The Heavyweights Of The PR World, Theresa Leung & Claudine De Leon, Share The Secrets To Their Success
A king and queen, hero and heroine, proprietor and proprietress, businessman and businesswoman—how many items from the list of masculine and feminine nouns delineating the sexes can you name?
It's likely that afternoon tea can be ordered and finished before you reach the end, as language has, for centuries, tried its best to separate man and woman, convincing us that each might have different capacities to live up to expectations and, altogether, succeed.
It's an insidious way we've all been taught to perceive people, with women often getting the short end of the stick. After all, there would be no "woman" without "man"—right?
Absolutely, unequivocally wrong!
Leung + De Leon Marketing Services, Inc.'s Theresa Leung and Claudine de Leon
Say this to any woman in a position of influence today and you best get ready for a verbal whipping and a lecture on the genderlessness of hard work, sacrifice, commitment, and integrity.
In the chorus of women executives in the country, who can use themselves as living examples of this, at the forefront are Theresa Leung and Claudine de Leon of LDL Marketing Inc., soon-to-be heavyweights in Philippine PR, advertising, and marketing.
Having established their own award-winning boutique agency a decade ago in a statistically male-dominated field, they want to make one thing loud and clear: success is never about gender.
"I wouldn't want to think of our uniqueness as a business having two women in high positions. We're proud to represent them, but it's never about wanting to break a glass ceiling, specifically," explains LDL's creative director, Theresa. The agency's account director, Claudine, nods in agreement.
In fact, asking them both about their experiences in advertising in the context of being girl bosses catches them off-guard; they had never given it much thought until now, neither of them pausing to reflect on the possible challenges womanhood might invite on their way to the top.
But ask them about their passion for building brands, their thirst to master the digital sphere, their storytelling expertise, and their lifelong love for learning and educating and they'll engage you in story after story, anecdote after anecdote—proof of where their focus lies and the limitations they were determined never to hold them back.
For Claudine and Theresa, loyal business partners and even stauncher real-life best friends, gender-based problems have never been storm clouds hanging over their heads. To them, being women in advertising has never been a liability but rather, an asset—and a highly competitive one, at that!
For one thing, many aspects that society has historically negatively associated with women, Claudine and Theresa have repurposed and used to their advantage.
Compassion, empathy, openness, maternal instinct, emotion, curiosity—these are a few of their go-to weapons in their professional arsenal and the foundation of their business, qualities and values they believe women in their industry can bring to the table.
Theresa Leung is the agency's creative director
Take a woman's attention to detail and ability to connect with others when they talk about their experiences. The moments of heartwarming relatability in day-to-day conversations plus the willingness to listen to feedback and reactions have proven crucial in formulating campaigns and eliciting emotional responses to how products and services are presented.
To illustrate, Claudine proudly shares, "At some point, one of our clients was struggling with how they could change things up. When we came in, we studied their past campaigns and when we took over, what we brought to the table was the [storytelling]. From the time we handled them up to now, they've realized that it can't just be a pretty face and a logo."
On the other hand, a natural instinct to nurture has allowed this duo to create meaningful, lasting relationships with clients; they consider their true mission to help a brand grow throughout the years, rather than simply be their agency of choice for a campaign or two until it's time to move on to the next project elsewhere.
Likewise, this relates to wanting to make sure that all services they provide a client, whether it's assistance with growing social media platforms or putting together a star-studded on-ground event, are a hundred percent well-thought out and polished.
Claudine de Leon is the agency's account director
Just as a mother might make sure that their children are prepared for a full day at school—homework done, snacks packed, lunch money in hand, uniform looking sharp, ready for pop quizzes—Theresa and Claudine give their clients the same kind of sincere attention and care.
"That's what clients see when we present. They always tell us that we haven't seen decks presented in this way and in this order. It's all ironed out and there are no holes. I'd say that our batting average when we present is 90 percent," Theresa beams.
"We work with a lot of small and medium companies, and up and coming brands. We always say we want to grow with brands. One achievement also is to see a brand that we started with become big," Claudine adds.
Most impressively, the same kind of care goes for how they treat agency staff and each other.
As women, they acknowledge that working relationships will—and should—have a component of compassion attached. From experience, Claudine and Theresa know that it's incorrect to think that an iron fist is the only thing needed to run a tight ship. Specifically, work-life balance is a practice, not a theory, at LDL, and devicing ways to simultaneously uplift others around them as they reach higher and higher peaks have been their priorities since day one.
"We want our employees to feel empowered and own up to [their responsibility]. We also want to help people who are passionate about the same things and giving them a safe working environment where we know they're not robots and work-life balance is valued. We try to uphold this as much as we can," explains Theresa.
