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Q&A with Mind Museum Managing Director Manny Blas on Marketing as a Way of Life

Q&A with Mind Museum Managing Director Manny Blas on Marketing as a Way of Life

Q1: You were a La Salle brother for 5 years but decided to be a marketer of P&G, Citibank, Pepsi and Sara Lee, what attracted you to marketing that made you give up a vocation?

I did not leave the La Salle Brothers to pursue a marketing career; the latter was coincidental.  In 1977, after four years of formation in the Congregation and one year as a full-time teacher in La Salle Green Hills, I discerned that being a Brother was not my vocation.  I continue to regard it as a very enriching phase of my life for which I am grateful.  The dedication to educate, develop and train others are a part of my life up to this day.

I was looking for a job and ended up in P & G.  I’m glad I pursued marketing because it is an exciting field which constantly challenges your mind:  you analyze a situation, develop the appropriate strategies and, if successful, be able to fulfill a customer need while making money to serve other customer needs, and so on.

Somehow, I did well and I don’t think it is because I analyzed things better, but because I heeded what Bill Bernbach (of the former Doyle Dane Bernbach Advertising Agency) said is required from a marketing person — “the desire to gain insight into human nature.”  I think that simply means being sensitive to others and listening to what they are not saying.

I probably could trace that to my training as a La Salle Brother.  Teaching grade school and high school kids is no easy task, and a good teacher is one who can understand and empathize with what would drive the curiosity of the students.

Those skills — and am referring to serving a need, the passion for education, and insight to the other person’s point of view — carried me through the marketing ladder, and to bigger responsibilities in corporate leadership, as well as in the church ministries that I later undertook.

I am disappointed that some people trivialize marketing as simply developing gimmicks or cute slogans to make someone buy something.

Q2: In 1999, when you were already regional president of Sara Lee, you took a 7-year sabbatical to earn a masters degree in religious studies at Maryhill School of Theology. Then you started a single’s ministry in Saint James Church at Alabang. Please share with us this 360-degree journey in your life that started from being a religious to a marketer and then to lay ministry. How did you use marketing in starting and growing your ministry?

The decision to take a Sabbatical leave was the result of several factors.  One, is the invitation by our parish’ charismatic community for my wife and I to start and lead a Singles ministry that will address the needs of the 22-year old and above single person.  I thought that my experience as a La Salle Brother and my wife Rowena’s natural rapport  with the youth were going to be assets for this assignment.

Second, the demands of my job as Sara Lee’s Regional President was beginning to take its toll on myself and our marriage.  Combine that with the demands on Rowena who also worked in a multinational company.  Both our jobs required much foreign travel and there were several occasions when I was flying in and she was flying out the next day.  It did not take much insight to see where we were headed in our relationship and our own personal well being if we persisted.

And third, we did not have kids of our own which allowed us the recklessness, if you will, to take a leave from corporate life.  And so in 2000, at the age of 45, I started what would turn out to be a seven year sabbatical leave.  My wife joined me in one of those years.  I completed a Masteral degree in Religious Studies at the Maryhill School of Theology.  I became an Assistant Professor in the Religious Education department of De La Salle University-Dasmarinas; and I spent the rest of the time nurturing the Singles Apostolate in our parish.  (In 2007, I landed the job in Ayala Land to start The Mind Museum project).

The Singles Apostolate:

Starting the Singles Apostolate involved the marketing basics.  We dialogued with them to gain insight on the type of organization they were looking for. The Singles’ did need, and want, an organized peer group with whom they can know, grow and share their faith, but they wanted a ministry with a clear purpose and program, and designed specifically for their segment.  The Singles also wanted a collaborative role and creative approach in developing the ministry, rather than simply adapting and repeating activities  based on previous templates.

Based on that, we developed the “four P’s” of marketing for the ministry:

Product – The Singles Apostolate had its own Vision and Mission, organizational structure, cadre of leaders, and a program of activities developed by core teams in Teaching, Worship, Service and Fellowship.  It had its own leadership training program to ensure succession because once singles got married, they were no longer allowed to take a leadership position.  This allowed continued vitality and dynamism of the apostolate.

Price: Members “pay” by contributing time and talent.  We guarantee that they get full value by running our meetings efficiently and conducting activities that addressed their needs and which are well planned and organized.

Promotion:  We promote the apostolate through annual Single Encounter Weekends (which we present as the “best weekend of your life”) and through the year round program of activities.  In terms of growing the apostolate, we felt that the best “advertising” we can have is the joyful way of life of each member which will attract other people.  We developed the phrase, “In all that we do, others will see God shining through us, and will be inspired to be part of us.”

Place/Distribution: We started by recruiting our parishioners and then expanded to friends of parishioners.

The Singles Apostolate was started in 1999 and continues to influence the life of many singles 15 years later.

(Incidentally, while we have no kids, we are the proud godparents of forty-eight couples in their marriage, mostly from the Singles Apostolate; and counting).

Q3: Your thesis at Maryhill was about street children and their image of God. What did you discover about street children that you didn’t expect?

