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#MARKETECHMondays: Norman Agatep, President and Managing Director of Grupo Agatep in the Philippines

MARKETECH APAC - September 14, 2020

To thrive in marketing and public relations where creativity is the name of the game is already a challenge on its own, let alone to achieve tenure in such industry. To become a mainstay—that is a different story altogether.

For the first #MARKETECHMondays episode this September, we feature Norman Agatep. A name that may have been, over the period of time, synonymous to advertising and PR in the Philippines; a living and breathing example of a man whose passion in marketing and corporate communications has lent him an undeniable feature of success, that is, longevity in the field.

Norman is currently the president and managing director of Grupo Agatep, an integrated marketing communication agency put up by his father, Charlie Agatep, a veteran PR man himself.

Norman has been working in advertising and PR since 1990 prior to becoming chief of his family-run agency. But from the year 2015 onwards, that was when he saw his expertise unfold in a novel way, being appointed to roles that would charge him not only with overseeing clientele work, but also with contributing to the growth of the country’s communication industry.

In 2015, he stepped in as president of the Internet and Mobile Marketing Association of the Philippines (IMMAP). Then in 2016, he was elected chairman of the 4As, or the Association of Accredited Advertising Agencies of the Philippines, a non-profit organization covering Ad agencies in the country. The year after, he was reelected to the position, all the while being named as chairman of the advertising regulatory board, the Ad Standards Council (ASC). Currently, he serves as president of the Public Relations Society of the Philippines.

Truly a soldier of the creative industry, his devotion to the work of media and communications goes over and beyond running an agency, but now has proven to be that of dedicating oneself to the country’s advertising and PR landscape.

With all these credentials under his belt, one would wonder, who was he before all of it? We go back to the night of his graduation.

Starting out as an English lit teacher
Before doing agency work, Norman was with the academe, teaching high school students on an array of subjects that are still close to communication: English literature and composition; film theory and appreciation.

As a man looking for a career to build, from the very start, he need not look far ahead having a father that was well-immersed in marketing. But there was this brief incident at the night of his college graduation that further pushed signs that he was meant to do work in marketing communications.

“I remember very distinctly, walking out at the venue of our graduation, I was with my dad and the president of an ad agency came over, and was recruiting me on the spot to join his agency,” said Norman during the #MARKETECHMondays interview.

“When he asked me, my father was there at the time. My dad was saying, ‘But wait, before you even ask my son in your agency, I might as well be the first one to ask him’.”

As inconclusive it may be, accepting that impulsive offer could still have turned a different path for him, but a father has got to know—doe-eyed Norman was very well destined to become successor.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree
To say that Norman’s father, Charlie Agatep, is an inspiration to him would be a complete understatement. Norman says that a big part of his passion and work ethic could not have come elsewhere, but has always been deeply grounded from his roots.

The senior Agatep built the agency in 1986, where years later, would be joining forces with multinational advertising leader Euro RSCG, more commonly known today as Havas Worldwide. In 2016, the company returned to its local roots and is now the independent agency, Grupo Agatep.

“The mentoring that I got from my dad was holistic. I would see him at home, and then at work, then back at home again,’ shared Norman.

“The very way that he would dispose [of] himself at home, and the examples he would demonstrate through work ethic in the office, then back at home again; [that] is seamless. So it was something that I was surrounded with 24 hours a day.”

He shares further, “He would demonstrate exactly what effective communication would be. He would be very clear on how he would communicate.”

One of the best lessons he learned from him, the balance of the right and the left brain.

“He is results-oriented. That’s something difficult [for me] [because] I am more on the creative side of communication, so sometimes, it gets difficult for me to focus on results, because I am so buried, entrenched on the task of creating.”

“But [my father], he’s not like that. He’s able to distance himself from work, and see where the work is headed to and what objectives are still needed. So he is results-oriented, [something] I am continually learning from, [and] the quality that I am trying to learn.”

A tale on pitches: failures and successes along the way
When asked about failures and successes, Norman touched on the pitches that he was able to see through and those that just didn’t get the green light.

For him, there have been disappointments in the career he’s led just like everybody else’s; probably an account that he lost or a pitch he didn’t win, but trying to remember them will never be as vivid, as he lives by the attitude of always “moving forward” and never lingering on the missteps.

“I don’t remember them distinctly because the attitude should be to take that situation, and see how you can be better because of it.”

With successes, it would come as a surprise that a particular pitch he felt most proud of was one he didn’t immediately bag, and was in fact only a second choice to the winning idea at the time.

The pitch was for a big advertising campaign for a beverage brand, where five agencies were in competition. Norman’s team was the smallest agency of the bunch. Easily a boulder to overcome at the start, his team had been asked to revise and present twice. But hard work paid off when they received a call the night of the second round.

He recounts, “The night of that second presentation, the brand manager called [and wanted to meet].”

The brand manager goes, as Norman remembers, “We were not so impressed by [your] idea, [and] the other agencies had bolder ideas, but we [enjoy] [working] with you, we feel like we can work through an idea.”

Then the next thing the manager says is something we all ought to learn on the topic of attitude:

“The pitch is an opportunity to see what ideas you have, but it’s also an opportunity to see if we will be able to collaborate on this brand. We did not feel that with the other agencies, we [felt] that [with you], [that] as we collaborate even more, we will get it right.”

Norman as a leader
Leadership is something that has defined most of Norman’s career.

He maintained a directorial position for 19 years before becoming Grupo Agatep’s president. He was creative director of then Euro RSCG Manila for nine years, then managing director of the rebranded Havas
Worldwide Manila for another 10 years.

So how is he as a leader? Even after being in the industry for so long, he reveals that he’s the kind who’s ever hands-on.

“I [wear] several hats. In the office, it’s managing the teams and making sure the clients are happy and serviced well, and making sure delivering what we had promised to our clients; also ensuring that the quality of work is up there. I check on a lot of the work that’s coming out.”

We also asked about the ongoing elephant in the room for the tenured individuals in the creative industry, the ones that hadn’t been originally acculturated to the digital medium: how do you evolve, and lead a young, millennial- and Gen-Z- dominated team?

The way he’s able to manage such team, he chalks it up to his professorship.

“Both my dad and I used to be teachers, where he taught both high school and college. A big part of leadership is training [newcomers]. It [gets] tiring when people eventually move on, and then you have a new set of people to train, but I really like it, and you have to like it to be able to survive this cycle of forever teaching even the basics of PR and marketing.”

He adds, “It’s about loving the craft and being updated yourself, because when I started 30 years ago, there wasn’t online marketing yet. You just have to keep growing as well, and being several steps ahead of the people you’re going to train, and having an open mind that you’re [also] going to learn from them.”

“PR work is grassroots”
Norman gives advice to would-be and aspiring marketers, and he imparts one that is brief, but hits home to the perpetual misconception of what PR work really is.

“There is a preconceived notion that marketing and PR would be a glamorous job, which is sometimes, it’s like that, but it’s a lot of hard work too.”

“If you want to get into marketing, you’ve got to understand it fully. A lot of PR work is grassroots. It’s going to communities, and trying to understand them better, and trying to think of ways to solve the problem of the brands you’re working with.”

Ultimately, he adds, creative PR work starts with oneself.

“Understand brands. Take a look at the brands that you like, try to figure out what makes them successful for you. What did the brands do right that made you patronize them, [ask yourself] how can you use that, and translate that to other stuff that you could do to other brands.”

Watch the full video of this interview on our YouTube channel, going live today at 6:30 pm PST.

If you’re a marketing leader and you want to share your career experience to inspire the marketing industry, please reach out, we want to hear your story.