As far as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to write. In my cringey pubescent years I filled countless journals with hastily scribbled fan fiction and angst-ridden recollections of the day. In the confusing turbulence of adolescence, there was one thing I was certain of: I loved telling stories.
This love for storytelling stuck when it came to picking a career path in university. Seduced by the sexy fast-paced world of Mad Men (then one of primetime TV’s hottest shows), I decided to enter advertising as a copywriter. I was enthralled by the way Don Draper would write a tight pitch, command a boardroom, and make a bunch of macho executives wimper with a tagline so filled with pathos and emotion — even if it was just to sell a line of disposable cameras. In my mind, I was confident that my destiny was to follow in Don’s footsteps.
That is, until I took my first university copywriting class. Now I never scored a bad grade in any of the class requirements, but I didn’t exactly excel either. When my works would merit a few appreciative nods and constructive criticism from my professor, he would shower others with heaps of praise and proclamations of their genius. Seeds of doubt began to take root in my head — maybe I was pursuing something I just wasn’t very good at?
So I settled for the next best thing. As an obnoxious stickler for organization, I decided I wanted to stay in advertising and become an accounts man. After all, I was notorious for planning over-detailed itineraries for family vacations. I convinced myself it was a perfect fit — pretty soon, as a student I landed an accounts internship at a big multinational ad agency. A year later, just two weeks after graduating I accepted a job offer as a junior accounts executive at another rising local ad agency.
Four months in, I knew something was off. On the surface, I had a great job: the office culture was warm and inviting, and my pay grade was more than sufficient for a fresh grad. Still, for some reason I found myself dreading coming into work every morning. I slowly began to realize that the accounts realm of client coordination and filing endless amounts of paperwork was maybe not for me.
Even then, there was one aspect of that job that I loved. On days before a client presentation, the team would reconvene and creatives would share their concepts with us accounts people. Watching them present incredibly ingenious ideas, I was spellbound — it was like seeing Don Draper work his magic in the flesh. More importantly, seeds of hope began to bloom inside me. Maybe, just maybe, I also had what it takes to become a creative?
A month later, I took a leap of faith and chose fulfillment over certainty. I quit my accounts job and found a gig as an editorial assistant for an online lifestyle publication. A year later, equipped with the publishing industry’s rigorous writing standards, I got a job at Brevo as a copywriter.
As cheesy as it sounds, often when it comes to major career decisions it pays to listen to your heart. Over the years I’ve learned that it is crucial to heed the call where you are needed, and where you feel needed. And hey, carpe diem — we only have one life to live, might as well do it happily!
This isn’t to say that upon getting the job of my dreams, I lived happily ever after. You know that saying that goes if you find a job you’ll love, you’ll never work a day in your life? Huge crock of rubbish. As with any other discipline, there was a steep learning curve that I worked hard to overcome. The big difference is now, when I come home after a long tiring day at work, I always feel proud of myself and each day’s little victories.
Landing the job of my dreams wasn’t a walk in the park, but it is where I feel truly fulfilled. I have no regrets. Through this journey, I learned the two most valuable lessons of my career to trust in your instincts, and to never let fear govern you.
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I always enjoy working on a new project.
Part of the excitement is talking to the client, understanding their vision, and then collaborating with the Brevo team to make it happen.
Sometimes, however, things don’t always go as planned.
The client might be erratic and change lanes halfway through. Or, as was the case with one particular client, we dropped the ball and fumbled our way to a favorable conclusion.
Our end-product didn’t match what we pitched the client. We managed to finish and deliver, but we had to settle for being content with less than stellar output.
It never happens, but it did.
I’d like to share with you some details of a project that faltered and the hard lessons we learned from the experience.
The project was an extensive report for a reputable corporation. We won the project on the strength of our pitch which, we were told, was superior to our name-brand competitors.
We wowed the client with our concepts, unique visual approach, and the pedigree of our writing team. We won the project, got stuck in, and then things never quite went to plan.
By the time we crossed the finish line, nerves were frayed, the client was frazzled, and we were left wondering, “What happened?”
Here’s where we faltered.
1. No champion
The project had no champion. Which is silly, because we ALWAYS have a champion — someone to lead the project, start to finish. Instead, several voices were involved in the project, but with no clear leader as the project lead assigned was hindered by not being given the guidance they deserved.
This led to confusion and, when problems began to rise, team members assumed someone else would handle them. But no one stepped up. Consequently, things began falling through the cracks. In fact, the lack of a clear leader is what led to a myriad of other problems as the project progressed.
Next time we’ll clearly assign a project lead and let them lead. When several strong voices are involved in a project, it may initially be smooth sailing but with no clear leader, it runs the risk of becoming a ghost ship, tossed to and fro on the high seas.
2. Poor communication
No leader led to inconsistent communication — lots of voices and talk, but no one marshalling everything into a seamless whole.
What’s more, we only had one face-to-face meeting with the client — ONE. We normally meet clients on a weekly basis but found ourselves relying mainly on emails for primary communication.
