As a young boy, I was keen on earning my own money. I learned how to peddle pan de sal early morning by going down the narrow streets of Majayjay, hawking, “pan de sal ni Mang Tomas, mainit paaa!”
Selling pan de sal meant I had to sleep in any available space in the bakery, because pan de sal was baked in huge coal-fired oven at midnight and sold hot by 4 a.m. By 5 a.m., I had to hit the streets and get all the pan de sal sold by 6 a.m. I went to school at 7 a.m.
After World War II ended in 1945, our family moved to Manila, for my stepbrothers to hunt for jobs. During the liberation years (1945-1947), Manila lay in ruins, with rubble and cannon-blasted buildings all over Sta. Cruz, Intramuros and Taft Avenue.
The city was full of vendors selling war surplus, US Army supplies such as K-rations, canned goods, chocolates, blue-seal cigarettes, military clothes, shoes, accessories and utensils, all of which were pilfered from the huge army depot in Port Area and Grace Park.
We lived for a while in Calle Oroquieta near Espiritu Santo Church. To earn extra money, I learned how to peddle newspapers and shine shoes outside the church. I was 10 years old.
On weekends, I sold ’garilyo and chewing gum by the stick near the ticket booth of the Avenue Theater. A good day meant sufficient sales for two days of extra school allowance. A bad day was poor sales, no earnings and aching feet.
In 1972, I was hired by KBS Channel 9 as one of their daytime TV airtime sales representatives. My salary was good only for transportation money (by jeep, not by taxi). My real pay was the four-percent commission on gross sales. This meant that my gross income was proportionally related to my selling skills. The bigger the volume, the bigger the commission. It’s either gutom or windfall.
I learned to tell the real decision maker-buyer from the negotiators who were not authorized to make decisions (don’t waste your time on them). Get to the big boss whose needs you can supply. Give him the deal that’s better than your competitors. Once you deliver the goods, you’ve got a client forever.
Since our station, BBC TV 2, lacked program materials, I learned to sell not only airtime but media projects, as well. I learned how to create and sell non-traditional advertising ideas. I packaged them with media plans and sold them to Pepsi, Unilever, Kraft and others.
In 1978, I joined a local ragtag agency on the verge of closing shop. To survive, I learned how to poach accounts from the big US ad agencies by getting myself secretly invited by clients to present campaigns on their low-budget brands which were neglected by their existing agencies.
Poaching accounts was fun and challenging. I usually presented strategic selling ideas not only for print, TV and radio, but also for stores, supermarkets and consumer handouts. In poaching, it was best to demonstrate your agency’s industriousness and prolific creative output. That’s how we landed the Warner Lambert account in 1979, during the marketing tenure of Alex Castillo.
Pitching for a new account was a big deal. Everybody in the ad agency had an adrenaline rush. The mood was electric.
As creative leader, I had to animate and motivate everybody to bring out his/her best ideas. This happened when we pitched for the relaunch of Pop Cola and Sarsi, after the Concepcions of RFM bought the softdrink brands from the Wongs of Cosmos Bottling Company.
We created a fantastic campaign that dramatized, with dazzling visuals, the aesthetics of Filipino folk art, to the accompaniment of an innovative fusion music called Bagong Tunog. Ryan Cayabyab, composer and arranger of Bagong Tunog, played his piece live with the grandest musicality possible. The visuals and music were simply awesome. Joey Concepcion gave us the account on the spot. We won over a dozen competing agencies.
When Sarsi and Pop Cola advertising hit the public, the brands became a huge sensation. Delivery trucks couldn’t cope with the sudden big demand from softdrink dealers and outlets.
But the coup de grace was our TV commercial on frozen delights. We didn’t present the usual TV boards. Instead, our creative director then, Marlon Rivera (now president of Publicis Manila and film director of “Ang Babae sa Septic Tank”) did a breathtaking mime act of a little boy, alone in the house, panicking, while the Magnolia cart, with its bells ringing, receded slowly over the horizon. For ending, the mother, of course, appeared at the door with a Magnolia Frozen Delight.
The most daring thing I did to get an account was to use the direct and bold approach. I dared the client to let me work on his dying brand.
I used this approach on Freddie Rodriguez, former marketing guru at Unilab, a tough nut to crack when it came to hiring new agencies. Freddie called my dare by giving me an old-fashioned, low-volume brand called Tiki-Tiki.
We positioned Tiki-Tiki for first-time mothers with a provincial profile. The brand took off. Revicon and Alaxan followed.
I once threw out my presentation sheet in pitching for the Grepalife account. I assumed that we would present to the president, Mr. Diaz, and his marketing officer. To my shock, he called the whole employee force to assemble in the auditorium and asked me to make my presentation to the huge Grepalife work force.
I peeked out from behind the stage curtain and I knew the crowd would fall asleep with my presentation of research data, statement of objectives, and consumer research, which when discussed to death made ordinary mortals fall asleep.
Intuitively, I decided that my job was to rabble-rouse the mob—keep them awake by stirring up their emotions. I quickly remembered the election miting de avance in my hometown where my uncle, Mayor Felix Gozo, whipped voters into a frenzy through the sheer power of his ad-libbed oratory. I got to pitch to the Grepalife crowd the way tio Felix got the crowd to vote for him.
I found the theme for selling insurance right away: the sacrificial love of a father for his children. With rapt attention (some with moist eyes), the employees listened to my sob story. We won the account.
Only in a few years, our small agency grew big. I became the CEO, neither planning for nor asking for it. Swerte lang!