How A 22-year-old Led The PR Launch For Grab in Philippines, Grows A Premier Influencer Marketing Firm And Inspires Fellow Millennials

In his book, ‘The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference’, Gladwell shared,

“the success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts”

These “social gifts”, also increasingly understood as “social capital”, becomes another form of soft influence that the common man on the street can get access to.

You don’t need to be rich, born into the right families or necessarily be from a pedigree college but if you can speak the language of influence in the spheres you want to be known in and are able to sway perceptions and move people to think and act in a different fashion, you’re on your way to earn the “influencer” badge.

Meet Hazel (Ace) Bernadette Gapuz.

If there’s anyone who understand influencer marketing, Millennials engagement and getting people to sit up at and desire what businesses and brands can offer, especially in Philippines, it’s Ace, the CEO of Blogapalooza Inc., Philippines' premier influencer marketing company managing 3,000 bloggers and influencers with businesses and marketeers across Asia. As a Millennial entrepreneur herself, her journey was far from easy. But you will notice every step of her way, she was just throwing herself into the deep ends of the pool to learn and then, be a person of value.

We are delighted to have Ace share her insights on our Career INSiders Column so hop on in!

1. Wow… Ace, your resume reads like one of an extraordinary achiever. What drives you exactly in the work you do and how have the motivations changed over the year?

I think for most entrepreneurs, fundamentally it’s all about knowing and deeply understanding problems and coming up with solutions to solve them. My motivation comes from knowing that the world has plenty of problems and that I can actually solve one of them. (And make money in the process, of course.)

For example, many people will think that the problem of influencer marketing (at least here in the Philippines) is so minor compared to the problems of poverty and corruption, and I get that, I agree.

But nevertheless, the problems in the field of influencer marketing make people’s lives difficult and unmanageable. What’s more is that no one really addresses these problems, like we just choose to be content with whatever is currently happening. I think that’s how it’s like also with other entrepreneurs: they see a problem, whether small or in a huge scale, and they find ways to solve it and make things better.

That’s where my motivation comes from – knowing that there’s actually an opportunity to enrich people’s lives by solving their problems and making things better or easier for them.

2. Heading the PR launch of Grab (formerly GrabTaxi) at the age of 22… what was that story about?

Oh, this is an interesting story. Not a lot of people know that prior to leading the launch of Grab (formerly GrabTaxi) here in the Philippines, I had very, very limited work experience in PR.

In the previous company I worked for, I was in corporate strategy (though I really, really wanted to be in the PR department; it looked like they were having so much fun everyday!) and so because I wasn’t part of the department that did what I felt I wanted to do, I remember I would volunteer to take on some of these jobs just to be part of the action. I remember I would volunteer to host the program of their events, coordinate with some of their clients, sometimes even buy coffee for their VIP guests! That was my only PR “experience” – if you can call it that.

Through helping out in the activities company’s PR department (it was unpaid work for me, mind you, I really just wanted to know how things are done), I got to learn a lot of things in PR – from conceptualizing a message, to communicating the message through various media channels, to consistently strengthening the message – but more importantly, I got to meet people who are of influence in the field of public relations.

My learnings, some insider information I’ve discovered, and my small network back then were my ammunition when Grab gave me the opportunity to lead the PR team and launch the GrabTaxi service in the Philippines. I’d say it was a successful launch, what with people continuously believing and patronizing the service four (4) years after its initial launch.

3. As a young Millennial entrepreneur, what are the biggest challenges you face trying to gain buy-in for your ideas and proposals? Especially for people who are older, wiser and more experienced than you.

The executive committee of Blogapalooza Inc., the management team that I am currently leading, comprises my mentors.

These are people I trust, people who continuously guide me and watch my back, people whom I know are genuinely concerned about the growth of the company and my growth as a young entrepreneur and as an individual.

All of them are older than me; I’d also say all of them are more experienced, well-connected and knowledgeable in many fields than I am. And that really works for us because whenever there is an executive decision that has to be made, I consult with everyone in the executive committee to get their inputs (again, based on their years of experience and their expertise), and then I decide on what I think is best for the company.

This is actually advantageous for us for many reasons: first of which is I am the one who deeply understands the problems of our stakeholders from both the client/agency side and the influencer side. I am the one who’s most in touch, hands-on, and immersed in both sides, so it is I, who has a strong grasp of the realities of the industry we’re in. Because of this, I am able and qualified to be at the driver’s seat of the company, directing it to where it should go, and leading the team to the realization of the company’s vision to be the most trusted and most preferred influencer marketing partner of our stakeholders.

I’d say there’s not much of a challenge in terms of getting buy-in for my ideas. My management team trusts that I know how to lead the company. This is also how I get the respect of my Executive Committee: because my drive to succeed and bring everyone up does not waver, and I believe they see that in me as well.

4. As the CEO of Blogapalooza (an influencer marketing company that aims to bridge companies to influencers), what do you think is the biggest value your company delivers to your clients?

There are a lot of influencer marketing companies now; even I am surprised with the spike of influencer marketing companies sprouting from everywhere. Despite this, I will be bold to claim that I believe only 10% of the founders of these new companies really understand the problems of influencer marketing on a deeper level. Many companies rely on their third-party agencies for influencer marketing. However, there are and will always be problems in the business-influencer relationship, and having mechanisms in place to solve these problems is the biggest value we bring to our clients and partners.

First, I want to say that influencer marketing is not a “tech platform business” – this is an industry that grew and is being strengthened because of authentic storytelling, good quality content, and genuine human relationships. At the heart of it is human relations, but intelligent technologies come in to support and abstract these relationships.

