The delicate business of selling news, from a top advertising guru

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Freshly-retired as CEO of a top Philippine advertising firm, Matec Villanueva explains life post-retirement as one of the industry’s biggest names, and why she lent her skills as consultant for CNN Philippines. Photo by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Barely six months after retiring from top advertising firm Publicis Manila, marketing and public relations guru Matec Villanueva is now part of CNN Philippines as its “consultant-on-the-loose” and “speaker-at-large” (as her LinkedIn profile says), lending her more than 30 years of expertise in effective communication to the rigors of the newsroom.

The part-time lecturer at Ateneo’s John Gokongwei School of Management has had an illustrious career as one of the giants in Philippine advertising, handling some of its biggest brands before retiring as CEO of Publicis Manila in August 2016. But the offer to maintain and maximize the potential of a news brand was one she can’t refuse, no less from CNN Philippines president Armie Jarin-Bennett herself, whom she used to teach basketball in Maryknoll College.

Here’s how the freshly-retired advertising executive thinks about the Philippine media, the millennial market, and being busier post-retirement, in her own words.

I’m an advertising person. It’s easy to just say I’m a consultant, but because I’m an ad person, I always like to make it a little interesting. [A] consultant is a dime a dozen. If I were to use that as my value proposition as a brand, I would have to stand out. That’s how I try to use regular terms and tweaking it a bit: thus, my LinkedIn profile says I’m a consultant-on-the-loose and speaker-at-large for CNN. After retiring, I panicked. I still want to work, but what do I do? I wasn’t sure I wanted to work again full time.

Armie and I knew each other from school. So I was in my second year of teaching [in Maryknoll, now Miriam College], I think she was a freshman. And part of the things I used to do aside from teach economics and business math, was — I was athletic — I’d teach [the students] sports like basketball. Armie was one of them. That’s how I met her. Years ago, we hooked up again on Facebook. She was with CNN [in] Hong Kong. And then she wrote me the other year, and said, I’m coming back to the Philippines. Then she found out I was retiring. She asked what are your plans, eh I teach part-time in Ateneo. So I said I’ll teach, do part-time consultancy, do workshops, talks. So sabi niya, help me naman. I said, sige, let me know what you think. She said, eh mahal ka eh. Sabi ko, eh kasi galing akong CEO. But that’s not fair … kasi 'yung pinanggalingan ko, I was top management there. So I’m stepping out of that. I just said, you know what, I’m interested because it’s a very fascinating thing to do. I mean, gago ba ako? Who’s a marketing person who would turn their back on CNN?

When you’re a teacher, you do two things. You’re a student forever; you cannot be a good teacher unless you’re constantly learning. It’s one of the most underrated professions

You know, I was right about how strong the brand is. So I posted on my Facebook [my CNN ID], one of my highest likes. I got about 700 plus likes and a long thread of comments. Which proves to you that people reacted to my post, which said: nothing legitimizes one’s engagement than being issued a company ID. Seven hundred likes. Even in my LinkedIn! Tama ang assumption ko. It’s a really, really strong brand. For me, who’s supposed to be retired, it’s like, what else are you going to do, Matec? I mean if I’m going to get into another engagement, it has to be bigger than everything I’ve ever [done].

I told Armie that CNN’s market is the younger market: the millennials. They share the same values — they’re both optimistic, they’re both very contemporary, global. None of this kabaduyan, intriga. Because millennials have access to information, they want their information to be credible, to be real. The kids now, because they’re more exposed, will be more attracted to something like CNN Philippines. And another thing I’ve seen about millennials is, they like good news. They would prefer to hear inspiring news. And I think that’s the difference CNN brings, there’s an optimism in its DNA. Not all news have to be bad.

To tell the story of the Filipino — it’s not as if other networks are not doing that.  But I think the good [thing for CNN is] really, that it’s optimistic, has a positive way of communicating stories. There’s a real celebration of the Filipino story. It’s not with fireworks. It’s the way stories are told. There’s no fanfare. It’s the discipline of the storytelling.

