How a new team culture propels a boutique agency become an emerging communications powerhouse

ComCo Southeast Asia Celebrates 3 Years of Igniting Brand Love, Social Change and Talent

By Ferds Bondoy
Regional Integration and Chief Executive Director
Partner and Co-Founder of ComCo Southeast Asia

They say 8 out of 10 start-ups fail. And it becomes even more challenging if you are in a highly competitive industry, where people, in and out of an organization, can even kill each other to win the game. But as Walt Disney said, “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” And I proceeded to kickstart creating something wonderful.

Like in any typical middle-class Filipino family, I was never trained to think of becoming an entrepreneur. And I never planned for it. Like the rest in our society, I was just tasked to finish school, land a good job and eventually become an executive in a top company; or work abroad. As I go back to my old corporate CVs, my only goal then, in verbatim, was to become an industry renowned communications practitioner of a reputable multi-cultural international organization. That’s it.

18 years in the industry, I have been in several companies, under different kinds of bosses, worked with all kinds of people, and handled all the brands you could think of.  I’ve been exposed to the best and worst work environments. And back in late 2015, after all I’ve been through, all I wanted then was to work with the best team I had from my work alma mater. We just wanted to keep the bond, work together again and continue what we’ve started – how to do things differently, have a better work environment, support our advocacies and do what we love most. Tricia Cusi – Jimenea, my first mentee who became my business partner and co-founder of ComCo SEA shared, “In our kind of work, where our professional and personal lives are closely connected and where we spend a lot of time together, it’s a must that the people we work with are like family to us.”  I didn’t realize that that simple wish means the need to create our own company, to become an entrepreneur. We realized we needed that one strong roof to house the best works of our lives! It’s like a mothership we needed in our exploration, to bring us anywhere we want to, even how varied it can be. And as we ended that year, the leap of faith took place; it is the grace I felt that it’s the thing I should do next, that I will regret it for life if I won’t make it happen; hence the decision to push for the creation of our own company. Regular businessmen may not agree on how we started (and eventually run) our company but that’s my truth. Aside from all the numbers we’ve prepared, there is so much spirituality in the decision making we had.

Starting Something Different
But still, I was extra careful in the creation of the company as this is my second time to venture into business. The first one, a video production company, was a failure. So, my first non-negotiable, our agency, to be successful, has to answer a certain need, differently. There are a lot of start-ups out there but I want to start something different. So, to rise above the clutter, what I put on the table is to create our four agency thrusts that will guide us all through out in our business undertakings.

First, we will Ignite Brand Love through the offering of the global practice and emerging disciplines of New PR (the strategy based, content driven and channel agnostic way of doing PR) and Smart Social (a holistic, authentic  and integrated approach in the maximization of digital and social channels, to effectively reach and engage audiences and help influence change). We will Ignite Social Change through our own initiative and collaboration with different organizations that champion significant causes close to our heart like the environment, children and education, heritage and culture, and small to medium and social enterprises. We will Ignite Talent through the incubation of new talents who can easily adapt to the new agency culture that we have envisioned for the company and can be transformed to become new breed of communications professionals. And on a bigger vision, we will Ignite Southeast Asia through the creation of a network of independents in the region and cater not only in the Philippines but also in this market.

Fast-Rising and Award-Winning
As we moved forward, the core team eventually changed and evolved. My team initially had talks with a foreign investor but when we realized that we are not aligned with our priorities, we instead formed an alliance with partners from an accounting firm. It was a great idea to bring together the word smiths / creative geniuses and those who know the numbers. After a series of meetings, plannings and reviews, on March 16, 2016, we finally gave birth to ComCo Southeast Asia. And the rest, as they say, is history.

On our first year, the Agency already won much coveted accounts such as Electrolux, M&M’s, Snickers, WWF, Lamoiyan Corporation’s Licealiz, AirAsia, Goodyear, TCL, BPI-Philam Life Assurance, Pioneer Insurance and Platinum Karaoke. The year after, ComCo SEA added World Vision, Eastern Communications, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Oakley and Reef to its roster of clients. Then in 2018, the firm continued to grow with the inclusion of new premier accounts such as SM Cinema including IMAX, Director’s Club and Snack Time, Dragonpay, Coca-Cola, The Medical City-Clark, Hapee Kiddie, Hapee Baby, Happy Buddy, Gumtect Sensitive, Gumtect Gumcare, Old Spice, Bai Nian Tang Bao restaurant, Unilab Foundation and Wake Up Manila.

