Young Pinays on the career track in New York
(The Philippine Star) - May 1, 2016 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines – Gabby Manotoc and Ysabel Cacho are making it all work. