By Robert Wolf, Regional Senior Account Manager for Southeast Asia – Amnet
When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
While this statement doesn’t make full sense, not all paths that we take in life do.
I am a born and raised New Yorker with Filipino-American descent who has developed an equal love of Central Park, the New York Yankees, and Grand Central station as well as a love of the Philippine provinces, halo-halo, fish ball, sago and soda drank from a plastic bag. Growing up, my family and I would visit the Philippines almost yearly to visit my grandparents and other relatives and enjoy our Ternate, Cavite town fiesta that takes place on the first week of January. I may not have looked the part, but I was more Filipino on the inside than I showed on the outside.
Throughout my 20’s, my visits to the Philippines became increasingly frequent and an idea was planted – I might actually want to live in the Philippines.
Last September served as crossroads for me both personally and professionally during my nearly annual trip from New York to the Philippines as I was inching closer to finally taking a plunge that I’ve contemplated for essentially my entire post-college graduation life. I landed in Manila on Thursday, August 25th and in less than 12 hours, I would fly out to Phuket, Thailand to meet my friends. These friends that I would meet were actually there for a Southeast Asia programmatic media buying conference.
Coming from the programmatic developed New York market, and working at Dentsu Aegis Network New York for its programmatic agency Amnet, I did not realise programmatic was growing as quickly in Asia. To me, America was the hub for baseball, Canada was the hub for hockey, Brazil was the hub for soccer, or “football”, and New York City was the hub for programmatic.
Next on my itinerary was Singapore where I ended up visiting Dentsu Aegis Network Singapore and the regional Amnet team for Southeast Asia and Hong Kong. After an enjoyable meeting with my Amnet Asia counterparts, I would head back to Manila where I had one last itch to scratch and would next visit Dentsu Aegis Network Philippines. It was a short meeting, but I gained an understanding of the market’s programmatic development. Unlike Singapore, the Philippines was in fact still in its infancy in the programmatic media buying landscape.
I spent a week in Manila before returning to New York, and while on the flight home, knew there might be a new chapter for me to write in Manila. My love of the Philippines and a new opportunity with an orange Amnet arrow was pointing directly at Manila – a fork in the road that I thought needed to be taken.
So after a lifetime of Filipino-American juxtaposition, January 2017, I had finally completed a transfer from Amnet New York to Amnet in Southeast Asia and finally based in the Philippines. Only so many expatriates move to Singapore, but no one gets the chance to move to an emerging digital market like the Philippines to grow programmatic media buying.
The road to this point was long, however, the work ahead would be a greater challenge than I had ever faced in my life. I quickly learned how drastic the difference in programmatic strategy, activation, and knowledge was between New York and Manila. Most programmatic solutions that I had available to me in New York were not being implemented in the Philippines – and even other Southeast Asia emerging markets for that matter. I had moved to a market where only a select few had even heard of the term “programmatic” or could even define it. Data + Technology + the Philippines? This was definitely a new equation for most people.
But despite these humble beginnings, slowly but surely, momentum began to build. Amnet has offices in Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines and works as one unit – being able to foster a “Famnet” culture that has become the trademark of Amnet in New York and globally as well.
I laugh about it from time to time, but this was the polar opposite of my experiences growing up walking barefoot in the Philippine provinces. I was now “walking barefoot” into new uncharted territory for the Philippine market.
A culminating point this year was when I was invited to be a keynote speaker at the Digital Performance Marketing conference in Makati City to present on how data was being used in programmatic. The event provided greater insight for me into how much potential programmatic had to grow in the Filipino media industry.
Before moving here, I was familiar with Filipino culture, food, pop culture, beautiful destinations for vacation, but had little insight into how business was conducted. This year has been rewarding as I got see the Philippines from this “angle” and have been able to pave a new path.
Throughout the year I called Amnet Philippines “the little engine that could,” but it has since picked up steam. Compared to 2016, programmatic activity at Amnet Philippines has grown exponentially in 2017 – a huge stride as Dentsu Aegis Network has a global goal of becoming 100% digital and 50% Programmatic by 2020. While a great deal of work has been done this year for programmatic progress for Dentsu Aegis Network Philippines and even more work is still on the horizon for the years leading up to 2020, the future is bright for Amnet Philippines.
As a born and raised New Yorker with my very “different” upbringing of Filipino and American culture, I am very proud that I have been able to come at the fork in the road and take it, because not everyone gets this chance. And while this quote doesn’t make full sense, it makes much more sense to me now at the end of 2017 than it did at the beginning of the year.