“How I Got Here…” – OMG Philippines’ Mary Buenaventura
I graduated from Boston University with an economics degree. Since BU, as it is commonly known, has one of the best college of arts and communications departments in the United States, I was fortunate enough to take advertising and marketing classes as some of my electives for my degree.
However, my real education started in my family’s grocery store. I was raised by a single mom who supported her entire family. She owned several chains of supermarkets in the south of the Philippines, well before the big giants entered the market.
At a very young age, the Christmas holidays were not something to look forward to, as it was the busiest time of year for our business. While my classmates were planning their holidays abroad, I was either in a small corner of a store office, counting cash to be deposited in the bank the next morning, or bagging groceries for customers.
I remember being so excited about decorating the shelves of the personal care lane when fast moving consumer goods giants would send us materials to display. At 18, my first project was to spearhead the point-of-sale automated system to cut down on pilferage and pricing errors.
I would stay up late at night to encode every single barcode into the system. Therefore, Christmas was never really fun for me, and it was only after I reached maturity that I realised, all the Christmases and holidays sacrificed gave me the opportunity to receive a great education. And on top of that wisdom that no prestigious university could ever give me.
Sacrifice, dedication, love for family and treating people with kindness are the values that I live by and are what have brought me to where I am today.
Upon graduating from BU, I decided to stay in Boston for two more years and worked at a consulting firm there. It was in the year 2000 that I decided to return to Manila. There, I entered the marketing communications world, starting in public relations by joining Burson Marsteller as a business unit director, later moving into advertising as an account director at Basic Advertising (a part of Publicis).
Barely a year into my role there, my boss at the time – Chiqui Lara, who was the vice-chairman of Basic Advertising – invited me to join her in rebuilding Y&R. My task was to establish the agency’s in-house integrated marketing communications capabilities, which was the very first for the Y&R network in Asia. I then became chief operating officer at Y&R and stayed with that for some 10 years. Then, after Chiqui decided to step down, I was appointed as CEO. Throughout this time, I gained a fruitful 13-years of experience in the world of creative agencies.
In 2015, an opportunity came my way where I was invited to be part of the evolving transformation of the media side of the business. A new role at Omnicom Media Group, where my background and capabilities in different marketing disciplines were apparently needed.
I wasn’t exactly looking for a change, but such challenges and opportunities don’t come your way that often, so I gladly accepted and became the CEO of OMG – where I now oversee the growth and development of several media brands – OMD, PHD, M2M, Fuse, and OMG Digital, in the Philippines. I’ve been here for a few years and every day offers new challenges and experiences. It’s certainly fulfilling and rewarding.
As the CEO of OMG Philippines, I am responsible for the leadership of our flagship brands. I work hand-in-hand with the general manager of each brand to ensure that the evolving business needs of our clients are met.
All three media brands provide exceptional creative media solutions, tailored to our clients. In terms of brand identity though, each one has a different personality and culture. At OMG, we look for clients that are aligned with the values of each of our agencies.
For OMD, it’s all about being fearless. This is what the agency brings to life as we fulfil our mission to deliver three key elements to guarantee the success of our campaigns – insights to unlock demand potential, ideas that ignite consumer desire, and results that accelerate business growth.
PHD on the other hand, is guided by the commitment of ‘finding a better way’. This is manifested in how we are constantly driven by strategic thinking, creativity and innovation. As part of the PHD Worldwide network, we are able to communicate openly with our counterparts from various countries. This allows us to co-create and deliver exciting ideas based on diverse experiences.
Our planning approach at M2M is called ‘Think Human’, which means the agency values shared trust and relationships that we’ve built with our clients. Our culture is centred on encouraging our people to be explorers on their own – and as a result, produce simple, direct and inspiring communications.
Highs and low
Growing up, I was raised to always live my life with honesty, integrity and kindness. During the early days, when I was starting out in public relations and advertising, I started forming strong relationships not just with clients, but with suppliers as well. Throughout my career, one of my biggest lessons has been that when you treat people well, fairly and with genuine kindness, you create a human connection. This for me is priceless.
Difficult clients, difficult people, difficult projects and difficult tasks are all the same. Every time my team and I find ourselves in difficult situations, I always remind them that “there are no bad days, just character-building days”. There will always be difficult people whom you will encounter, and you will survive in this industry when you begin to learn to leave your ego at home.
At the end of the day, you will know more about yourself when you are faced with a difficult situation. That’s how you grow; that’s how you learn how to thrive. We must remember that clients are just like any of us. We all have challenges and the same level of stress. Truly listening to what clients have to say and getting to the core of their concerns will always be the answer to any difficult situation.
Dos and don’ts
The first step in leadership is that you have to trust your people. As a leader, I am straightforward and very hands-on, but at the same time, I allow my employees to strategise on their own and think of their own solutions for the issues they face. But I am always there to guide them towards the right direction. That’s important.
Each person in the company has needs, aspirations and dreams. As their CEO, I have to encourage and support them to reach their goals. Managing a company is like managing an orchestra, each one has a distinct talent and is where they are for a reason. But as the leader, you have to see to it that they all play in unison.
Inevitably, there are bumps along the way, but with leadership comes a lot of patience as well. In this industry, you have to have the patience to be able to mentor people, service all kinds of clients and grow the business.
I also believe that it is equally important that you lead with your passion. I try to inspire my people by challenging them to improve themselves when working on a pitch or when doing day-to-day client servicing. What I’ve come to realise is that when you are a leader, your success is a result of your team’s success.
And I really enjoy working with a lot of interesting people from different disciplines – creative media, digital, integrated marketing communications, shopping marketing and branding. I enjoy the exchange of ideas. I enjoy the action. The creative people I work with, know that I am very transparent and mean what I say. We have to value honesty greatly in the workplace.
And we have to appreciate people when we see great work, and also tell them if we don’t agree with their approach. In return, you have to demand honesty and transparency in terms of feedback. More so, meeting a deadline is important. I don’t mandate them, so I ask people when they think they can realistically deliver, and once they’ve committed, I expect them to keep their word.
The world is an open classroom on life and god has created plenty of inspiration for us to appreciate and respect. Most of my travels are work-related. Talking to a variety of people allows you to see and hear things from different perspectives, and that’s a lot of learning for anyone to take onboard. It also teaches you how to listen, and that’s very important when you are leading people – to listen before you open your mouth.
Whatever I pick up and learn from my travels, I share it with my leadership team, so that then they can share and cascade it to their own teams as well.
The goal is always to impact the lives of consumers through creativity and innovation. The media landscape has evolved from mere measurement of reach and frequency, to developing impactful communication strategies that make buying and planning more persuasive.
The advancements in technology give people access to richer data, effectively making the possibilities limitless. The data revolution is radically changing the landscape of advertising. But at the end of the day, we still need to tell brand stories through the right channels and use these to create connections between the consumer and the brands. Our challenge now is to create ties strong enough to remain intact in this fast-changing world.
Consumers today think differently, so there is a need for a deeper understanding of their daily journeys, experiences and exposure to the world around them. This is why constant reinvention is key – based on a creative strategy. For you need science behind your planning and recommendations, and it is quite a job to find that common ground where business and creativity meet.
As a leader, I always keep two things in mind. For our clients, to be their most valued partner. And for my team, to continue making them ‘future-proof’ – since they are our best asset.