DDB Group Philippines’ Craig Lonnee future-proofs agency group with time-tested leadership lessons

The marketing communication industry in the Philippines is definitely one of the verticals that has had to pivot fast to survive the COVID-19 pandemic.

A key industry player, DDB Group Philippines has bravely faced the unprecedented challenges of navigating through the pandemic and the drastic operational transformations it has entailed.

One of its leaders who provide counsel in these crucial times is its Chief Development Officer Craig Lonnee.

Tasked to train, mentor and develop the agency group’s people to ensure that they are future-ready, Lonnee officially became part of DDB Group Philippines in 2017, primarily to conceive and head its R&D unit, The Bernbach School (TBS), and teach Omnicom University content to the Group’s senior management and up-and-coming leaders.

With Lonnee at its helm, The Bernbach School was established to become the operating foundation to further grow DDB Group Philippines’ people and its businesses. Its goal has been to develop leaders who are taught to strategically know their style and purpose to be able to mentor and look after the Group’s people.

This pandemic, Lonnee would take a page in history to discuss crisis leadership styles of the likes of Ernest Shackleton, Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, to name a few. In times of ambiguity, he said, one lesson we can learn from these leaders is that “when operating in great turbulence, we must learn how to let go of former goals and embrace new ones”.

Lonnee would also stress that leaders must understand instinctively the value of creating a long term, trusting bond with people – staff and clients – which sometimes means taking a hit in the short term.

“We must learn that strategy, compelling ideas and brand building always win over supposition and tactical, product and price, or celebrity endorsements,” he said.

One of the industry’s most sought-after minds on research-based people strategies, business performance, and leadership development, Lonnee has a total of four decades of communication work under his belt, of which over 25 years was with the DDB network.

Prior to DDB Group Philippines, he also worked as Chief Development Officer at DDB Asia Pacific and DDB China Group. He spearheaded a number of Organizational Behavior Change-Culture programs and strategies to drive deeper levels of engagement, integration, and business creativity amongst staff and clients.

“People development is an operational strategy that retains, recognizes, and recruits staff. If leaders think they are providing enough training for their staff, they should consider multiplying what they do by 10. They should also communicate their plans obsessively,” the Australia-born Lonnee said.

Being a communication professional and trainer was a curious evolution for Lonnee, who was, in his youth, very much into science and physics, and liked tinkering with electronic sets. But once he entered university, his interests shifted to humanities, literature, and the arts. He also found an affinity to marketing.

Teaching was furthest from his mind then, but fate had other plans.

“Being somewhat of an introvert, I didn’t find my voice until my mid-30s. With coaching and support of a former boss, I got my first teaching job, standing in front of a class of seasoned executives, lecturing on marketing communication. Over the course of a year, I progressively moved from calamitous to comfortable. The rest is history,” he recounted.

For about four years now, Lonnee has been a constant presence at DDB’s Taguig office – being part of, if not facilitating planning and strategy meetings, or holding TBS classes and “Move Beyond Reason” workshops, pre-pandemic. Cascaded by DDB Worldwide, the MoveBeyondReason Playbook is the Group’s new operating system that directs talents to super charge creative work by appealing to people in a different way, that is, beyond reason.

Outside DDB, Lonnee has recently lectured at the University of Asia & the Pacific, teaching Services Marketing and Leadership and Management Programs to undergrads via the Harvard Business School case study method.

People-First Culture

An integrated marketing communication group that has steadily grown in the past 28 years, DDB Group Philippines has been known for its People-First culture. One that is in step with the Service Profit Chain (SPC) business model, which puts a consuming focus on people to create value to customers and sustainable profit for the company.

DDB Group Philippines Chairman and CEO Gil G. Chua has constantly advocated the SPC, together with Lonnee and his other ExCom leaders, which is one of the reasons why the Group is managing well operationally and financially through the pandemic.

“The principle of ‘people first’ goes beyond looking after the well-being of our staff. This is only the start. We try to see them as partners. Each one brings a unique value to the creative process and in turn raises the value of the clients’ brands. We expect each one to give his or her best so the group is lifted together, because all of us are better than even the best of us,” said Chua.

With physical classes on hold and his “students” on work from home mode, Lonnee continues his mission to fortify DDB Group Philippines’ People-First culture and future readiness by holding coaching sessions, webinars, and writing think pieces – focused on issues facing the industry in the new normal, including managing people remotely, dealing with anxiety, and achieving work-life harmony.

Lonnee has indeed elevated DDB Group Philippines’ collective leadership and management skills, such that its leaders have been primed with the skills to meet the challenges of this pandemic head on, putting into practice their learnings from The Bernbach School – closing the knowing-doing gap fast.