I should clarify that I interviewed children who actually live and work in the streets, and not those who live in street children centers.  These were in-depth interviews conducted in a quiet area along the streets with each interview lasting several hours over several sessions.  These are kids who sleep in the streets, are chased and sometimes jailed by authorities for vagrancy, turned away by people behind car windows, and have to feed themselves through rather creative, if not illegal, means.  You’d think they would say that God did not exist or, if He did, is not the God that we think of as good and caring.

Surprisingly, all ten street children I interviewed regarded God as overall protector and, importantly, as someone who live and inhabits the streets as they do.  Every good thing that happens to them, the streetchildren attribute to God working through the events and people around them.  I also gave them a blank sheet of paper and some crayons, and asked them to draw what comes to mind when they think of God.  Eight of the ten children drew a picture of their family gathered together around the table, going to church, or watching movie.

How would we apply this research finding in developing, say, a catechetical program for streetchildren?  It would be a mistake for a catechist to teach streetchildren as if they are the unlearned for we now know that streetchildren’s lives are replete with God’s intervention. The catechetical classroom should become the context of mutual learning where streetchildren share their experience of how God carries the work of salvation in everyday life, particularly among those in difficult circumstances.  Such an approach is akin to “discovery learning” where passive learning is replaced by active participation which, I believe, will have a more powerful impact to both teacher and student.

Q4: Ayala Land’s Mind Museum raised P1 billion via private donation, and you had a high 80% success rate.  How did you apply marketing in fund raising?

The Mind Museum is the first world class science museum in the country, which is located at a premier central business district, Bonifacio Global City.  It was built purely from private donations of companies and individuals.

The fundraising for The Mind Museum is an example of where one’s ignorance becomes an advantage. Not knowing the field of fundraising emboldened us to test the boundaries of the value of building such a facility.

My inspiration is the book “Made in America” by Peter Ueberroth, the head of the organizing committee of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.  It was the first Olympics that ever made money.  When Los Angeles won the bid to host the Olympics, the organizing committee was mandated to do so without spending a single dollar of taxpayers’ money.  Ueberroth did it by raising money through corporate sponsorship — Coke, Mars, Anheuser Busch, and many others paid millions of dollars to earn the right to be associated with the Olympics.  The Olympics was a great marketing event and it embodied the character — such as excellence, national pride, achievement, etc. — that any American would be proud of.

Thus, the first decision was to choose between a science museum that would be the “top” such facility in the country which would require huge amounts of donations; or, a more modest one in case we can raise only a more modest amount.  I believe this was a chicken and egg situation.  Our Board of Trustees opted for the first.

Our strategies were:

– Position it as a world class science museum which provides an extraordinary educational experience. It will combine art and science to make science interesting and beautiful.  It will harness the Filipino talent to design and fabricate the exhibits in the museum.  (95% of our exhibits are Filipino designed and made). It will promote understanding of basic science and inspire people to be curious about the world around them.  It should be a source of learning for both students and teachers.

– Once built, it will generate its own revenues and donations to fund its operations.  Pricing will be premium versus other facilities but will provide subsidies for public school students and all teachers, consistent with its educational thrust.

– We will hire the best staff with a passion for science and compensate competitively.

– We will run the museum with a focus on operational efficiencies, organizational and exhibition development, while ensuring funds cover our expenses.

I was convinced that having its first world class science museum was an idea shared by many of our countrymen. It had the scale of a project that would impact education and resonate with all Filipinos.

True enough, as we began to solicit donations to build the museum, most of the private companies and individuals we approached remarked: “it’s about time we build our own science museum,” “our company cannot afford not to be part of this undertaking,” “being associated with a world class science museum is highly consistent with our company values and strategies” and many other encouraging words.  It reflected the words of Victor Hugo, “nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”

While all of the companies supported us because they believed in the idea, it was also important that it provided them marketing values to help justify the significant donations we were requesting.  These we did through naming rights of galleries and exhibits of the museum, a special Founders’ Place dedicated to our donors within the facility, and through our several advertising and merchandising efforts.  But the best mileage we promised, and are providing them, are the more than 200,000 visitors that we get every year who visit the museum and come out knowing a little bit more about the world around them, and curious to find out how nature works.

The marketing insight?

We were a team of two (the science curator and myself) who made face-to-face presentations with our potential donors.  We only had a laptop, a powerpoint file, and the passion and enthusiasm behind a project that was long overdue.  At the end, I believe our sponsors supported the project because The Mind Museum became THEIR project too.  It was no longer the project of the foundation.  The story of fulfilling the curiosity of our country’s youth through a science museum became each sponsor’s story as well.  When you tap into a story that resonates with your prospect, when that story serves a need in a manner that is credible, impactful and sustainable, and when that story becomes everyone’s collective endeavor, then there’s no telling the results that such an idea can achieve.

Q5: In Mind Museum, you decided to sell time slots instead of unlimited stay to walk-in customers. On the other hand, you have incentivized tour operators based on longer stay period. Can you share why you did that?

