Mark de Joya | The Innovator 25 Asia-Pacific 2019

Mark de Joya

Marketing Director

Max's Group

“If you can innovate without having to use tech as a crutch, then that’s a sign of true innovation culture”

A provocative thinker who has held senior leadership roles across both client and agency — Mark de Joya is currently marketing director for the iconic Max's Restaurant brand and head of corporate communications for Max's Group. At Max’s, the veteran Filipino marketer has led a transformation in elevating true consumer focus, while practicing his signature style of commercial effectiveness powered by creative excellence. All of which is underpinned by de Joya’s refreshingly forthright views on brand purpose, which call for companies to live their values rather than just turning them into marketing tactics.

How do you define innovation?
I've never subscribed to the idea of innovation as pure novelty. To me, true innovation must represent meaningful solutions to human problems worth solving. That means the action of innovation isn’t about lateral changes, but establishing a positive movement; it has to move a person, a group, a community, an organization—even the world!—either forward or upward. The world is broken enough as it is.

To be literal about it—and I say this only because perhaps not enough people take it literally—innovation is valuable only if it adds value.

What is the most innovative comms/marketing initiative you've seen in the last 12 months?
This may be a cliched answer, but I absolutely love the entire body of work coming out of Burger King globally. For a lot of brands, innovation is reliant on technological enhancements; for these guys, the innovation comes from their entire mode of thinking. I’m a big fan of analog, especially when a brand has to navigate a third world market like the Philippines—analog thinking, analog storytelling, analog technology, analog solutions. 99% of the big talk pieces coming out of that brand would thrive no matter what level of technology they embed behind the actual go-to-market plan. If you can innovate without having to use tech as a crutch, then that’s a sign of true innovation culture.

In your opinion, what brands and/or agencies are most innovative around PR and marketing?
Burger King, no doubt. Courage, creativity, cheekiness, and an incredible grasp of pop cultural zeitgeist make these guys probably best in class not just in the restaurant industry, but in the entire marketing world altogether.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider 'innovative.'
My work in the food industry over the past three years has been both the most fun and most challenging career stretch, for sure. Fun because unlike my past life in FMCG and consumer tech, there's a 1:1 opportunity to serve our consumers directly, rather [than via] intermediary retail channels and distributors. Challenging, because there are so many tropes and codes built into how the industry generally approaches marketing—food porn this, Instagrammability that. I'm proud about the way I've brought both human truth and human purpose into the brands I've managed. These are things that are fundamental to any marketer, more than tech, more than comms, more than campaigns.

Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation? 
I am a massive fan of Virgil Abloh, and his deconstruction and reinvention of today’s fashion industry. He’s very divisive with what he does, but he’s always sincere, and always has a point of view.  Innovation comes from being original, and the way Abloh marries streetwear, pop culture, industrial design, fashion, Instagram culture, and architecture into a world view all his own can teach a lot to today’s boxed-in marketers, most of whom come from the same business school or communications background as each other. More than building his own brand, he’s built a whole culture. Not a lot of people can claim that.

How do you get out of a creativity rut?
The best advice I've ever gotten: "Brands aren't built in boardrooms." One of the biggest challenges of being a marketer—especially senior marketers, or those embedded high up in the hierarchy of their organizations, or those who have discovered the wonderful world of data & analytics—is the risk of getting disconnected from the real human aspect within which brands, PR, and marketing operate, simply because we've booked too much time for boardroom meetings. Getting out of a rut to me means blocking off time to purposively wander around the real world to try to spot real-life problems that deserve solving. That's a great way to spark neurons and build lateral thinking, especially when armed with the three most important questions of any proper marketer: (1) Why?, (2) Why?, and (3) Why? If creativity is classically defined as a problem-solving activity, then the key to unlock it is to give it a good, nasty IRL problem to solve.

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
I read a study that suggested that the one brand today's youth generation would love to hang out with the most is Google—their ultimate best friend in facilitating truth. The PR industry knows enough about managing reputation and sentiment, perhaps the next step in its evolution would be towards helping brands thrive in a world where honesty and transparency are the ultimate currency.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing your current job?
I care deeply about "anima sana in corpore sano"—a healthy mind in a healthy body. Therefore, I would go all-in and be a full-time competitive powerlifter owning multiple national records—something I only get to do in my spare time these days—while also supporting my wife’s own advocacy for mental health awareness in the workplace.

Favorite book/movie/podcast/article that's not related to PR/marketing/business?
My guilty pleasure? WWE. Pro wrestling is my ultimate escapist content for pointless hyper-stimulation. More than the athletic demonstrations, it's actually been my greatest inspiration in developing my own presentation style as a lifelong introvert. Once you've immersed yourself in the interview style of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson back in his days as an active pro wrestler, you can't help but become absolutely electric when speaking in front of a crowd.

What's your favourite time of day and why?
My favorite time of day is 3 o' clock in the morning—precisely because it's that one time of day where you completely lose track of time, the world slows down, and I can think without having to think of what's up next on my day's itinerary. I believe the ultimate enemy of creativity is deadlines, and in the wee hours of the morning, I finally feel safe from them.