimenez’s cousin Letty, paid tribute to Jimenez’s “unmatched wisdom and wit. A chat with him felt like a Master Class not to be missed.”
“Mon was very insightful, a deep thinker with astounding self-confidence,” recalls Lara. “He always had a flavor of the month—not ice cream, but usually a toy, i.e., the latest printer or video game. The last time the old Jimenez team visited him in Alfonso, he displayed all the quirky eyeglasses he had ordered online.”
In a Facebook post, Gladys Castillo Fernandez, a former advertising account director under Jimenez and now living in the United States, wrote, “Rarely do you meet a man who is brilliant but can be silly, authoritative but sweet, ultra successful yet humble.”
“He was an excellent presentor and salesman who could charm and convince even the meanest and least intelligent clients,” says Tan. “But what I liked about Mon was that he could always laugh at himself, at his own booboos. There were times we would be laughing so hard, we could hardly walk.
“He loved chicharon, and I was the smuggler, enabler and supplier. And Mon loved dogs! Dogs were allowed at Woo Consultants, and it made work so much more pleasant. He had an Alaskan Malamute named Atka, and they were so sweet together, even if Atka’s wagging tail could knock anyone off their feet.”
While Jimenez was godfather to Isorena’s sons, they also found another way to bond. In 2000, after the Isorenas got Nike, an Alaskan Malamute, Jimenez asked his friend to get one for him, too. The beautiful Atka arrived in 2007 and would immediately become Jimenez’s “heart dog,” the canine love of his life. “Mon and Abby were full of dog stories every time we met, of how Mon taught Atka a new trick,” Isorena says.
When Isorena put up BetterDog Canine Behavior Center in 2008, Jimenez jumped in as business partner. “Mon found the site of the first BetterDog at Karrivin Plaza, he got the architect, and he even helped me design the floor plan. He also came up with the name ‘BetterDog,’ like he just pulled it out of his pocket.”
Joining the Aquino cabinet took Jimenez’s time away from the business, but he shone and inspired in his new job.
“He had this ability to transform complicated issues into very simple ones,” says lawyer Christer Gaudiano, Jimenez’s head executive assistant and deputy chief of staff from 2012 to 2016. “His leadership style was not about directing us, but a shared vision. No day was wasted; each day was a learning experience.”
Gaudiano remembers how Jimenez would write “amazing speeches” a few hours before events, based on bullet points given by his staff.
“His strength was always his way of communicating,” Gaudiano says. “He could calm you even in the worst situation, but I think this was also because of his ability to see the bigger picture. Even during hearings in Congress, a room of legislators would be silenced because of the way he responded to questions.”
Jimenez’s close-in executive assistant Ren Sapitan, blown away after his first meeting with Jimenez, applied zealously for the job. “He did not even have a security aide. This allowed me unprecedented access to his personal, family and professional life.”
At the onset, Jimenez had requested that they start his day at 9 a.m. and finish by 5 p.m. “Why? Because in the morning, he wanted to have breakfast with Ma’am Abby and end the night with her.”
Sapitan eventually took it upon himself at some point to make sure Jimenez’s last appointment would be at 4 p.m., although some meetings would go way beyond that time.
Sapitan recalls the excitement when agency BBDO Guerrero, which conceptualized the now legendary tourism campaign, first presented their material. “The faces of everyone in the room lit up, as if nodding in chorus, ‘This is it!’” All this, while Jimenez tried to keep a poker face before his former advertising colleagues, who had to make the pitches to him.
On the day of Jimenez’s presentation of the new campaign to President Benigno S. Aquino III, key BBDO Guerrero officials came along, and the president had asked other Cabinet officials to join him, as well. As Aquino recalled in his recent statement on Jimenez’s death, “That meeting ended with all of us so energized, as we were convinced that we had a winning campaign.”
Celebrities and social media picked up on the campaign immediately after its launch, and it was trending at No. 1 on Twitter in minutes. Jimenez had just launched the campaign of his life.
Sapitan also recalls his boss’ quirks: “Every time we would eat in a restaurant, he would collect toothpicks and hand them to me because he was conscious of how he might look when being spoken to by people, so I had a big bag of toothpicks by the end of his term. Then there’s his love for Coke Light with ice, no lemon.”
He was a “father” to them, Sapitan recalls; even drivers, messengers, janitors at the DOT were invited to the Jimenez home for Christmas parties.
Sadly, the end of Jimenez’s time in his country’s service almost coincided with the death of Abby, after a lingering illness, in February 2016. By then, they were living in the retirement house they had built in Alfonso, Cavite. “He remained calm and strong for Ma’am Abby, but for a time, I really thought that he would resign, and I was very concerned about him,” recalls Gaudiano. “We did our best to make it easy for him, but we knew that it was difficult. Secretary Mon finished his term at the end of June 2016.”
“After Abby’s passing, we thought that life in Alfonso was so lonely,” says Jim Jimenez. But Jimenez always shot down any suggestion that he move to Makati to be closer to his daughters. “I rested my case when Monet said that he will never leave Alfonso because the place binds him to happy memories with Abby. There was the sense that somehow, Abby was there with him.”
“It was a painful time for all of us, but especially Mon, because they were together every day, everywhere,” recalls Tan. “With that kind of love, I don’t think one ever recovers.” Jimenez remained busy with consultancies and online projects.
In 2018, Atka died. It took a year before Jimenez again asked Isorena to find him a furry companion; Papo the Golden Retriever arrived in 2019.
The last time Isorena saw his friend was in February 2020; it was a meeting about BetterDog, but Isorena had just lost his wife Tina in December 2019, and “the meeting turned into a crying session for me. I cried on Mon, and he shared how lucky we were that we got the chance to live with our wives, he with Abby, and me with Tina. He told me that I was still going to make new memories with my sons.”
A great president?
With Jimenez’s passing, says Lara, “We have lost a very wise and sober leader for our country and for the advertising and marketing professions. And I lost a true buddy who always had my back.”
“We lost a good, good friend, a boss, a mentor, an inspiration to many and a really kind, compassionate, decent man who loved his country and countrymen,” seconds Tan.
“Putting tourism at the heart of every Filipino was his biggest legacy,” says Gaudiano. “He kept saying that selling the Philippines was not just the job of the DOT, but of the Filipino people. He never gave up on the Filipino, despite everything. He always saw something good in each and every one of us.”
“Secretary Mon taught us to always have faith in our people,” echoes Sapitan. “From the time he took office until his last government engagement, he took pride in who the Filipino is. He would always say, ‘Filipinos thrive in an atmosphere of encouragement. When you praise the Filipino, he will come back tomorrow and do it better.’ I will miss words of encouragement from Secretary Mon.”
Daughter Nina remembers the most important lesson her father taught them: “The main thing he tried to instill in us was to be good people: ‘Be a good person, and everything else is just a bonus.’”
Unlike everyone else, though, Isorena had other ideas about Jimenez joining government. “The first thing I thought was that he would make a great president, and that this probably would be the first step. Tina and I were very excited about his new adventure.
“I was so lucky to have met Mon. To this day, I wonder how things would’ve worked out if he had become president of the Philippines. What an awesome thought.” INQ