Michael is the Head of Marketing for Pepsico for several markets in the Asian region. He has been with the company for 11 years now with most of it spent in Marketing serving the Philippines market, though he is also in charge of Korea, Malaysia, the Pacific Islands, and Singapore.
We are glad that he gave us the chance to speak to him about his job in PepsiCo and the amazing partnerships with their partners.
Did you start in the Philippines?
Yes, I started in the telecommunications industry doing customer service before going over to Mindshare for some media planning work. After a few years, Pepsico became a client of mine for 2 months and after that, the managing director of both Mindshare and Pepsico made the decision to transfer me over to Pepsico. It was like the NBA or football where they basically traded me to one side for the other.
So what were you doing at Mindshare at that time, were you working on partnerships?
Yes, a little. A lot of it was media planning but of course, partnerships would always come through. Some of the big partnerships that I can remember but not necessarily worked with would be Big Brother and Philippine Idol. We also had partnerships that could be as small as a one day event and others that could last for a few years.
What is the typical decision making process like how do you decide if you should do it and what the scope should be. How does that happen?
To be frank, it could be as simple as the GM wants it to be. But to be honest, when you scope out partnerships, you look at it strategically from what the business wants to achieve. For example, Gatorade does a number of partnerships and one of the things that we really want to achieve is credibility in sports so we partner with a big name such as the NBA which is extremely famous. It is also popular in the Philippines market as basketball is the no.1 sport here. It really goes back to the end goal of what you want.
And on that, you mentioned Gatorade but we know Pepsico has a number of different brands and products. Do you work across a bunch of products or are you focused on just a few of them?
Last year, I was working on food and beverages. This year with the multimarket, I am concentrating on a portfolio of beverages that includes Gatorade, Pepsi, Tropicana, Lipton and so on.
Did you always know that you would be working in media buying, in marketing? How did you end up in this field?
Even from my university years, I really wanted to go into marketing. I thought it was a very exciting profession, you get to work with a variety of interesting people and brands. I didn’t know there was going to be a lot of work though. People made it look really cool to be working in Marketing. I also wasn’t really great with numbers so when I was studying accounting, I wasn’t all there and had to let it go. In university, I came to understand my strengths and I had some creativity so I knew I wanted to be in Marketing or Advertising
So you’ve spent a number of years doing this, what have you found to be the most challenging things about working in marketing, in doing partnerships?
I guess for me, there are 2 things that are quite difficult:
- The ever changing customer. It’s cliche but true at the same time. One day, they love your product and the next, they throw it away. Consumers are consistently influenced by the changing environments so thinking about and knowing what consumers want and need is quite difficult. You’d think you can pin it down by research, going to trade fairs, and talking to them frequently but it’s tough. Not everything research tells you is true and that’s why you need managers to look after that. Research can only guide you down a certain point but you also need your instincts to help you decide what’s best for the company.
- The other difficult thing is managing people. Most managers don’t know that. Working with people is sometimes harder than the business itself because you are dealing with different personalities, trying to find out what makes them click, inspiring them and assisting with their career paths and goals. So the HR portion is just as difficult as the business side of it and of course, if you manage the HR part well, you’ll find success in the business too. It comes down to if you take care of your people, they will take care of your business.
There are all these different regions that you basically cover in Asia and Asia Pacific. How different are the regions?
They are very different. When I first looked at Malaysia, I thought it would be the same as the Philippines with both countries being pretty close. I later found out that 75% of Malaysians have really good buying power. In the Philippines, people with similar buying power would be limited to 15 – 20%. It was a whole different market. Philippines is also mostly homogeneous while in Malaysia, you’ve got the Malays, Chinese and Indians and everyone of them want different things. It’s hard for a global company to be local but they think Pepsico is doing a good job with trying to be as agile as we can. When we went over to Seoul in Korea last week, it was completely different from Malaysia and the Philippines. There are of course similarities but the culture, business and people are all different. That needs a lot of navigation, coaching and immersion to really understand the market.
I know a lot of CPG companies , especially global ones, they have global headquarters and then they have the local teams that takes care of each region. Is that similar in Pepsico and if it is, what are the different areas of responsibility?
