Not all the time do you hear a dedicated wordsmith successfully launch as a leader – and our latest marketing expert in the spotlight is a living embodiment of that: passionate writer turned strategic leader Dabs Castillo, who is the current co-managing director of one of the leading PR and digital communications agencies in the Philippines, M2.0 Communications.
Dabs have long assumed senior leadership positions at the agency, but his directorial role came at a time when the world was struck with a threatening virus – talk about double the challenge, double the pressure.
Having “stringing words together” as a passion, Dabs has set out to be a full-fledged storyteller for brands – find out how the once energetic and ardent “racketeer” finally found his stable place in the world of marketing – and more.
Starting out as a writing “mercenary”
If we’re to go all the way back, Dabs didn’t really immediately foray into the professional world as an eager writer, rather, just like all others, he simply wanted one thing: to get a job and be employed.
Back in 2008, Dabs was a budding professional at a time when opportunities weren’t as abundant in the country for someone like him. With the booming BPO industry during the period, Dabs found himself in an internationally sourced position – a copywriter for an auto parts firm in the US.
As Dabs puts it, he began as a writing “mercenary.” Aside from the copywriting post, he took on numerous writing gigs – ranging from ghost blogging to creative writing for ad agencies
“The economy was entering a recession and great opportunities were in short supply. At the same time, I was not exactly an honor student so I knew I needed to work doubly hard to prove my worth to employers,” he said in the #MARKETECHMondays interview.
As Dabs went on to building his craft, being a contributing writer to local news outfit The Philippine Online Chronicles and creating copy for big Filipino brands under ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi, it became the key to what would ground him on another calling – being a creatives strategist and leading people.
Dabs’ journey to marketing leadership
By 2013, Dabs knew his adventurous writing stint had run its course and that he needed to push himself to find stability; stumbling upon his current company M2.0 Communications at the time, little would he know that more than a sustainable environment in store for him was eventually a ticket to the world of marketing creatives.
Starting out as a copywriter at M2.0 Communications, he eventually moved up positions, and after two years, found himself at the forefront of campaigns – cooking up strategies for public relations and social media for big brands such as canned goods Del Monte, chocolate brand Loacker, and premium residential development Crown Asia.
The turning point came when one of the company’s senior managers had been absent for a campaign pitch and Dabs had to step in.
“That sort of tickled my appetite for campaigns. [Campaigns] for me is storytelling, campaigns [are about] stories,” said Dabs.
From there on, he had slowly been introduced to different areas of the business beyond content, and that’s when he started to assume the role of a strategist, developing a more intimate understanding of the bigger picture.
Of his current role – co-managing director – an appointment given to him just January of this year, Dabs said, “[it was] everything I had hoped for and nothing that I expected.”
He further said, “In short, it can be at times overwhelming. I was always comfortable with the technical aspect of communications work, but looking back, I don’t think I was ready for the responsibility of bringing people together.”
It was when M2.0 Communications CEO Doy Roque had to leave for a trip abroad and Dabs had to proxy as the firm’s OIC that he first got roped into the responsibility of his new role.
“I think that was the first time I recognized the possibility to do this role.”
Dabs as a leader: “It’s important to build a culture where people aren’t afraid to make mistakes.”
In the interview, Dabs shared how he takes mentorship from every person he works with, as there is always something to learn from each one, and when it comes to one of his core principles in leadership – it’s something he learned firsthand from his colleagues.
During a big pitch for a major fast food chain – something Dabs would also say a “failure” he won’t forget – he had messed up a presentation that had been perfectly prepared for three months prior.
“We had [a] good team, the right messages, good executions, [and] the deck was so nice, [and] it was one of my earlier pitches. [But] when the presentation came, I couldn’t string six words together.”
“I really think I didn’t deliver the pitch, I didn’t deliver the presentation value that was needed to push that thing forward. But everything else, going into it, I thought we had it.”
Despite having carried a burden off it for a long time, what struck Dabs most is how his colleagues accepted the incident, and afforded him the same level of respect even after falling short with the project.
“What struck me the most was how people were still receptive of my inputs, even after that, because [with myself], I take it personally, and they treated me like I didn’t make a mistake.”
And with such storm, one of Dabs’ valuable outlooks on leadership came to him – the importance of building a culture where people are not afraid of mistakes.
He also said that one’s success as a leader “depends on three things: time, people, power.”
“Leadership is about finding the time to manage a thousand moving parts effectively; [It’s] about engaging people and aligning them to the broader goals of an organization; [It’s] about embracing a realistic understanding of accountability and authority,” he added.
How about leading during this time of pandemic?
The biggest challenge for Dabs and his organization also emerged to be one of its great successes – being able to work effectively as a team and bringing good stories to brands amid limited activity and interaction.
Dabs’ not so novel, but undoubtedly effective antidote to the problem – looking at the silver lining.
“When this lockdown started, I told my team that we might find something better at the other side of it. And I think, if we put in the work, set aside the distractions of this thing, [since] it’s really hard to work from home, I think we might find a better version of ourselves.”
Having been tapped for the role right at this time, Dabs made sure he focused on what’s important, and that is his people.
“For an agency that takes such pride in its culture, the work from home arrangement was quite a big dilemma. Earlier on, our leadership team made a strong commitment to focus on people. We doubled down on engaging everyone so as not to lose what we valued the most: working for each other.”
Advice for would-be marketers: “Embrace changes, but hang on to fundamentals.”
In the ever-evolving field of marketing, it’s smart to adapt and learn the ropes of the newer practices and trends, but Dabs said that with a digital world that peels off its latest buzz by the minute, it’s all the more reason to focus on the fundamentals.
“I believe the fundamental concepts of this business do not yield. As we enter a more data-driven age, we mustn’t forget that understanding people is and always will be the grounding compass of this industry.”
“Digital makes [marketing] highly conducive to disruption. Your success depends on your capacity to integrate new approaches, while tempering them with time and tested tactics.”
Specifically with developing meaningful campaigns, Dabs said those fundamental blocks would be writing and conceptualization.
“These elements are learnable and given enough dedication, training, and experience, they can be mastered.”
Dabs also touched on one other important thing – research and development.
“Because the industry is highly susceptible to disruption, our agency also doubled down in research and development efforts during the pandemic. We developed new products, ranging from more data driven reports to online events. We now have ON3, our very own webinar platform dedicated to engaging communities. Our first two series focused on the digital evolution of communications and the challenges of the pandemic for startups.”
Then he goes back to the most important factor – the lifeline of all – people.
“I would argue that the bigger takeaway from my earlier experiences is the value of collaboration. The way things are set up today, where people have access to information in the comfort of a tap, we often undervalue people skills – which shouldn’t be the case.”
Watch the full video of this interview on our YouTube channel, going live today at 6:30 pm PST.
This was done in collaboration with Blogapalooza Inc. Blogapalooza Inc is an influencer marketing company, which manages business-influencer collaborations for conversations across different platforms.