Campaign Brief Asia spoke with Kat Gomez-Limchoc about building a culture of collaboration at Leo Burnett’s Blackpencil in Manila, making time for passion projects, and judging One Show Asia.
Kat Gomez-Limchoc joined Leo Burnett’s Blackpencil in 2012, and since then, the agency has tripled in size. As Executive Creative Director, Kat has been a driver of the agency’s close-knit collaborative culture – if you’ve met the team at Blackpencil, you’ll know they smile and laugh a lot. CB Asia were curious to speak with Kat about leading in a lockdown, implementing new vision and values at Publicis Groupe Philippines, the success of ‘McClassroom’, and her many side projects – including preserving the Philippine’s intense Barako coffee bean.
You’re joining the One Show Asia jury this year: what have you enjoyed about the experience so far – any trends or surprises?
One of the categories I judged was Branded Entertainment. I was surprised at how engaged I was, so totally drawn in, to some of the best entries in this category. I laughed, I cried, and appreciated how the brands created such films wherein the story and characters were paramount, and the brand integration was spot on. In the Philippine market, there is still a lot of opportunity for us to do more of this kind of branded content that is well thought out, well-crafted, and seamlessly on-brand.
What’s been the secret to the growth of Leo Burnett Blackpencil? What sets you apart from other agencies in Manila?
I always say that for all our business and creative successes, I am most proud to have a happy team culture. We work very hard, but we create an environment where we can have fun and feel a sense of connection with each other while we do it. Brainstorms are full of jokes, movie and trend reviews, and personal stories in between earnest discussions of the current challenge we are tackling. We know there is alchemy when ideas and thoughts are discussed freely from everyone at the table and we barely remember how we got to the idea we all love! Blackpencil has created a culture of collaboration and a can-do spirit that has made us take on all kinds of crazy challenges, knowing we could get anything done as long we were alongside our trusted teammates.
Leo Burnett Group Manila just won Agency of the Year at the Boomerang Awards, and Best of Show for ‘McClassroom’. Can you tell us what inspired this idea?
Many of the team who thought about McClassroom were volunteering to help create content that would better prepare Filipino teachers to the sudden transition to online teaching at the height of the pandemic. We heard so clearly how our children’s educators were faced with so many challenges, but were also so determined to do their jobs.
And so when McDonald’s asked us to think of ideas that would help the brand still be relevant to the community despite having the stores running at limited capacity, our minds and hearts could not help but think about how we could help struggling teachers. McClassroom turned unused party rooms into sanitized, quiet, connected spaces for teachers to use for their classes. It was born out of that very real immersion in a current struggle and our knowledge of our brand.
Publicis Groupe Philippines recently implemented new vision and values. Can you tell us more: how is it impacting the culture there?
The leadership team, headed by our CEO Ken Lingan, felt that as we went through the storm that was the pandemic, it was the best time to craft a shared vision that would serve as our lighthouse as we navigated through and forward. And so he and I, together with a cross-functional task force of leaders from different agencies, crafted our PVA (Purpose, Values, Ambition) based on our shared truths. We were so happy that there were so many among our ten companies! We validated this with the leadership team as well as a good representation of young guns from all the agencies.
We then launched this in a shared experience that had us sending “Lion Boxes” to 450 teammates living all over the Philippines, so we could hear our words while unboxing customized items that would help remind us of them. It was an ambitious event that we couldn’t believe we pulled off amidst a lockdown!
What is your new ‘Lion Lab’ all about?
One of the programs we launched in our PVA event was Lion Lab, our commitment to our value of being forever learners and evolvers. I am the Dean of the Lion Lab Mental Health & Wellness track, which already had its first session. It was about the different factors that contribute to one’s overall Happiness Quotient as inspired by the latest research, as well as the ancient philosophies of the East and West.
Lion Lab Passions is based on the top interests of our community. We had our first class, “Travel in a Post-Pandemic World”, which had us learning wise and practical travel tips from an award-winning travel writer and editor, and then we went on a live virtual tour of Paris that even had a stop at the Publicis mothership on the Champs-Elysees.
We also held the first Lion Lab Upskilling session this week, which shared the learnings from the first three proprietary research projects of Publicis Groupe Philippines.
There has been enormous participation and engagement, and great feedback, a promising sign that our PVA is living beyond our words and into how we work, connect and learn.
Covid lockdowns hit the Philippines especially hard. What’s been the toughest part for you as a creative leader?
I really miss brainstorming with my team in person. While we have adjusted to doing our discussions via virtual calls, the energy is not quite the same. I believe that the best ideas are born or elevated when there are free flowing discussions. It was much easier to get into that zone when we were together around a table in the office, or better yet in some nearby coffee shop.
You’re the author of three books: how do you make time for passion projects, and is there a passion project you’re working on currently?
I’ve always worked hard to have balance in my life. I bring my whole self and all my cheerleader energy to work during working hours, but I also apply that same creativity and energy to the things that make me and my family happy during weekends and vacations. I want to embrace and learn more about so many things in work and life, so I just try to be as organized as I can be with my time so I don’t drive myself crazy!
I’ve written children’s poetry and a children’s book during this pandemic. I think tapping into this innocent creative energy was my way of soothing myself of the pandemic anxiety.
Because we are currently living in our farmhouse an hour and half’s drive from the city, I’ve also begun propagating endangered Barako coffee trees. Not many farmers are planting these nowadays as the trees grow slower than other coffee varieties, and have less yield, making them less profitable. As a coffee lover, I want to do my part in making sure that this coffee that many Filipinos love can still be enjoyed by our grandchildren’s generation!
One of your books, ‘The Book of 40’, shares pearls of wisdom such as, ‘Seize every reason for a celebration’ and ‘Kindness can make a world of difference’. What has influenced your optimistic life philosophy?
I have been very lucky to have had been raised by a fabulous, unconventional but amazingly wise mother, who has stood in front of tanks during the EDSA Revolution, taught me to meditate since I was 6 years old, and has apparently become the favorite therapist of all kinds of creative people (they’re the ones who tell me, not her!)
I have also been very lucky to have had very good mentors. My most formative ones are Leo Gonzalez and Robert Labayen, who I call “Mother” and “Father” respectively, from my J. Walter Thompson days as a young creative. They not only helped me become a better creative and leader, they inspired me to be a better human being.
What’s been your proudest achievement to date? And your goal for the year ahead?
I think I am most proud that so far, I have had a pretty well lived life. Like a true Gen X-er, I can really say that I have worked hard and played hard!
My goal in the next 12 months is to help create and facilitate a good transition for Blackpencil and the rest of the Publicis Groupe Philippines community as we plan our post-pandemic way of working.
I really believe that saying attributed to Winston Churchill, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”
And so I am excited by the opportunity to reimagine how we will work and innovate and move forward after the pandemic crisis we all collectively experienced. How often do we get to so mindfully design our work experience, right?