Holding back from sending work-related messages after office hours, respecting their employees' personal time on weekends, allowing learning curves, not making overtime part of their culture, and instilling respect and the openness to new learning are just some of the things that these partners make sure their staff can benefit from.
Of course, Claudine and Theresa wouldn't have reached the heights they're currently at by just being kindhearted and generous in spirit; these "advertising rockstars" are hard hitters in the game and have used every experience in their 14 years of PR and marketing as leverage.
Beginning their careers as employees in a fledgling in-house agency for one of the Philippines' leading telecommunications companies, they live and breathe the value of working one's way to the top. There isn't a single shred of entitlement or unwillingness to do the dirty work in Claudine and Theresa.
"Looking back at our history, we always shared a lot of success stories and articles with each other. We love rags to riches stories! We think more of [those people] because they really worked for it; they weren't born with it. It's the same way we feel about our agency; our parents had nothing to do with it, and it's basically Theresa and Claudine, Claudine and Theresa. But, every time we see a woman up there, we say, 'Yes! Look at her up there! Look at what she's done!'" Claudine describes.
Recalling their days as employees clocking in and out for work, five times a day for a few years, Theresa and Claudine exude a tangible aura of pride in how far they've come, but more so, how far they have to go to be able to consider themselves one of the industry's biggest players.
"People have been giving us chances, but needless to say, we really put in the work and deliver. We always say this now: 'There is no substitute for experience.' You need to do the dirty work—and we're still doing it," claims Theresa.
She still remembers what it was like to break away from their firm and stand on her own two feet to begin life anew as an entrepreneur like it was yesterday. Nerve-racking as it was, Theresa knew that it was where she was meant to go.
"I always knew I was going to be an entrepreneur, but I didn't know for what. I just kept on thinking bout what I wanted to do and what I was passionate about—all those clichés about finding something you love and getting paid for it. In this case, it's creating, conceptualizing, seeing it all materialize, and when I hear other people talking about it," she says.
And so, after just four years of corporate work, Theresa alongside Claudine, pulled her weight, dealt her cards right, and made the most out of the network she established as an employee.
They began by responding to small-scale pitches from friends and acquaintances, until word got out that they were open for business, and most importantly, very good at what they did.
"In our case, the client came first before the business. Because we came from the advertising world, some friends made some inquiries, asking us if we would like to do some things on the side. And we enjoyed doing it! Then after a while, we already had clients so we asked ourselves, 'Why don't we incorporate?' And the rest, as they say, is history," narrates Claudine with a smile.
But here's the real clincher of the LDL Marketing Inc. origin story: their first-ever clients were men.
And as they celebrate their 10th anniversary this year, their portfolio now boasts of brands like Bench, KC Concepcion's Avec Moi, Belo, Browhaus, NARS, Laura Mercier, Air Asia, Levi's, Triumph, La Mer, Mecca Aesthetic Clinic and Spa, House of Ital, Les Néréides, and Montblanc, to say the very least.
So despite what Mad Men and Jerry Maguire have taught us about men, and only men, taking the wheel in advertising, Theresa and Claudine have proven that it simply is all just fiction; women are in charge, too, and sometimes, can be better than them at being on top.
Though it's easy to imagine that Claudine and Theresa might be slowing down and holding the reigns of their business less tightly as they did five years ago, that couldn't be farther from the truth. They were in this to win after all, and to remain winners, their eyes are forever on the horizon, always scouting for the next big trend, project, and client to bag.
Currently traversing the rough waters of updating their business practices and expertise to accommodate the changes that the digital universe has imposed on them, Theresa and Claudine are waist-deep in research and learning once again.
"That's a double-edged sword—the Internet in general and social media. It's a blessing and I think that's how we got an 'in' in the industry... Most of the big companies are aligned with multi-national agencies, so it's hard to penetrate the market. Social media gave us that edge because when it first came out, like Twitter and even Friendster and Multiply, that's when it blew up. We got our first few big accounts because of that," explains Theresa.
"That's why we also call ourselves the 'early adaptors' for digital and social media. When nobody was servicing the big accounts for their digital needs, we were there," Claudine continues.
Looking forward, Claudine and Theresa hope to not only leave behind a covetable portfolio, but a company whose values will have remained intact years down the line. As they explained, it's not a problem to find employees, managers, and successors with the right skill set, but what cannot be taught are work ethic and values—the latter of which weigh more to them than anything else.
After everything that Theresa and Claudine have done, continue to do, and are set on doing, how can anyone dispute that women in business can wield just as much power?
King and queen, hero and heroine, proprietor and proprietress, businessman and businesswoman—these delineations don't apply to them, as they've shown that success knows no gender.
Women, they were born as, but achiever, doer, leader, visionary, trailblazer they were meant to become.
Photographs courtesy of Leung de Leon Marketing Services, Inc.