People: Kat Encanto and EJ Galang on the desire to stay curious and keep growing

NETHERLANDS — Filipino creatives can thrive anywhere, Kat Encanto and EJ Galang are proof of that. The two have been in advertising for over 16 years and have worked in the Philippines, Italy, Thailand, and the UK. Alongside their passion for the work, Katrina and EJ offer advice to returning creatives, mentor young people from underserved communities, and help juniors become award-winning independent creatives.

Some of their awards include Golds and Bronzes in Cannes Lions; Gold Effie + Effie Agency of the Year in the UK, and; Graphite and 7 Wood D&AD Pencils. Such are their achievement from the desire to stay curious and keep growing:

1. After 6 years as a creative team in MullenLowe London, you both landed new roles as Executive Creative Directors in 180 Amsterdam. Do tell us how this role came about and what were the factors that convinced you to move out of London into this new job?


Kat: We were hired by MullenLowe in 2012, first, to work on the regional Unilever business out of Bangkok, and from 2014, to take on a more global role out of London.

We feel extremely grateful to have grown with the network for nine years and have learned so much from the colleagues and the clients we have worked with. We consider it a huge privilege to have led some of the world’s greatest accounts such as Persil, Sloggi and Nutella.

The role presented at 180 Amsterdam simply felt like the next chapter in our journey. EJ and I were really attracted to this idea of ‘the world as it could be’ as it aligns with everything we stand for. As a creative team, our conversations usually revolve around how we can make our work better and mean more to others. Personally, as a woman, a mother, and a Filipina creative working in Europe, I am often the minority in the room and so I don’t usually sit on the side of the world as it is. We thought we could add a new dimension to this belief with our views and experiences. 

On top of that, I think the recent year has given us a lot of time to think about what we’d like to do with our lives. We had really come to love London, and it made no sense to move in a pandemic, especially when things were functional. But the chance to join this group of talented individuals with a shared optimism was just too hard to resist.

EJ: About four years ago, we were approached by 180 for a job but the timing wasn’t right. Fast forward to the pandemic, they had kept our details, and Kalle (180 CCO) reached out for a chat. We had casual conversations where we talked about what we’ve been up to, what our creative values are, and who we are as people. Kat and I were also picking his brain, trying to see what we can learn from his leadership that saw 180 double in size in the last three years. We were just being nerds about the whole experience.

When we were asked to join, we were thrilled by the opportunity while equally unsure about taking it. We were comfortable in our previous agency, knew the system, and had just won a pitch. There was the challenge of moving with a toddler and a year’s worth of isolated accumulation to consider. London also made it tougher by being so easy to love.

Ultimately, it was curiosity, appetite for risk, and unwavering optimism that led to our decision. 180 has great culture and diverse people with a shared vision about the work. The city is vibrant and the commute to work is just 20 minutes.

  1. As ECDs of 180 Amsterdam, do tell us how this works and what your ambitions are for the agency?

Kat: My ambition for 180 is to help create a place where a surprising point of view is the norm and optimism is the default mode. This isn’t an easy task as conformity is just more convenient. It takes practice and perseverance to create something that breaks the canon. Our job here is to build a culture that celebrates that.

EJ: My ambition is for the agency to create famous work for brands that contribute positively to the world. I’d like to help the department sustain a collaborative, optimistic, and making-obsessed environment.

  1. You started in Manila as young creatives in 2005, then went on to be ACDs in Bangkok, Creative Directors in London, and now ECDs in Amsterdam in 2021. This is an impressive career progression for both of you, working together as a solid Art and Copy tandem. Do describe the challenges of moving from different agency networks, clients, and countries and what traits, professional mindset, does one have to possess to make it this far?

Kat: 2021 would mark the 11th year since I’ve left Manila, and every year has come with its own set of challenges. It hasn’t been easy being away from family and friends, learning new languages and cultures, and raising a child with both of us working full-time. But I suppose what’s kept us going is our desire to stay curious and keep growing. You don’t evolve without pressure, and you don’t learn if you’re always comfortable. The other observation I would make is that we are our best selves when we are idealistic. And so, for most of our journey, it has been a case of creating the conditions to stay in this mode, with our environment, the people we work with, and the ideas we surround ourselves with.

EJ: Moving from different agencies wasn’t such a huge challenge, personally. We had always been with MullenLowe during our entire Bangkok and London stints, and that lasted about nine years. We had also worked on a lot of global Unilever brands by that time and so the teams pretty much knew each other across MullenLowe agencies.

Moving from different countries was probably the most challenging: adjusting to the weather, figuring out school systems, and learning how to order beer. But I suppose once you take on a sponge mindset and embrace the frustrations as part of the adventure, you’ll learn to laugh through them.

Caring has also helped me navigate my way through different office cultures. It’s one of our soft powers as Filipinos and I’ve never met an OFW who didn’t care about their work and people.

  1. The pandemic has brought in seismic and transformative shifts in consumer behavior, marketing strategies, market needs, creative direction, and workplace adaption. Are we adapting well to the pace of these changes and what do you think we need to do to manage and succeed as creative partners to clients who seek your expertise?

Kat: The unique thing about this pandemic is that every single person in the world has been affected by it in one way or another. Life is never going to go back to how it was for many of us, and so I think the first thing we need to do is recognise that. There needs to be some rejection for how things used to be, and a lot more empathy for how people might want things to be. Every person will have a story to tell: we need to listen, imagine how we can make a difference, and adapt. From what I’ve observed, the people who have succeeded in the last year have been the nimble ones: those who are more willing to let go of the past and take on a new mindset moving forward.

I also think it’s a good time to reflect on what we stand for. At a time when people are feeling isolated, there’s an opportunity to offer a sense of belonging through shared values. That is true whether you are leading a team or building a brand. As a leader, we could set the stage and help people find purpose in the work we do. And for our brands, we could imagine how they might resonate emotionally, whether that’s through a little bit of levity, an extraordinary experience, or real, meaningful action.

EJ: As an industry, I think we’ve responded well. Offices prioritized the health of employees, some good work came out despite the challenges, and we proved that we’re capable of being creative in our production processes. To succeed, I believe we should keep listening, stay empathetic, and produce work with integrity. 

5. Please show us five pieces of work that have defined your careers.

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