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The following is an excerpt from The Evangelists: Insights from Leaders of the Nation’s Most Beloved Brands. Written by Pancho Dizon, this chapter is titled “Walking the Talk.” In it, Attorney Gianna Montinola, the Senior Vice President for Corporate Affairs at Far Eastern University (FEU) Manila, is interviewed about how the organization executes its strategy in marketing execution.
Leveling the Playing Field through Effective Marketing Execution
It often takes a moment or two before even the most seasoned industry vets can readily define their personal marketing and leadership philosophy. After all, there’s no easy way to conveniently sum up years of hard work and experience in a neat, bite-sized sentence.
However, Attorney Gianna Montinola was a different case. The Senior Vice President for Corporate Affairs at Far Eastern University (FEU) Manila bucked the trend by readily describing her personal marketing and leadership philosophy succinctly and powerfully.
“Marketing a brand is not difficult if you are authentic and true to yourself,” she expressed. “And you have always got to walk the talk.”
In her context, walking the talk meant being a living reflection of FEU’s branding as an inclusive, dedicated school that readily gives opportunities to anyone who deserves it. If the school demonstrated their adherence to these principles by offering things like all gender bathrooms and diverse prayer rooms around the campus, Atty. Montinola also showed it by making sure to talk to all members of the FEU community: students, faculty, canteen workers, security guards, and the like.
In fact, Atty. Montinola attributed her success to this dedication to inclusivity. Aside from listening to the millennials on her team and the FEU staff in general, she made it a point to crowdsource ideas from the student body whenever possible. Not only does she interact with them as much as she can, she demonstrated real inclusivity by factoring them in every decision she makes for FEU―certainly no easy feat when you lead both internal and external communications for the institution.
Yet Atty. Montinola revealed that this emphasis on inclusivity was also the ace up the university’s sleeve when it came to marketing their brand. “Back then, there was this perception that we couldn’t compete with some of the bigger universities,” she said. “So we had to carve out a niche for ourselves. We asked ourselves, ‘What was it that we could offer?’”
Thus, FEU decided to double down on the fact that they could offer quality education to a clientele that their rival schools weren’t necessarily reaching. “One thing we do is we make ourselves readily available to everyone no matter who they are. The fact that we are a non sectarian school also allows us to open our doors to a wide range of students.”
To reach a wider audience, Atty. Montinola led the way for FEU to shift from a more traditional media-heavy marketing approach to one fit for the digital age. Having first joined the FEU family as a marketing consultant in 2004, she shared that this first just meant simply setting up the school website and finding ways to improve brand perception.
“You can imagine back then the main medium was the newspaper,” she said. “Eventually we had to transition from just a website to making sure we had an active presence on all the major social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and now Instagram.”
This comprehensive pivot to digital was also another example of where Atty. Montinola herself had to ‘walk the talk.’ A digital immigrant herself, she quickly had to familiarize herself with the exact same tools she was prepping FEU to start using. “I was a bit lucky because I had some familiarity with the digital world of branding because of my background as an intellectual property lawyer, but that was the extent of it. I was learning alongside everyone else.”
In the midst of this digital transformation, Atty. Montinola and her team realized that each platform carried with it its own unique advantages. Twitter, for example, enabled it to instantly address student complaints and release timely information such as announcements on school suspensions. The instantaneous and easy-to-use nature of social media created what Atty. Montinola called a “level playing field”―where it once took weeks for student complaints to reach the proper authorities, it now just took a matter of seconds.
Though going digital has also opened up the school to online bashers, Atty. Montinola only refers to these as a growth hormone. “We respect online rants about us coming from students or anyone else,” she said. “Rather than censoring them, we see these rants as an opportunity to improve our output and see sentiments our usual channels don’t necessarily capture.”
The advantages offered by this digital shift gave FEU a new angle to work with in their marketing, with the tagline “future-ready learning” emerging once the school got more familiar with technology. This also worked because the school already put in place measures such as an online record verification tool and an online learning management platform called CANVAS—as early as 2015. This ensured that their students were comfortable with integrating the best of modern technology into their education.
Of course, the early and comprehensive shift to digital proved extremely beneficial when the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools around the Philippines to move all classes online. “That’s another way to interpret ‘future-ready,’” explained Atty. Montinola. “Resiliency has always been valued at FEU—we want our students to be able to look a crisis in the face and then bounce back no matter what. By providing them with the necessary tools and resources, we were helping them also walk the talk the university was espousing.”
Atty. Montinola also knew that when students and their organizations were given the right backing, they would grow into proud ambassadors of the FEU brand. This ready demonstration of the school’s values was what enabled them to impress even the initial skeptics. According to Atty. Montinola, there were many instances where people who were at first hesitant to buy into the FEU program ended up raving about it later on.
For proof of the fruits of their hard work and dedication, one only needed to look at the many accolades FEU has gained in the past few years. As a testament to their quality of education, the country’s Commision on Higher Education (CHED) has designated FEU as a Center of Development in Business Administration. This meant the commission acknowledged its incredible potential to be a hub of expertise in the field. Furthermore, CHED also gave FEU an autonomous status, holding them to the highest regulatory standard set for higher education institutions in the Philippines.
“If that’s not enough,” Atty. Montinola said with a chuckle, “we’ve also won the 2019 Maynilad Golden Kubeta award, making it official our bathrooms are the best among all the schools nationwide. So you know we’ll really take care of you!”
Indeed, it’s certainly no exaggeration to say that the very core of Atty. Montinola’s marketing strategy with FEU is authenticity. “People will see through empty talk,” she pointed out. “We market where we feel we have an edge and where we know we can deliver.”
To get more insights from other marketing leaders like Attorney Gianna Montinola, please check out the full book, available for purchase here.
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