That is correct. It is the same for Pepsico. There is a global team and a regional team. Global would be the sectors in Asia, Middle East and North Africa. The region team would be Asia Pacific for me. After the region team, there is a BU team which is my scope of responsibility. In every level, there would be Marketing and Finance and there would be some overlap but it basically goes from macro to micro. Global strategies and innovations will trickle down to the sector and gets customized as it goes along. The role of the local Marketing team is to ensure that these ideas are distilled well enough to work in the local market. You can’t take something that is generally global like Aquafina in the US and make it work in the Philippines. This is partly because Filipinos prefer things that are sweet but in the US, they are more accepting towards having a less sweeter taste. This is just the product alone and it’s a very simple example but if you take a deeper look at it, it’s going to be very different. Our role is to make sure that the things we want to invest on globally would also matter locally.
In terms of budget, is that held up to the global level or the local level. I’m assuming that each local team has its own budget that they manage.
Generally yes but at the same time, it’s not just the global team that drives the direction. A lot of the times there are also things that are locally created. Not everything will be seen by global, they are too high up the hierarchy. But once you get to the local level, you’ll see some insights that are really big opportunities for the future. We need to bring those up to Global and it takes time. If you have decision makers in New York, those insights will have to first pass through bureaucracy in several countries. There are a number of things that need to happen first.
In terms of the partnership that you’ve done, which ones have been the most successful, that you think has worked really well in this region and why?
For me, I guess the partnership that was done really well would be our NBA partnerships. It’s such a crucial partnership and Gatorade prides itself on being in the sidelines.
Is the NBA really big in the Philippines?
Philippines is one of its biggest markets outside the US. If you think about sports in the Philippines, it would be basketball that’s why the partnership between Gatorade and the NBA is huge deal for us. The NBA is one of the biggest stages in the world watched by millions and for them to see the athletes perform their best and drink our product is a big win for us and this is just by brand association. The thing about our partnership with the NBA is that it goes to different levels – association, media, event, digital. We already did a full circle partnership with the NBA. It goes from bringing in NBA players to the Philippines and, bringing fans to the US. It was like a full year and our initial deals with them were multiple years long because we really wanted to keep the partnership. The NBA has partnered with Gatorade Philippines for the past 10 years and with Gatorade US for 30 years. Its a very strong partnership that we’ve been leveraging for a long time.
How do you measure the partnerships? How do you know that the NBA and Gatorade partnership is doing well?
I have a number of measurements that I look at such as equity measures, sales measures for promotions, etc. This is also a big problem of mine because they talked about digital being the most measurable thing. Sure its measurable but it’s also fragmented. Its like there is no one to put down what are the things we really need to look at and of course they say it depends on what you want but there is no standardization. The same goes for partnerships. I have an idea of what to look for in the NBA and Gatorade partnerships but to be frank, I’ve been doing marketing for a few years now and I don’t think anyone can pin it down hence I am really interested to find out what other people are looking at. I’m happy as long as my numbers and KPIs are consistent and give results but if I can bring it down to the data level, that is the only time I can say it is really working. There are also other things we do besides partnerships. Partnerships are just one of the things that you plug in into your ecosystem to make everything else work. So, while I’ve got some things that I can look for, it’s not down to an exact science.
How do you guys compete with your competitors in Asia?
One thing is making sure that you are ahead of trends. Once you are behind the trend, you are no longer competitive. You’re going to be inefficient in whatever you do because you’ll always be trying to catch up. Being ahead is very important and to do that, you’d need a lot of insight and research. If you can see what those trends are for the next few years, you have an idea of where to put your bets on. A company can fail by putting on the wrong bets. For example, Blackberry put their bet on keyboard phones but that market is gone now. When you talk about competitiveness, this is one of the most important things that you need to look at.
I have one last thing, you don’t have to answer but what tools do you use to do that. Are you buying research from Nielson?
Yes, Nielson, Milward Brown, lots of ad-hoc research with local companies. Those type of things.
Thank you once again Michael for your valuable time!
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