The winning streak continued in different award giving bodies. On our 1st year, ComCo SEA already brought home local and international recognition from IABC (International Association of Business Communicators) Quill Awards which includes an Award of Excellence for the launch of ComCo Southeast Asia, Kidlat Awards, Mumbrella Asia and Spikes Asia. In 2017, we have already been nominated as Agency of the Year in IABC Quill Awards and harvested 13 metals from the same award giving body. To date,  ComCo SEA has already accumulated 37 metals – 16 from IABC Quill Awards, 12 from PRSP (Public Relations Society of the Philippines) Anvil Awards, 2 from MarCom Awards in USA, 2 from Kidlat Awards, 2 from Asia-Pacific Stevie Awards, 1 from Marketing Event Awards in Singapore, 1 from Mumbrella Asia, and 1 nomination from Spikes Asia.

Igniting Brand Love
While reaping these achievements, the Agency did not forget the thrusts it established since its creation. Igniting Brand Love continued as ComCo SEA championed New PR and Smart Social, and handled brands and managed campaigns like our own.

Kai Pioquinto, former Marketing Communications Manager of Goodyear (now Marketing Communications Manager of Asia Pacific Emerson Electric) said, “Building a brand is never a solo act. One of the most important steps to do that is to surround yourself with people who are as passionate as you are about your brand. Even at the onset, ComCo has shown unparalleled passion and commitment for the Goodyear brand, treating it as if it were their own.”

David Viray, Brand Manager of AirAsia Philippines  added, “Our partners in ComCo are able to come up with fresh ideas from time to time, yet strategic and aligned with the business and communication objectives of our campaigns. Their ways of working complement our company’s pace in terms of how fast formulation and execution of plans are supposed to be, while maintaining high level of efficiency.”

Genesis Lamigo, Communications and PR Manager of World Vision meanwhile said, “I am most proud and pleased by our partnership with Comco which faithfully helped us spread the word about World Vision, especially during our year-long 60th anniversary commemoration in 2017. With Ferds Bondoy at the helm, Comco helped boost our media presence and positioning as an enduring child-focused NGO, as they provided timely advice and guidance to our advocacy awareness and fundraising thrusts including World Vision Run, Nakakalokal Concert with Ogie Alcasid, 2k in 1k Child sponsorship campaign, Marawi emergency response, and the recent Quill Awards winner See the World initiative in partnership with Air Asia. With that, we are so grateful and we look forward to more value-creating alliance in the future. More power to the Comcoys!”

Andrea Pionilla, Country Marketing Manager of Electrolux Philippines , shared, “It’s no secret that the PR and communications function has had to evolve to embrace advanced marketing strategies. ComCo Southeast Asia has gone beyond the scope of traditional PR. They are more agile in building relevant brand messages that can bend and move, providing greater value in a wide range of services, such as social, content and digital.”

Stephanie Henares, former Advertising and PR Manager of SM Cinema, now AVP for Marketing of SM’s Shopper Center Management Corporation said, “ComCo’s foundation lies in the heart of its leader and its team. Built on sincerity, trustworthiness, detailed organization, and persistence, this boutique agency is a force to be reckoned with.”

Igniting Talent
And with the creation of the Camp ComCo Mentorship Program, Igniting Talent was brought to life.

Camp ComCo Mentorship Program is an intensive and comprehensive talent incubation initiative, industry linkage course and apprenticeship program designed to transform communication, marketing and multimedia arts students / fresh graduates into revolutionary professionals of the new disciplines and global practice of New PR and Smart Social. Presented in three phases, Skills Calibration, Strategic Communications Immersion and Specialization Elective, Camp ComCo curriculum is facilitated by ComCo Southeast Asia’s pool of marketing and communication experts and its network of industry practitioners in the region. Apprentices are grouped into different houses (House Whaleshark, House Hawksbill, House Flying Fox, and House Bearcat), enabling a more focused mentorship by each house’s respective steward and advisor.

For Camp ComCo Cycle 7 and 8, they underwent the House Wars pitch where each of the team developed a communications plan for Unilab Foundation’s Play Advocacy Week project. This eventually became a full-pledged project which was developed in November, 2018. Maia Melencio, Partnerships & Resource Innovations Manager of Unilab Foundation, shared, “I’ve worked with Ferds for more than 5 years now, and through several agencies. I was thrilled when he set up his own agency. ComCo Southeast Asia gives its 110% to a project, pouring in passion and love for our play advocacy. What started out as a proposal during the ComCo Mentorship Program, evolved, and grew into an actual play advocacy campaign which was launched last year.”

