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How ad agency GIGIL came to be: a conversation with co-founder Herbert Hernandez

GIGIL is now one of the top-performing advertising agencies in the Philippines, after being founded in 2017 by advertising veterans Herbert Hernandez and Badong Abesamis.

Herbert Hernandez, GIGIL
Photo courtesy Herbert Hernandez
Photo courtesy Herbert Hernandez

Opinions expressed by Digital Journal contributors are their own.

GIGIL is now one of the top-performing advertising agencies in the Philippines, after being founded in 2017 by advertising veterans Herbert Hernandez and Badong Abesamis. In its short life, it has accomplished incredible feats, earning recognition in the form of dozens of awards, including Gold and Bronze in marketing effectiveness in the APAC Effies 2020 and 2021; Top 10 Hottest Agencies in Asia; and Ad Age International Small Agency of the Year.

This may come as no surprise, given that Hernandez and Abesamis combined have more than four decades of advertising experience under their belts, but the decision to branch out on their own was still a difficult one. The two met while working at Young & Rubicam, Hernandez as Executive Creative Director and Abesamis as Chief Creative Officer. When another advertising agency approached them, wanting to hire either or both of them, they collectively decided to “just be themselves” and start GIGIL.

In the early days of GIGIL, Herbert Hernandez remembers taking a significant pay cut and fearing the financial uncertainties that come along with starting his own business. After having previously failed in entrepreneurship with an events agency and a restaurant, on which he spent considerable time, Hernandez is finally finding entrepreneurial success with GIGIL. He says the key is in finding partners who complement you, with a different set of skills.

“Badong and I have different strengths which we were able to utilize for GIGIL’s benefit and this has allowed us to create things that we can be proud about,” he says.

Now, the growing team at GIGIL brings their varied strengths together, resulting in advertising magic. This is due in part to what Hernandez has learned from his own career path.

“In GIGIL, everyone is award-winning. Everyone has meaningful contributions. I believe that this is driven by the culture that we were able to build that assures everyone that it’s okay to commit mistakes. If you falter once, just bounce back. And this has allowed us to not only raise the bar but also to raise the floor. It’s seeing everyone just get better,” Herbert Hernandez says.

Since starting in advertising in 2003, Hernandez has excelled and received numerous promotions and awards within a short period of time. But looking back, he feels that he may have been too focused on climbing the corporate ladder for his own good:

“I rushed my way up the corporate ladder too fast. More obligations and bigger responsibilities came along with it and I didn’t get to maximize my years as a junior creative. If I can start again, I’d do that differently. I’ll take things slow and cherish the years that I have enough space to commit mistakes without grave consequences.”

Before GIGIL

Herbert Hernandez’s advertising career started as a freelance graphic designer doing album covers for several bands. After being introduced to Robert Labayen, then Executive Creative Director of J. Walter Thompson (JWT) Manila, he was hired as a visualizer/designer, doing brochures and packaging designs. Only a few months later, Hernandez moved up to become an Art Director for bigger brands like Ford, Redhorse beer, Nestle, Pfizer, Shell, and Unilever. He spent three years at JWT before moving on to the newly formed DM9 JaymeSyfu, where he spent another six years climbing from Senior Art Director to Creative Director, before leaving for Young & Rubicam. As one of the youngest Executive Creative Directors at Y&R, Hernandez handled accounts like Sun Cellular, Inbisco, CDO Foodsphere, North Face, and more.

After exiting Y&R, GIGIL had its first client before Hernandez and Abesamis had even come up with a company name. Abesamis handles most of the writing work for GIGIL while Hernandez focuses on the visual elements. Within their first two years, their client list boasted the likes of Konsulta MD, P&G, Globe, Unilever, Cobra Energy Drink, Levi’s, 7-11, Landbank, Sip Bottled Water, Joy-Nostalg Hotel and Suites, Honestbee, and Avon.

What’s Next for Herbert Hernandez?

As GIGIL continues to grow, Hernandez and Abesamis are picky about who they invite to join their team. In addition to being qualified for the job, they require their candidates to be kind. For their part, Hernandez and Abesamis are focused on staying on top of technological advancements, attracting bigger clients, and winning more awards. Hernandez hopes that retirement is possible within the next 15 years.

In the meantime, he’s trying to enjoy the ride, as hectic as it may be.

“Despite all the ups and downs, make sure to enjoy your journey. Don’t even compare yourself to others because everyone’s different. We have our own stories to make and journeys to take,” he says.

With days full of meetings, alignments, and presentations that are held both in-person and through video conferencing, Hernandez works to bring the energy, creativity, and passion that GIGIL is known for, to each client meeting. He says coffee is a big help in this department.

With a bright future and big plans, Herbert Hernandez puts his trust in God that he will be guided and supported in his endeavors.

“Just do your best and God will do the rest.”

It sounds like GIGIL is in good hands.

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Written By

George Nellist is a public relations, marketing and strategic brand expert who has executed social media and strategic marketing campaigns for a variety of Fortune 500 companies and small businesses. For more information, visit Ascend Agency.

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