Tony Sarmiento is due to speak at a media festival in 2015. The fest’s site shows his designation as ‘Regional Creative Integrator’, Collab/Havas Media Apac. The chief creative officer and managing partner at Havas Media Ortega, Manila, was handed the mandate to watch over the innovation think tank Collab in 2013. Earlier, in May 2012, Havas Media Ortega was formed as a ‘fully-integrated media agency’. He had moved in, with 12 years of ‘above-the-line’ advertising experience in agencies like BBDO, Grey, Saatchi & Saatchi, Publicis and Proximity. And he’s more than convinced that he has one foot entrenched in the future. He’s come a long way since dropping out of a management course and pursuing communications. So has the communications business.
After addressing queries at the Havas Cafe in Cannes through the day, he settles down for a conversation over a few drinks in the small garden of the Hotel Chalet De L'iserie. His career seems to tell the story of the future of collaboration. He is quick to correct us. After having done direct marketing, CRM, advertising, digital, brand activations and shopper marketing, he is convinced that is not the future, but the present.
Moving from the traditional
The challenge to get people into collaboration mode is not so much of a struggle today, notes Sarmiento, comparing it to forays into any unchartered territory. One such shift was his move into advertising itself. Pursuing communications against the wishes of his father, he found encouragement in his mother, who kept track of every news item on him along his career path. And there were quite a few, aided in good measure by the number of awards he’s won. Recognition came at D&AD, Clio, The One Show, Cannes Lions, Asian Direct Marketing Awards, Asia Pacific Advertising Festival, the Asian Advertising Awards and Malaysian Kancils. Back home in the Philippines, his work has won in the Creative Guild, the Philippine Ad Congress Araw Awards, the IMMAP Boomerangs, the Araw Values and the Catholic Mass Media Awards, according to a note he shared with us.
Work for Vespa Scooters (reproduced alongside) was the 15th most awarded print ad in the world, according to the Gunn Report of the year. In 2012, work for Kraft Tiger Biscuits’ Energy Playground was shortlisted in the Cannes Titanium Lions competition.
So what prompted the shift to media, to launch what is billed as Philippines’ first ‘fully integrated’ media agency? The move was ‘very, very conscious’, says Sarmiento.
“In the last four years, most of the awards I have won have probably not been for regular work in print, radio and TV. The more I was forced by ATL agencies to come up with traditional media solutions, the more I started finding different ways to create something outside traditional media. The challenge was always going to be ‘What’s next?’ That’s what keeps me awake a night,” explains Sarmiento.
He underlines that Collab was born when ‘everyone wanted to do everything for themselves’. “There is always room for collaboration. Not just internally, but also between different agencies. For me, that was the sexy part of moving away from ATL,” he adds.
There’s always a fear lurking in his mind though, of not doing his best. He attributes it to one thing that changed his life. When he had to repeat his first year in high school, he saw his mother cry for the first time. He promised himself that he would never let that happen again.
According to him, the inherent hunger in creative directors to do cut through work, to look for ‘the next frontier’, is shaping the trend of collaboration. Ever since his ‘shop’ started recruiting and collaborating in Manila, he says more have followed suit. From creating joint entities together to forging partnerships, the evidence is across the board – be it media agencies getting together with technology companies or boosting creative capabilities, explains Sarmiento.
“We’re seeing the shift. The media landscape in Philippines has been looking for that big shift. Television channels have been building their own integrated creative shops within. When Collab was created, it was a time when creative was very much linked to ATL and traditional work. We wanted to find out if we can take out all the guys, bring in an ideator/innovator, a social media person, and more, and put together an ‘all star’ team,” he notes.
The story so far has been good. That explains why he’s been asked to share the Collab story across offices of Havas Media. A small office is operational in Singapore, and plans are underway for Indonesia and Malaysia. In India, the mandate is to work closely with Havas Worldwide and the leadership of Havas Media, says Sarmiento.
Missing the high…
He does not miss the ‘high’ of the traditional creative agency role, emphasises the new age creative, and reasons: “No, because thanks to the re-integration, creativity is not lost. In fact, it has increased in my opinion.”
So what about the awards? He does admit to craving for the high of a Titanium nomination, but is quick to add that the future will be of award-winning work that explores the width that reintegration and new media allow.
Sarmiento states, “I would feel worried if the be-all and end-all of creativity will be awards. They are good to win, sure, but we also need to look at media that has changed. One of the nicest things is, when we look at media today, how wide creativity can span. We can make any of it – social, digital, in-shop or something else – the carrier of the idea. That makes things very exciting for me as a creative.”
Among career goals, even while factoring in the new challenges on the chosen path of collaboration, is a Titanium Lion at Cannes.
Creativity, culture, creators
One of the things that bothers the ad man is the influence of the British regime on Philippines’ culture. He feels that the country has to be able to embrace its culture more, including in its advertising.
He reflects, “Philippines needs to find its truth. It is slowly finding its identity in sport, in cuisine; it needs to find its voice in advertising. Western culture is both a good and a bad thing. It opens us up more, but doesn’t create opportunities for us to embrace our roots. The day it finds its voice, we will be more comfortable reaching out globally.”
Asked about people who have influenced him, Sarmiento notes that there are many who have, through their work, and some who have in person. He considers himself fortunate to have interacted with the likes of Neil French, David Guerrero and Jos Ortega.
“They have opened me up to the opportunities. They have helped me find my voice and also create advertising that focuses beyond the borders,” he notes.
Among inspirations, he names Tham Khai Meng and our own Piyush Pandey. Work that defines a culture, has its influence – surely, on the admittedly ‘very impressionable’ Sarmiento. On that list from the Western world are David Droga and Alex Bogusky.
The road map
“The task right now is really about spreading the word on collaboration,” surmises the creative. He has been told many times since Collab was launched that it would be met with a lot of cynicism, he reminds us. It is admittedly going to be a ‘long and arduous process trying to spread the gospel of Collab’.
“As the world becomes smaller, all the more people start feeling the need to branch out. We see it every day. But, there are still borders and lines that keep people from reaching togetherness. The idea of ‘togetherness’ is one of the goals I am striving to get into advertising. The end result of collaboration is common good,” he explains.
As his profile says, when he is not hopping from one Havas Media office in the Apac to another, he’s mentoring the next gen of advertising and communications. A ‘small way of giving back’, he notes. The interest is that creativity in the Philippines must be groomed for the global stage, even while it embraces its roots.
The last thing on his ‘To do’ list, and certainly not the least, is to ensure that his four-year-old daughter Mira is proud of him, and what he does. The task is born of the fact that his wife Elizabeth too is from the advertising profession, in a society where most parents are from traditional professions – lawyers, architects, engineers, doctors and the like.
“I hope she smiles when she says ‘He builds things’,” signs off Sarmiento.
Tiger Energy Playground: Saatchi Manila, circa 2010-11. When physical energy helped create electricity.
Toyota 'Ambulance' radio spot
In shop advertising for Pantene