Donald Lim, chief digital officer of ABS-CBN Corporation and head of the network’s Digital Media Division, cannot overemphasize that “disruption is the name of the game.”
His work since joining ABS-CBN in June 2013 has revolved around “futureproofing” so that whatever happens, the company can adapt and ride the digital wave as it comes.
“The digital wave is like a thief in the night. Companies like Uber and Spotify have turned traditional business models upside down,” Lim says. He adds that nobody wants to wake up in the morning and find their revenue streams dry. This is why ABS-CBN is making that digital shift that can give its brands and its lines of business what they need to gain and maintain market dominance.
Foresight of EL3
Lim credits ABS-CBN chairman Eugenio Lopez III (EL3) with the foresight to shift to direct consumer sales as early as 25 years ago by investing in such services as cable, TFC (The Filipino Channel), publishing, cinema, music and, of late, mobile phones, TV and internet shopping, DTT (digital terrestrial TV) and DTH (direct- to-home satellite).
“Our competition today is from the whole world, not just from the Philippines. It is a global marketplace. Consumers from all over are looking for content—to watch, to listen, to shop and to read. As traditional advertisers cut their budget for TV advertising and shift to digital platforms, we want to be prepared for that shift so we can capture some of the digital business out there,” Lim says.
The current digital mindset for most businesses is to have a mobile app and website. As chief digital officer, Lim is often the bearer of bad news, that is, whenever he says that an app and a website are not the only way to go.
“It’s not just marketing. We have to undergo a digital transformation: first, evolve or adapt the business, then match the needs of the market, then maybe come up with a pure play digital business. What I tell our clients is that we cannot just be limited to Facebook and YouTube as an advertising platform, which currently shape the digital ecosystem. But that can change. So we must be flexible,” explains Lim, who used to head McCann MRM, a digital agency.
It actually took Lim almost a year to make the move to ABS-CBN. He was happily doing digital marketing campaigns for the biggest consumer brands when colleagues from McCann who had joined ABS-CBN referred him to the company. He went through a series of meetings but he wasn’t exactly looking for a job. He was also very much invested in his work, enjoying what he was doing and meeting much success.
EL3 assured him he would be continuing what he was doing—that is, digital marketing— but challenged him to transcend brand building and put all his creative and intellectual work in the service of the Filipino. The allure of being of bigger value to society made an impact on Lim. He realized he would still be marketing brands, but the ripple effect he could create is indeed way bigger in a huge organization like ABS-CBN.
Within weeks on the job, he saw the i m m e d i a t e amplification of his every move: creating guidelines for network talents and news reporters in managing their social media accounts, handling attacks on celebrities and training them to properly manage their influence on followers. The ripple effect spans first the 8,000 employees and talents of the company and then the entire country as people watch and even idolize the artists and journalists on TV.
“Amplification is immediate. Social media users either share your posts or they gang up against you,” Lim says.
More than at any other time, Lim has been showing his pioneering entrepreneurial spirit as a business unit head, serving other ABS-CBN lines of business and managing ABS-CBN digital properties that have their own profit and loss statements under his division. His staff has grown from about 80 to 125 in the last three years as every line of business asks for support from digital. He encourages his staff to develop their entrepreneurial spirit by thinking of ways to monetize the assets under their care.
“We want to serve the Filipino, but as a business unit, we need money to do that,” he quips.
Moving the Philippines forward
His message for LopezLink readers: “In my short experience with the Lopez Group, I have seen how nation building is ingrained in the Group. All the Lopez units have opened different opportunities for us to do our share for our country. If we are a fast food chain or a soft drink maker, we’d feed the people. But the companies in the Lopez Group are all about moving the Philippines one step forward and creating opportunities for our people to improve themselves and do their share in building our country.” (Story/Photos by: Carla Paras-Sison)