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People: From competitor to AD STARS New Stars judge – BBDO Guerrero’s Nikki Sunga says “Be the story you wish to be told”

MANILA, PHILIPPINES — Nikki Sunga took part in the AD STARS New Stars program in 2017 while she was still a relatively junior creative at Tribal DDB.  

Fast forward four years, and Nikki is returning to New Stars not as a participant but as a judge. For someone with only 8 years of advertising industry experience, her career rise has been remarkably rapid. After becoming an Associate Creative Director at Tribal DDB, she is now Creative Director at BBDO Guerrero in the Philippines along with her long-standing partner Andi Olbes. 

Every year, AD STARS invites junior creatives with less than 5 years of professional experience in advertising, marketing and PR to take part in the New Stars AD Competition. This year, participants must submit creative campaign ideas to promote Wave Parkthe world’s largest surf park – in South Korea and abroad in the post-COVID-19 era. The deadline for entries is July 30. 

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Is it true you have a background in interior & fashion design? How did you find your way from fashion to advertising?

My character has always been about maximizing the opportunities I can get. During my college years, I spent all of my summers in various internships trying to explore possibilities of my future career. Two of those summers were with a local fashion publication and an interior design studio. Both experiences left me feeling familiar and in a safe zone so I decided to keep looking for the “right one”. 

Don’t hesitate in trying anything that piques your interest. My search led me to the BBDO Guerrero Crap Ideas Workshop in 2013. That short program has grown into an eight-year love affair with advertising. 

You took part in the News Stars program at AD STARS in 2017. How does it feel to be returning as a judge? What are you most looking forward to? 

I really do believe in giving back— that’s how I see my return to AD STARS as a judge. My early years in advertising were spent competing and attending talks and workshops. This time around, I hope to embark on the path to being a Mentor to the younger ones. As this is my first time being a judge in a young creative competition, I’m looking forward to sharing insights from the many judges we have this year and seeing fresh eyes to the current brief. 

There’s nothing more exciting than being a young competitor. I know what it’s like— that’s why I’d like to let the competitors know that they can seek my advice or even just chat me up for a hello.

Can you reflect on your own experience of taking part in the New Stars program in 2017: what did you learn? 

The New Stars program gave my partner Andi and I a peek into North Asian insights and work. It wasn’t as common for us to be exposed to this kind of perspective then. We found it very useful and applicable to our regional clients then.

What was the best/toughest part of taking part in the program? 

The best part? The program gave us opportunities to interact and befriend creatives not just from Asia but as far as Bulgaria. We got to mingle and speak with the judges and speakers as well. What I really appreciated is that the connections we made are still very much alive today. We actually still keep in touch with the friends we made then. 

As for the toughest part, it would really have to be cracking the brief. The brief was similar to this year’s— “How would we encourage tourists to visit Pyeongchang for the Winter Olympics?” In 2017, my partner and I were still fresh to Korean points of view. We had to really immerse ourselves and do a crash course by exploring South Korea (Busan of course) and what’s it like. Finding ways to have a unique creative output but also a very relatable insight were our biggest challenges.

What have learned from David Guerrero, founder of BBDO Guerrero, since joining the agency? 

What propelled my partner and I to join BBDO Guerrero was how exposed the agency is to global and regional work. We met David years ago in various advertising festivals from Boracay all the way to Cannes. We’ve witnessed how David always rallied for work that had unique insights and valuable solutions. And up until today, that mindset is evident in how we crack creative briefs for our clients. In my 3 years of working at BBDO Guerrero, David has always challenged me and the rest of the creatives to keep pushing beyond the brief and create work that will have lasting global impact and be more than just sales numbers. Every brief is possibly a great creative opportunity.

The ad industry continues to face diversity issues as a result of #metoo and now Black Lives Matter. Do you have advice for other young girls in the industry? 

This is based solely on my experience. The Philippines is matriarchal— women are often seen as heads of the household too, as much as the father. In the advertising setting, many women here have become agency leaders and that’s something I’m truly happy about. In BBDO Guerrero, we are at about 70% women and half of our agency leaders are female. The issue arises when we look at regional and global numbers where advertising leaders remain dominated by men. With my personal experience these past years, I know how important it is to have your agency’s support as leverage for career growth. That’s what I hope to keep doing, if not strengthen, for the younger girls in this industry and not just in my country. 

In 2019, I became part of See It Be It — a sisterhood of young female creatives in advertising and marketing that aims to create opportunities for all women in the industry. I’ve realized that there is no shame in getting yourself out there and being seen. Share your failures, learnings, and wins. Girls, be the story you wish to be told. 

What is your proudest achievement, either professionally or personally?

My greatest achievement would probably be how much I’ve grown over the course of my career— from a young competitor to now Creative Mentor. I take pride in saying how I used to be just like every young competitor and now I get to give back by guiding, inspiring, and also finding inspiration from the younger ones with their fresh ideas. 

I am so proud to be called a mentor by my past creative team as I have so much respect for those who have mentored me over the years. Now, I’m given that chance to nurture an upcoming generation of creatives. Being a New Stars judge at AD STARS is the first step I’m taking to be of more use to younger creatives.

Are you working on anything interesting right now? What are your goals for 2021? 

“Never stop learning” has always been my mantra and the pandemic will not and has not been a hinderance to that. 2021’s goal was to learn more from global campaigns, seek perspectives much different from mine, and be able to reframe my point of view. My goal has come to fruition as a Jury member and I’m just so grateful to AD STARS for making that come to life. I can’t wait to do more jury work in the coming years and hopefully come again as a speaker for the festival.

What do you enjoy outside of work? Do you still have time to create textile prints or fashion designs? 

The pandemic and being cooped up at home have brought about a crazy thirst to be creative. First, I’ve recently dabbled in textile design again after so many years. Earlier this year, I released home rugs I designed and asked local weavers from the North of the Philippines to craft. Second, in my attempt to stay young and “in” with Gen Z, I’ve turned my coffee obsession into a social account on Instagram and Tiktok. I started making @_cafetbahay home cafe online content as a window for me to get off my laptop and do something else for a few minutes. 

The AD STARS New Stars 2021 program will take place virtually this year. Teams must submit their application and promotional campaign idea before midnight on July 30 (Korean time). Get the brief here.

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