What the networks sells to clients is viewership. But the viewership does not happen unless we make a good product — which is programming, the shows, understanding the people, amplifying things. Basic principles in marketing still apply, the difference would be in how the business is done. When Armie asked me to help her out, I didn’t find it unusual, but found it exciting. In the end, CNN Philippines is still a strong brand. Building CNN Philippines is even more exciting. It requires a different touch. It tries to draw from the mother brand, connects it meaningfully to the Filipino. I like the fact that it respects the local flavor and idiosyncrasies, Filipino culture and character. It’s a great marketing challenge.

Advertising is an instrument that tries to influence behavior towards your brand. Whether it’s a promise, an imagery, or with the use of endorsers, anything that will convince them that your proposition is better than the opposition or other brand. So it tries to make you say, why don’t I try this? Why will I just stick here with my brand?

Does advertising create sales? It should. Advertising that does not sell does not work. I don’t know if you’ve heard of this commercial: “Coffee na lang, dear.” Everybody remembered it, except the product. Anong produkto? Bacon. Diba? Everyone thought it was for coffee. ‘Di nabenta, patay. Everybody was talking about it, everybody remembered it, pero di nabenta ‘yung bacon. Ah, laos. If it doesn’t occupy the mind of the consumer … Remember, [the ad] will either make you want to try, make you want to consider, even to the last point na, ”Uy, nakita ko ‘to sa [ad], matignan nga.” Suddenly, my consumer is now touching me. If I didn’t have that ad, that wasn’t gonna happen. So I’m a step closer to being considered. Because once consideration happens, I’m a step closer to being purchased, being tried.

Matec-4.jpg Barely six months after retiring from top advertising firm Publicis Manila, marketing and public relations guru Matec Villanueva is now part of CNN Philippines as its “consultant-on-the-loose” and “speaker-at-large,” lending her more than 30 years of expertise in effective communication to the rigors of the newsroom. Photo by JL JAVIER

In marketing, if a product is bad, the product is bad. What needs to happen is that schools that teach journalism should be teaching more values rather than just techniques. It applies to a lot of schools — whether journalism, marketing, or accounting. What a lot of schools don’t teach is the idea of integrity.

Teaching is the other reason why I had to go on working as a consultant or a speaker. The value I bring into teaching is experience. The outside world. If that stream stops, I have nothing to bring to the kids. They might as well just read the book. And so, if I wanted to be a teacher and be good at it, I had to keep practicing. That’s why critical sa akin to be working — kasi that’s what I bring. I’ll discuss the principle with real life examples.

People who make decisions in brands now are X-ers and boomers. And they’re trying to sell to millennials. Why won’t you? They’re 25 percent of the population and 50 percent of the workforce. Their demand is substantial because they have the purchasing capacity. The thing is, [some brands] cannot wrap their head around it — why millennials don’t stay in a job, why their aspiration at life is to retire at 40. We boomers call it a job, X-ers call it a career, millennials call it a passion. And they’re all the same thing. Boomers say, work, work, work, delayed gratification; X-ers say, work hard, play hard; millennials say, if I can work and play at the same time … so from a marketing point of view, ‘di nila [the X-ers and boomers] maintindihan.

I’m a teacher by heart. When you’re a teacher kasi, you do two things. You’re a student forever; you cannot be a good teacher unless you’re constantly learning. It’s one of the most underrated professions. It’s a passion, a vocation. I tell my kids, it’s my penance. Ano bang vocation? Wala nang pera, wala pang lovelife. There’s very little of you, yet you derive so much satisfaction. My biggest dream is for any of my kids to say, you know, I got into marketing because of you. My biggest achievement is every time I have a former student who’s done well out there — I’ve done something good. 

I think that’s why my clients like me: they come to me, and ask, “Matec, what do we do?” That’s always been my value to my clients eh. I tell my kids in college, you know how you can make good money? A guy who is able to solve the hardest problem makes the best money. Because there’s always someone out there who has a problem and is willing to pay good money to get it solved. In the course of doing advertising and marketing, that was my job. They came because they had a problem; for me, it was still teaching. And where do I get it? From my own experience, learning from my own mistakes, other brand’s mistakes. That’s why my clients come in. “Matec, what do we do?” And that’s teaching.