Those two moves were rather controversial in the beginning since we would be the first facility to do it.  Visitors had to adjust their visiting habits similar to watching a movie — going in and out at a certain time slot.  Our goal was to provide each visitor with an extraordinary educational experience, and ensuring that there was only a certain number inside the museum at any one time to allow  a pleasant experience is important.

As to the tour operators, many of them rush the students in and out of certain educational venues (sometimes less than an hour) in order to offer them an attractive package of several venues.  We encourage tour operators to plan so the students stay at least two hours in the museum, and we incentivize them to do that, so the students can get the most learnings from the visit.

This is an example of how every element of the product is made consistent with the value proposition of “a world class science museum which provides an extraordinary educational experience.”

Q6: Mind Museum is a project of a NGO, Bonifacio Art Foundation Inc. You run this professionally without any subsidy from government. What are keys to a sustainable business model for NGOs?

There is the unfortunate notion that a non-profit organizations should rely solely on donations, employ the cheapest talent, and scrimp on every cost even at the expense of developing its product and organization.  However, there are already many other NGO’s out there who are getting out of this self-defeating spiral by running their organizations in a developmental approach while ensuring it is able to generate its own funds to sustain it.

The Mind Museum provides a product (the extraordinary educational experience) that generates sufficient  revenues that pays for operating costs and developmental efforts like new exhibits and new educational programs.

I believe the keys to sustainable model for NGO’s are: a product which addresses a social need that the NGO can fulfill extraordinarily well that it can find “buyers” or “funders” for it; organizing a pool of passionate and talented people who believe in its purpose; and applying the management principles that one does in a business setting.

Q7: You are also VP of Ayala Land in charge of the operations of Fort Bonifacio, can you share how you have applied marketing at BGC.  

Just like in marketing, we developed a value proposition and ensures that  everything we do in Bonifacio Global City is based on being the “home of passionate minds.”  This consists of three elements: a) accessibility (that we are easy to reach), b) we have the infrastructure required by a central business district (not just roads and utilities, but also public transportation, security, grounds keeping and traffic management), and  c) it is a city with a soul (hence our public art program, science museum, and soon, a performing arts center).

Additionally, and this is where I go back to developing “an insight into human nature,” we need an attitude of listening and taking the point of view of the many stakeholders in BGC.  BGC is fast developing to a dense and diverse community and our priorities are no longer building structures, but building a community spirit.  That means BGC is no longer just the responsibility of the developer, but of as many of its BGCitizens who live, work and “play” here.  Looking at the customers’ points of views is critical.

Q8: How do you reconcile two areas that interest you most – religion/theology and science?

I do not consider theology and science as totally conflicting.  On one level, most if not all fields of theology are informed by science.  Findings from history, culture and anthropology help in a better understanding the stories and teachings in the Bible.  (I have a weekly blog at www.sundaygospeltrivia.blogspot.com which applies this approach to the Sunday gospels).  Our appreciation of psychology and social sciences enable us to better interpret the application of Church’s social teachings in contemporary times.

On another level, we can say that theology is the study of how God interacts with humanity, and the more we know about our selves and the world around us, the more we appreciate how this interaction has taken and can take place.

Q9: What to you is your life’s purpose and how has this changed through the years?

I believe my life purpose is just like everyone else’s — to serve others so that their life become better because they encountered us.  We are all given certain things — things we are good at and things we are passionate about.  We make use of these things to help others make the most out of their life; ideally, we do this through the work we get paid for.

In the process of doing all these, hopefully we lead others to that Person who showed us how to do it in a way that made a big difference — through a life based on loving others.  God provides us with the opportunities to write our own life-story of serving others.  It would be a pity if our story is only about the career we developed and wealth we made.

The things that we are good at and what are passionate about may differ, but our purpose on what to do with these things are the same.

(Note: Manny Blas II is a VP of Ayala Land Inc. in Strategic Landbank Management Group, concurrently assigned as Head of Commercial Operations in Fort Bonifacio Development Corporation/Bonifacio Global City and the Managing Director of The Mind Museum, with oversight of Bonifacio Estate Services Corporation (BESC), Bonifacio Transport Corporation (BGC Bus), Bonifacio Gas Corporation (Boni Gas) and Bonifacio Water Corporation (BWC). )

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Josiah Go

About Josiah Go

Bestselling author Josiah Go is the Chairman and Chief Marketing Strategist of Mansmith and Fielders, Inc. (the leading marketing and sales training company in the Philippines), President and CEO of Waters Philippines (the market leader in the direct selling of premium health durable products in the Philippines) and President and CEO of PT Noah Health Indonesia. He is Chairman / Vice Chairman / Director of over a dozen companies.

1 Comments

  1. ernestomate@skycon.ph

    Hi, indeed Mr. Manny Blas has inspired me with his various activities and achievements specially in the field of Marketing despite his religious services. Is it possible to have an audience with him? I happen to know somebody who’s also dedicated to his religious services and still excell in his field of specialty, can we include him in your Interviews? thank you so much!

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