Camp ComCo is a result of what I witnessed in my career journey, the best practices in the region and the worst conditions around us. Running the Camp takes time and is an extra effort for us but we are committed to doing this as the advocacy is something we take to heart. We are a believer that it is not solely the school that defines the life-long craft of a student, but more importantly it’s the kind of apprenticeship he will experience, get inspired about and learn from – the jumping board of what his life’s work will be. And we want that experience to be extremely valuable and memorable to an apprentice because, not only the agency, brands and industry will benefit from it, but in combined little ways, the society we take part of.

Igniting Social Change
Igniting Social Change happened through the Citizen ComCo initiative. ComCo Southeast Asia worked with different NGOs like WWF, World Vision, Called to Rescue and UNFPA. The Agency also organized its own yearly Little Angels Christmas Outreach for orphans and supported environment conservation education through social media and corporate merchandise (metal straws) to promote a more sustainable way of life.

I was smiling at the back, silently seeing these scenes, ComCoys and ComCowans being kuya and ate to these children. This is why Camp ComCo mentorship program was created. We are able to hone not just the best minds but the kindest spirits in town. More than the skills and passion for craft, these young men and women have character and drive to help. In an interview for a book about entrepreneurship, the writer told me, “They’re people who go beyond money because they value working for a higher purpose, a purpose that goes beyond selfish reasons. If you are a leader who want to make a difference, you will attract the same people to work with you. Simply put, they are people of substance.”

Igniting Southeast Asia
ComCo was also able to start Igniting Southeast Asia through the formation of the coalition of independent agencies in the region. The network is now composed of allies from other key Southeast Asian markets – Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.

In roughly 3 years, ComCo Southeast Asia registered an unprecedented growth as it expanded its account portfolio, bagged local and international awards, worked on landmark campaigns and life-changing advocacies, and grew its local team and regional network. So, how did it happen? How did we transform a kickstart-up to become a fast-rising and award-winning agency and now a communications powerhouse?

The New Agency Culture
It helped that the founders of the Agency have already established their brand of work in the industry. It is just like housing all these talents in one progressive professional ecosystem and safe work environment. But it can’t be just about that. Largely, I attribute this to the new agency culture we created. It’s the rebel culture, the inclusive environment and the dynamic structure that we’ve painstakingly worked on to achieve since day 1. We planned to become a different kind of company, a more mission-driven organization – from sharing individual journeys to molding new talents, from doing business differently to supporting advocacies, from inspiring project ownership to pursuing inclusive growth. It’s the culture that inspires all of us to pursue our life’s work, together, and the envisioned free spirit and creative freedom now brought to life that makes us unstoppable.

We celebrate Christmas through travel (Ilocos, Baguio and Tagaytay) and we hold our awaydays offshore (Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and in a few days, Sydney). We aimed to do business differently, share individual journeys and create team experiences that will shape all of us to become better persons and craftsmen, and pursue inclusive growth where everyone who contributed to all our successes will reap its rewards.

Life’s Work
I could say that this culture finally created what I consider as my ultimate best team ever. I finally found my people who share the same passion and commitment to bringing our vision to life. This culture was able to create a positive, friendly and caring environment for these bright minds, brave spirits and big hearts to pursue their crafts and make a difference in people’s lives.

One time, I asked a friend on how would you know if the thing you do is what God wanted you to do? He just said that you will feel it. You will just see that everything will fall into the right place. It’s like God is making all things happen, and all you have to do is follow, and walk to the path He prepared for you. After that, I knew it, that there is no way that this is just about us, that aside from the hard work we did, God had a hand on this.

ComCo SEA became an upgrade of the way we do work. It is an outlet for craftsmanship, not just work nor career. It is a channel to influence change and impact lives. It is a place to mentor talents, for real. It’s like the climax for my profession and the springboard for a mission to doing bigger things as a communicator. It houses everything for me. ComCo SEA, this is my life’s work.

On our 3rd year, so much have been achieved already, but there’s more work to be done. We’ve just started, and we’re more ready to rock the world and level up igniting brand love, social change, talent cultivation and regional collaboration. The journey continues.

To know more about ComCo Southeast Asia, please visit www.comco-hq.com or follow us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/comco.southeastasia), LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/company/comco-hq) and Instagram / Twitter (comco_sea).

 

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