Q&A with Buensalido PR Digital Head Monique Buensalido on Digital Marketing

Q1: What is it like working in the PR company started by your mother? What is the succession planning like in your company?

A: It’s been great to finally watch my mother in action! She was one of the pioneers of public relations in the country, and it’s amazing to see her sharp intuition, incredible vision, and fortitude come to life in her work. In terms of succession planning, she was always mindful to set up a strong a leadership team who could take over from her, comprised of our Accounts (now Managing) Director and Creative Director. She trained both personally and continues to work with very closely.

I came on board as Digital Communications Director only last year to help build new skills and capabilities for the company. Buensalido and Associates is renowned for its strong media relationships and creative campaign ideas, and now with the onset of digital and social media, the channels for communication have grown exponentially–making our job as communicators and strategists more challenging and exciting at the same time. The three of us work hand in hand, and all departments are now working together to integrate all these capabilities to deliver the best service for our partners and clients.

Q2: You worked in Trade Marketing and Category Management of Unilever, and in media/publishing in One Mega Group (formerly Mega Publishing Group). What lessons have you learned that you can apply in your PR company now?

A: First of all, I felt that my course in university–Communications Technology Management in Ateneo–was ahead of its time. It’s a BS Management course that gives business acumen and expertise to managers in communications, marketing and media industries, so it’s great to have had that training for what I’m doing now.

But I digress.

Unilever was my first job. Aside from fifteen pounds (at least I think it was fifteen pounds), I gained a lot of insight into the world of…well, customer insight. Everything we did had to go back to the consumer and his beliefs, and how we can come in and add vitality to his life via an unmet (or undiscovered) need. Sometimes, it’s all too easy to get excited over an execution idea, but if it doesn’t flow naturally from the customer insight and the strategy, there’s a disconnect or a hollowness to it. In Category Management, I also learned how to delve into data and interpret the underlying insights behind them. Naturally, I learned how to befriend Excel.

I’ve always loved to write (it’s my first and forever love, rivaled only by coffee) but working in One Mega Group helped strengthen my editorial eye. This is incredibly helpful now, as we play in the world of content, visual storytelling and click-bait. With the deluge of content out there, you have to know what will make people stop and want to read you. You have to know what elements, from voice tone to Pantone, make your brand what it is in every channel it is found. (It’s also incredibly handy when clients ask you to edit press releases, and you can do it on the spot.)

Of course, my time in media has also given me a great understanding and appreciation of our media partners, in terms of the stories they’re looking for and the service we can offer them as well. As we are more familiar with their editorial cycles, their magazine / digital sections, and market, we know which stories / products that best fit them. We won’t just throw anything or everything at them, hoping for any kind of media pick up. We always customize our work towards what is best for them.

Q3: Which campaigns or projects that you have created, executed or led, are you most proud of and why?

A: It may not be related to my work now, but the rebranding of Lifestyle Asia Magazine to Travel Now Magazine when I was in One Mega Group will always be one of my favorites. With our President/CEO Sari Yap and led by our then Group Publisher CK Dela Cruz, we had recognized that the traveling market in the PH were no longer just the upper, more moneyed classes, but the middle class as well. And because they were traveling more, they were traveling beyond the typical destinations and venturing beyond the touristy itineraries. From a luxury travel publication, we relaunched it into a masstige travel magazine featuring new takes on familiar destinations, curated, “best-of” lists, and new trip and destination suggestions. We also spearheaded the launch of the #TravelNow campaign too to encourage more Filipinos to travel now, in partnership with the Department of Tourism and some travel-loving ambassadors (https://vimeo.com/58173852). This move pushed our readership 83% higher than its closest competitor, according to Ipsos Media Atlas Philippines 2012.

We also had a digital campaign for one of our clients BOBSON, a Japanese denim brand. Most people still recall the old, localized version of the brand (endorsed by Aga Mulach), but the brand is actually one of the founding denim brands in Japan, with its roots in the denim capital Okayama. BOBSON has eight DNA that belies its quality as Japanese denim, including 11 stitches per inch (compared to most brands’ nine) and a J-insert belt loop that indicates stronger construction. We focused on one trademark–the clean, open outseam finish (in some premium denim brands, it’s selvedge)–and launched #cuffedandproud.


After studying the market, we realized that people fold or cuff their jeans to show off their shoes or the clean finish of their jeans’ seams. The clean outseam is something that not all denim brands can show off, so we encouraged people to go ahead and cuff their jeans because only Japanese denim can show off a clean outseam finish. We centered both social content on cuffing–cuff types, how-to guides, etc.–and aligned our PR comms to it, and made sure to add reach via paid promotion on social. The thing I’m most proud about it is that the sales team reached out back to us and gave us feedback that customers were coming in the store because they had seen it online. Many people thing that PR can have no direct link to sales, but with the right levers, I think a strong, compelling PR-led campaign can contribute.

Q4: How do you gain insights on the customer’s preferences when you design your digital concepts?

A: Especially for social, we always look at the analytics and try and interpret each click, like, or video view, so we can turn them into actionable insights. Of course, we always look at additional research, historical experiences, more of our best practices, and personal research to see if we can glean the most apt and impactful insights. Knowing our customer/consumer is key to crafting the right comms and campaigns.

Q5: The rise of social media has brought about the concept ZMOT (zero moment of truth) where consumers seek out opinions about brands before they visit the store. What has been the influence of the ZMOT in contributing to your clients’ result? Are you able to quantify them?

A: It’s funny, in trade marketing, research told us that 70% of purchase decisions are made at the actual point of purchase. But I think the behavior of wanting to ensure that your purchase is sound has always been there, it’s just that social and digital media has made it possible to have a wealth of content available to consumers before going to the store–or sometimes, even at the store–to help them decide. So it has become increasingly important to constantly have positive, relevant and high-ranking content available when people search for our clients, or related topics/keywords. This is also why PR naturally goes hand-in-hand with digital as well; earned and shared media can pack more credibility than owned media when it comes to gathering opinions about products and purchases (and why PR is so crucial to SEO as well), and you want to make sure these can be found easily and readily available.

Q6: What have you observed in corporate marketing budget priorities between traditional mass media and online? Do you see any major shift changing?

A: Digital has been growing the past few years, and we see no slow down. It’s only because digital has allowed us more channels to find content, and more importantly, we get to talk back via dialogue. It’s becoming the foremost platform for conversations. While digital will continue to grow and will become the primary platform for comms, I still think an integrated approach is best. Especially in PR, it’s about choosing the right mix. I think it really depends on which channel can help tell the best story and instigate the best conversations.

Q7: Your company started in PR, then went into events and added digital. What do you want to see in your company’s future?

A: Our vision is to be a leading communications agency that helps build our partners’ image and reputation to create positively engaged communities, so over the years, we have been continuously strengthening our capabilities to do that. I definitely want to see us spearheading more PR-led campaigns that drive and lead positive conversations, ideas and actions within communities we touch.

I hope that we are able to change the fallacious definition that some people have of PR–“taga-invite lang ng media” or “nagbibigay lang ng press release”–and make people realize the true impact and value it has in building brands and communities. 🙂

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