Words by Alexi Chingcuangco
It was a bustling night on July 2018 when Cheese Mendez met one of Katapult Digital’s founders, Francis Uy. Introduced to one another by a mutual friend—the owner of Theatrefansmanila.com—Cheese and Francis found themselves engrossed in a deep discussion over the similarities between arts and marketing. As the Disney-themed cabaret rose to a crescendo, echoed by the intimate walls of the 12 Monkeys bar, Cheese serendipitously shared the unique trajectory of his career. Using his love for theatre, he decided to merge his passion for the local arts scene with his penchant for digital marketing by working for a company that brought in various international musicals into the Philippines.
Francis and Cheese exchanged business cards before parting ways. A month later, Cheese met with co-founder and Katapult CEO Albet Buddahim, for an interview that would set the stage for the next chapter in his professional and personal career.
Such a story affirms the company’s raison d’etre. Founded in 2017 by two other former P&G executives—Atty. Lelen Berberabe and Queenie Go-Cua—Katapult Digital came about from a shared vision of inspiring unity in every facet of work, leveraging on different fields of expertise endowed by its employees to create meaningful and comprehensive results. Take for example the founders themselves, who each specialize in different things to the company’s advantage: Francis is a highly-respected enterprise architect; Albet is one of the country’s youngest award-winning digital marketers and the former CMO of L’Oreal Philippines; Atty. Lelen helmed PAG-IBIG as their CEO; and Queenie Go-Cua is a renowned retail and FMCG expert who handled Pampers and Whisper pads on a regional scale.
These capable hands are now leading this two-year-old startup into a new era of agency work, one that prioritizes employee morale and happiness above all. Such topics, which were rarely prioritized within traditional setups in lieu of winning pitches and collecting big brand names, have become increasingly relevant in the past decade where dissatisfaction in the workplace is commonplace, ranking at 85% according to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace survey in 2018.
Become a ‘Working Student’
The way to go about a working culture of happiness extends to more than just satisfying a checklist of deliverables and then clocking out at the end of the day. Katapult wishes to do more for their employees by ensuring they are capable of climbing the professional ladder when they are ready to take the next step in their careers.
The dream is to help launch their pool of talents into a higher professional stratosphere by becoming managers and thought-leaders in their own right. To achieve this, Katapult takes the simple concept of training and goes a step further, turning the idea of broader education a core aspect of their management. The agency places a great deal of importance on ‘working students,’ as teams are encouraged to foster this spirit of competitiveness and eagerness to be better in almost every aspect of the job. Employees must attend seminars, sit in lectures, constantly read books, and explore other avenues of learning which can widen their professional horizons.
In fact, Katapult is a company that allows pretty much any employee to interface with clients so long as they are capable and knowledgeable, which is why training and certifications are important as part of their work culture. Even as account managers or creatives, the team must intimately understand how digital platforms work so that individual members can readily give recommendations on optimizing client requirements.
When asked about what this does for the company, the CEO himself will be the first to tell you that becoming a ‘working student’ is more to the benefit of the employee than it is to the company, as they will take that love for learning with them, even after their time at Katapult. Ideally, each member will have left a lasting mark as a well-rounded digital marketer with specialized roots.
Work to Live, Never Live to Work
The same Gallup survey shares that happy employees lead to happy customers, and Katapult faithfully abides by this mantra more than anything. During Cheese’s interview with Katapult’s CEO, what stayed with him was the company’s philosophy that people are working to live; they are not living to work.
In an era of marketing that stood on the rocky crags of glorified overtime, a constant lack of sleep, battling ‘toxic’ heads of departments, dealing with client-agency politics, and participating in the endless cycle of creating campaign after campaign with no end in sight, Katapult takes a step back and appreciates the passions of their employees outside the office.
There is an intrinsic understanding that individuals, from managers to the admin, are pursuing something greater than the nine-to-five grind. Their passions keep employees alive and ready to take on the next challenge, as opposed to mere passive survival, from one payday to the next.
Notably, this particular employee benefit is a trademark Katapult Digital wishes to own and propagate. People in the company can—if applicable—pursue their dream jobs alongside their work within Katapult. Why become just a copywriter or just a media buyer, when you have something more specific to offer?
Cheese Mendez, who is now Katapult’s Senior Digital Marketing Specialist, stayed true to his roots and is now running an independent Philippine theatre company (Theatre Titas) together with two other partners. David Rosario was an economics professor in Kalayaan College with over seven years of experience in the academe, before becoming Katapult’s resident Research and Analytics Specialist. Alexi Chingcuangco, Katapult’s Senior Storyteller (Senior Copywriter), has been a voice-over artist since she was three years old and is currently a part-time professor at her alma mater, the University of Asia and the Pacific. Even Katapult’s CEO practices what he preaches, lending his mastery on digital marketing and transformation as part of Mansmith & Fielders.
As such, Katapult offers a strict work-life synergy, where output and hours are monitored for the sake of protecting employee rights and ensuring no one is overworked, burned out, or being made to do too much. There is no lack of trust or micro-management in the office—only respect and reverence for the holistic lives of their employees. Overtime is discouraged and frowned upon; rude and disrespectful clients will be respectfully declined.
Our ecosystem of support
Fulfillment aside, Katapult values other benefits that aim to raise employee morale. Teams are only required to come to office three days a week; they can work remotely or from home for the remaining two days. Everyone enjoys a birthday leave every year, and this can be availed of on the day itself, or any time during the month. Workshops are commonplace, and this 2019, Katapult Digital joined the ranks of the IMMAP (Internet and Mobile Marketing Association of the Philippines), PANA (Philippine Association of National Advertisers), and the PMA (Philippine Marketing Association) for even more opportunities to learn and contribute to the body of knowledge within the industry.
This culture of happiness at the workplace imbibes and fosters a lifetime of employee loyalty that will hopefully change the way others approach business models within digital marketing and advertising.
The barest minimum that is asked of the team is to comply with company regulations and to keep the positive work environment the irrevocable standard. This trickles down even to incoming members and interviews, as most of Katapult’s current roster are fiercely protective of the company culture and what they stand for.
One year after Cheese and Francis’ fateful meeting, Katapult Digital continues to nurture its unique ecosystem of support, and hopes its new members will contribute to the company’s positive energy, their shared love for learning, and their drive to be the very best they can be as both workers and dreamers.