This is not ideal, particularly when details are everything. The client was responsible for providing all the data but they faced their own internal challenges; it was our job to guide and make things easier for them. We failed.
The client deserves regular face-to-face attention, if not in person, at least via video conferencing and voice calls. By not meeting them regularly, we missed out on crucial interaction, deep dives, and sharing of information.
What we should have done is conducted regular meetings with the client. That would have helped with direction, clarity, and expedition of data/materials.
3. Imperfect time management
We had 8 weeks of dev time, which is tight but certainly doable if managed correctly. Unfortunately, the lack of project leadership meant that schedules weren’t managed properly, and endless revisions began to pile up.
Following a debrief with the client we were informed, they believed the revisions they were sending across were assisting us rather than hindering the design team.
They were happy with the output being produced but we were getting lost in what they actually wanted, leading to tighter deadlines which is never ideal for quality output.
It felt like a reservoir waiting to burst, cracking against the weight of multiple edits, updates, and adjustments. As the deadline tightened, we failed to adapt and found ourselves scrambling to plug holes in the dam.
Next time we’ll beorganised from the get-go.We have the tools, the skills, and the experience to handle complex projects. But we succumbed to disorganisation.
4. Poor people management
We had the manpower to handle the project but didn’t properly organize ourselves. Consequently, we ended up being unable to provide adequate creative staff to handle the work.
We eventually had to pull a freelancer on board to help us. This isn’t unheard of, of course. But because it was last minute, it led to a less-than-desired outcome: a report that didn’t feel like Brevo’s signature form.
Lesson learned: Organise yourself.
5. Lack of accountability
The lack of leadership, weak planning, and poor communication could have been solved if we had proper accountability in place.
As CEO, I had an opportunity to act on the red flags. I didn’t. I could have stepped in to troubleshoot the situation. I didn’t. We had a chance to meet our original vision but instead, we floundered.
Problems can go unnoticed in an environment where everyone trusts someone else to help when things get crazy. But in this case, no one was around to help. And i should have been more proactive in getting on top of the situation.
Personally, I will be more discerning of red flags and be a lot more present in situations that are going south.
The project was delivered to the client’s satisfaction. But not ours. We know we could have done better. We know we could have elevated the project. We certainly shouldn’t have let things run the way they did, somewhat haphazardly and without a rudder.
The silver lining lies in the important lessons learned along the way. I take more away from my failures over my successes. We will be more accountable, more attuned to the warnings of a project about to burst.
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3 years ago I started BREVO, a creative agency in the Philippines.
It was never my intention to do so.
See, I’m from the world of government-to-business consulting, tech, and finance. Born and raised in the UK, I’ve spent a large chunk of my life working with CEOs and government officials in Malaysia and the Middle East to help developing countries, well, develop. I’m an entrepreneur with experience in start-ups and even software development.
But the head of a creative company in the Philippines?
A lot of my friends, when they hear what I’m currently doing, and where I’m doing it, think I’m mad.
“Why the Philippines?”
“You have a wife and kids there?”
“Are you running a sweatshop?”
Like many people outside the Philippines, they don’t fully understand the country’s unique offerings. They think of the “war on drugs”, the lack of infrastructure, and Imelda Marcos’s shoe collection.
But here I am, running my own creative company, and experiencing the highs and lows of doing business in this fascinating — and endlessly challenging — market.
Setting up shop (not a sweatshop)
Let me backtrack a little. In 2011, I had an office in Malaysia with the goal of developing software to serve the Philippine market. I figured we could operate the business remotely, foregoing the need to set-up physically in the Philippines.
It seemed ideal. However, workforce issues in Kuala Lumpur, such as lack of ambition, drive, and loyalty among employees (largely a cultural issue, but that’s another story for another time), convinced me to establish a second base in Metro Manila to try my luck there.
When we moved to the Philippines in 2012, my business partner and I started working with a team of 10–15 people, developing software products and producing content. I was immediately struck by the strong work ethic, deep training, and communication abilities of Filipinos. It was refreshing and intriguing.
Our workforce, primarily made up of fresh graduates from the creative arts and I.T. sector, had well-tuned technical skills. They were loyal, worked hard, had a great deal of talent and passion, as well as a sense of real community. What they seemed to lack was direction and an understanding of entrepreneurship.
A powerful seed was sown in my mind.
I eventually left for Dubai and the US for more consulting work. But I knew one thing: the Philippines was a creative and technical powerhouse. Which came in handy when my consulting work began to extend to the Philippines years later.
In 2016, I came back to Philippine shores, met an ambitious young consultant and we began working together. We started with banks, creating online solutions and content for financial institutions. Two things quickly became clear: Philippine companies need creative marketing work and the considerable Filipino talent pool was primed to meet this need.
Thus Brevo was born.
That’s the origin story in a nutshell. The growth story, however, is long and arduous! Another post for another day.
For now, I’m just happy to have a company that’s thriving in the Philippine market. No easy feat, and a lot of sweat, tears, and hair follicles were given up to make this happen.
I’ll tell you about it one day soon. As they say here, “sa susunod nalang!”
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