Features

How I got here…Campaigns & Grey’s John Lucas – ‘I switched from basketball jerseys to long-sleeved shirts and neckties’

An injury brought an end to a career in basketball, but helped start a long and fruitful run in advertising across both traditional and digitally driven agencies for the Philippines-based Campaigns & Grey CEO John Lucas

The basketball era: John Lucas (seated second from the right)

Education

I looked forward to being independent after studying in an all-boys Catholic school, and took advantage of my height (six feet and two inches) to pursue my love for basketball. My father, who was also a hoop player in his youth, inspired me to join our college varsity team. I was convinced that this was what I wanted to be doing, long-term.

I did not make it to the team on my first attempt, but this did not stop me from trying again. In my second year, I got in. I eagerly learnt competitive basketball, playing the best I could. I even successfully joined the Philippine Amateur Basketball League (PABL).

I was not the star player, but I was doing alright. My number one fan – my mother – would clip basketball articles with the scores of the team, irrespective of whether we won or whether I scored high, or low.

At the same time, I was also focusing on my studies at San Beda College.

But a knee injury had me rethink the path I wanted to pursue. Suddenly, a hoop career seemed far-fetched. I had to accept that I could not give my 100% anymore. It was then that a cousin broached the idea of me joining advertising.

My start

Early days in advertising

Young and adventurous, I became an account executive for the Philippine Advertising Counselors/BBDO, where I was initiated into a world of creatives, late nights, and a lot of problem-solving.

From wearing basketball jerseys, I switched to long-sleeved shirts and neckties. I had to undergo training for agency work: account management, research, creatives, production and even media management.

I worked hard to go up the ladder. Even though I sometimes regretted not being able to play basketball professionally, I realised that whatever the sport had taught me, I was able to bring to my emerging career.

Eventually, as I gained experience, I was assigned to big accounts. The discipline and environment made it a good training ground. I handled Magnolia and Gold Eagle Beer, key brands of the San Miguel Corporation, the country’s largest food and beverage conglomerate.

I then moved to Batey Ads and to Image Dimensions, where I handled the Bank of the Philippine Islands, the biggest bank in the country, as well as Ginebra San Miguel, the most prominent local liquor brand.

At FCB, I was responsible for mobile network Smart Communications’ value brand, Talk N’ Text, and successfully helped grow its subscriber base to more than double in two years.

I had a second start at Tribal DDB Philippines in 2008: to set up a digital agency as managing director. At the time, everything was still television, radio and print ads.

At Tribal DDB

Digital marketing was very new, but I already knew that the digital space would be the future for advertising, marketing and communications.

After being in a traditional agency for so long, running a digital shop was quite a leap. I had to master digital, as well as lead the agency. It was challenging to set up a team and recruit, but we were also lucky to have Smart Communications as a client – a boost for our agency.

Facebook was only four years old, with two million Filipinos on it; and we still had other platforms like Multiply, MySpace and Friendster. We were among the first digital agencies in the Philippines then, and I helped the company grow by almost 300%.

After spending 10 years with the DDB Group, in August 2018, I joined the Grey network as CEO of C&G Manila. I consider it as another beginning because we are continually evolving. Three decades in the industry, and yet things continue to grow.

Consumers have changed, and companies and brands consciously try to understand digital platforms to know how they can genuinely connect with the audience.

Approach

We are in the business of relationships: In this industry, we build and protect strong relations between brands and their customers, through loyalty and value.

With the team at Campaigns & Grey

Partnerships in the industry with production companies, media and suppliers are an important aspect. Clients also look at how the agency treats their own people: do they add value? If so, how? So, having a genuine and authentic relationship with our clients is a must; and being loyal to the brand, and knowing the issues surrounding the brand, are essential.People are our assets: At Grey, we continue to add value to the team, our biggest asset. We hold regular meetings, share updates, discuss plans and goals. We have put in place several new concepts in management, starting with WAW or Work Anywhere Wednesday.

Employees can opt to work from home, or outside of office, on Wednesdays. They are still productive, creative and finish their day’s tasks. I feel it is a good morale-booster, aside from saving them from the horrendous Manila traffic at least one day a week.

We also have our company’s 5B’s: beer, barbeque, bidyoke (“videoke”), buwan buwan (“every month”). It is our version of unwinding and socialising, which is much needed, and very welcome by everyone: creative millennials, as well as seasoned team members.

We also encourage everyone to join creative competitions, whether locally or abroad. We train them to compete bravely, so they can also be aware of what is out there. It motivates them to do better.

Highs and lows

I would think that my “low” was getting my knee injury, but then again, that also became the reason why I am now in this industry.

My “high” happened last December when I was fortunate enough to be part of the group that bid for the Philippines to host the FIBA Tournament (International Basketball Federation) in 2023. Having the SBP (Basketball Federation of the Philippines) bid for it was very exciting and an excellent experience.

We were up against other big countries, presented well and managed to win the bid. A four-year plan is currently in the works.

So yes, somehow, from where I started in basketball, to being in an agency that will be in charge of the “Olympics of basketball”, has made me come full circle.

Do’s and don’ts

Show sincere concern for clients’ brands and business. Be one step ahead of your clients. We have to know things ahead of time – trends, issues, details. They have to know we can problem-solve for them, anytime.

Embrace change. Don’t be intimidated. Welcome innovation and disruption with open arms.

Everything is personalised now, even the choice of media usage; and networks are aware of that. So, use this knowledge to your advantage.

Digital is such a big part of everyone’s life now, from purchasing airline tickets to ride-sharing, to Airbnb. As someone told me, our biggest competitor really is people with ideas. In our agency, we hope to be those “people with good ideas.”

Get involved. I like seeing my team in action. If there are shoots, I drop by and see how they are doing. It is fun watching them, and I know it is not easy work. Most of all, I like that I am surrounded by a good team. It is important to push them to grow, to learn more, and to rally and encourage them.Campaigns & Grey CEO John Lucas oversees operations in Manila and Cebu. He is based in Manila, the Philippines

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