For businesses, it’s about relevance of influencers to their company/campaigns and measurement of results. In Blogapalooza, we make sure that influencers that we match to our clients are of strategic fit to them (in terms of preferences, current content, and audience profile among many others) so the relevance issue is addressed. For influencers on the other hand, we make sure that the consistency of their content and sustainability issue is addressed. What happens now is that influencers just go with whoever wishes to engage with them, so their channels become a hodgepodge of content. Moreover, most bloggers and influencers give so much time and effort in creating content, but never get to be fairly compensated for it – all because businesses never understand.

So for us in Blogapalooza, we make sure that the gaps in the industry in terms of strategic relevance, measurement, proper compensation, and alignment of content are all addressed. As much as possible, we discourage one-off engagements. We aim for something long term for both business and influencer, as they build the brand story together.

5. What do you see as the future of influencer marketing, both in terms of the buy and sell side?

I believe the influencer marketing industry is going to grow exponentially in the next five years. I personally asked one of my idols in business, Gary Vaynerchuk, about this in a conference that we went to together.

He said that influencer marketing is currently grossly underpriced and immensely undervalued, which means growth potential is extremely high – but only if stakeholders get to understand the roles that they play in the industry. So my bold statement for this would be that brands are going to appreciate the exponential push and results that influencer marketing brings and hence are going to be more willing to pay, and influencers shall grow in number as well, carving a position in their chosen niche, and increasing their influence in these niches.

6. For Millennials who want to build an influencer business in Asia (being an influencer / KOL themselves), what would you say to them?

The influencer marketing business is a “people business” so the most important thing that one needs to take care of is the network of influencers and the reputation you have. Because you’re in influencer marketing, you also have to build your influence, which takes time and effort because people have to see you, trust you, and remember you.

7. In one of your earlier interviews, you shared that "Corporate life was SO not for me!” and that you hate having a boss and dislike rules. Yet more and more Millennials may be easily lulled into the “entrepreneurship dream” because they feel likewise but may not be ready to take the downsides of being on your own. What would you say to them?

I agree with you that most millennials easily jump straight to being entrepreneurs or startup founders right after university, but I don’t really recommend that route. (But this is just me.)

I’ve had around three years of working in corporate environments before I started my own business ventures. I think it’s important that one gets to have a solid corporate experience first – you know, all those policies, hierarchies, and office politics – before moving forward into his/her own business. Either that, or be mentored in close focus by one who’s had solid corporate experience. For one, corporate life lets you get a grip on structure, so you’re able to see things from different sides. My learnings in the corporate world enable me to wear different hats because I’ve seen this work in an actual large corporation.

I think for many millennials, the concept of entrepreneurship is oversold to them. You know, all those statements of opportunities to make a lot of money, solve the world’s greatest problems, and change the world in a grand way – but then no one tells them that entrepreneurship entails real hard work and a gazillion of challenges that will force you to humble yourself.

8. From the time you’ve started your business till now, what has been the most effective strategy for you to get noticed by and win over huge brands and corporations?

For me, TRUST is the currency in business. So ever since I started, it’s always been about earning and taking care of the trust of our clients and partners. This involves being present and hands-on (I personally reply to almost all emails and text messages sent to me!), delivering commitments, and making sure to show the clients that I genuinely care for them (I really do).

My philosophy has always been that the value that you give to your clients must always be greater than the amount that they pay you for it. When people see that you genuinely care about them, they start to trust you and that’s really where the strategic deals happen.

9. On the end of corporations engaging their Millennial employees… How would you advise them to better develop their entrepreneurial (or even, intrapreneurial) drive and grow within the corporation instead of leaving them?

I believe millennials today are excellent, passionate, driven individuals. But what I learned is that millennials do not want to be managed, they want to be led and mentored. I know this because in my company, we have a lot of part-timers and interns who are extremely good and creative. I provide them with an environment where they’ll feel safe to speak their mind, I let them design solutions and come up with their personal ways to execute their ideas, and I make sure that I give them encouragement and criticism as needed – I am that hands-on! And many of them appreciate that very well, so they recommend our company to their friends as well. This way, we are able to build the #BlogaFamily.

The point of what I wanted to say is that millennials value a culture of innovation, fun, friendship, and acknowledging their achievements. You might want to consider throwing in some beanbags and nachos and beer over weekly movie nights, and you’re set. :)

10. People describe you as relentless, passionate and full of drive. How do you constantly stay on top of your game?

Every time I would get a major stressful project done (example, a huge event), I would go out of the country to just travel and not think about work. This is my way of destressing. Not only travel, but rewarding myself in general. I make it a point to reward myself consistently when I accomplish little goals. Whenever I’d successfully close a deal after a meeting, I’d treat myself to great food. Whenever I’d meet my deadlines and targets, I’d shop for some cute things for myself. I think the way to sustain the drive is to fuel it up every time, like a car, when you feel that your energy is draining, you just need to fuel yourself up by doing things that you enjoy, sans work.

11. What’s your big dream you like to achieve in this lifetime?

Oh, this is quite a heavy question, asking me what I am willing to consider as my life’s work. I don’t have a solid answer for this as of now, but what certain deep inside my heart is that I really want to make people’s lives better in ways that I am capable of. For now, it’s improving the lives of and making things better for corporate executives, brand/digital marketing managers, agencies, bloggers, influencers, social media personalities, and online content creators.

Where this will take me next, I have to wait and hope for the best. :)

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Ace and her team in Philippines are organizing the upcoming Generational Digital (Generation D), the largest online media Gathering of 2017 on 18 November 2017 at City of Dreams in Manila. For more information, visit the Blogapalooza Facebook Page.

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