Watch Me Entertain Myself!

Sacha Guitry once said, "You can pretend to be serious, but you can't pretend to be witty." Oh yes, I'm the great pretender.
(pilot episode: 20 January 2004)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Back2Basic Too

It was a night all of us wanted to happen, but none of us thought it could.

And yet there we all were, filling up the function room at Manila Polo Club with familiar faces as well as some fairly new ones. We were all smiles and hugs and semi-shrieks, as people who’ve not seen one another for several years are wont to do. And since we were in advertising, we were more shriek-y and shrill than usual.

There were the obligatory speeches and tributes. There were the usual AVPs showing old pre-digital photos, most of them scanned. The focus was on the mavericks who founded and steered this singular ad agency from Basic Motivators to Basic Advertising to Basic/FCB and then back to Basic. Today, it is known as Jimenez/Basic after the former bought the latter. But for that Friday night, it was purely back to the Basics.

Even outside the entrance to the function room I found myself excitedly greeting friends and former co-workers. They were just too many of them; it was difficult to catch up with all of them. After a while I stopped asking, “Where do you work now?” because frankly it didn’t matter at that point. I was just so happy to reconnect with my past. And what a past it was.

But as the night wore on, I realized that occasions such as this also serve as an opportunity to pause, reflect on where I am now, and ponder where I want to go. When you see a roomful of successful people who have made a mark in their respective fields, you will most likely do more than a bit of your usual self-assessment.

What were my main takeaways that night?

From ARM: fearlessness and genuine concern for people

The late former CEO of Basic was known for his fearlessness. He wasn’t afraid to take on multinational agencies and brands. He also was fearless in experimenting with the company—at one point he revolutionized Basic by restructuring it into “foxholes,” or mini-agencies within the agency. We were so used to changes, it made us unflappable in the face of it. Bring it on.

He was also known for his genuine concern for his employees. He had a special place in his heart for employees who were taking care of their mothers. He made sure that the people working hard in the agency got what they deserved. Thanks to Basic’s profit-sharing scheme, in one year we experienced 19 months pay; two years before I joined the agency, they were lucky to experience 21 months pay. And ARM was happiest when his people were happily flushed with hard-earned cash.

From HGO: humility and simplicity. Keep it simple, stupid. Stay humble. Stay hungry.

He was the simple boy from Majayjay, Quezon who became one of the most respected pillars of Philippine advertising. He bucked the trend of writing in English by insisting on using Tagalog. And his insights were true to the consumers because he kept in touch with the simple folks all throughout his life, even when he was already earning in the millions and can afford to buy and restore an old Ford Mustang convertible.

He and ARM believed in the saying: Never coagulate. They believed that one should always be learning, that even the lowliest of employees have a chance to climb up the ladder.

Being surrounded by young men and women, HGO always taught us to love our job; only then will the job love us back. One can seek the job they like. But when you’re young, you may not even know what it is you like. It won’t hurt if one has the humility to learn to love their job. At least one gains experience and knowledge.

From my close friends who I think are way more successful than I am: the measurement of success is as varied as the individuals in that room.

I always feel like I missed the target whenever I get together with my Basic family, because my closest friends there are all successful and earning more than me. I know that comparing salaries is not just unhealthy, it’s also an inaccurate measure of success. But sometimes I can’t help it. Sometimes. But then I remember that our goals are as unique as we are individuals, and the success that ultimately matters is that which you determined.

That night, we were all successful, and happy for each other’s successes.

“We once had Camelot,” HGO declared. “ARM and I asked ourselves, ‘Can we ever replicate the golden age of Basic?’ No, we can’t.” We all knew the time had come and gone. And it was a most beautiful time. It wasn’t just work; it was play. We weren’t just an agency; we were family.

* * * * *

The barkada. We were there for one another through thick and thin, clients and pitches, homophobic boyfriends and failed romantic pursuits, and single motherhood. 

One is a VP, two are President/CEOs, and one is a movie writer/director/producer.

Sadly, those were our USPs (unique selling proposition) when it came to guys back then.

Mr. Agot Isidro himself. Advertising bekis called him Philippine Advertisings Brad Pitt when he was younger. Ah, youth.

During the usual picture-picture-an, suddenly someone shouted, “O, lahat ng mga bading!Siyempre di kami nagpaawat. (Hindi bading yung nasa front rightmost; pahada lang siya, hahaha.)

But this is my favorite headline of our picture, c/o RikkiMae. 

1 comment:

artistmonk said...

Your post is very inspiring. Professor Marlon was our teacher back in CFA and he certainly woke us up from our early onset of coagulation! "Don't be boring!" was one of his classroom mantras. Wonderful blog post, McVie! :-)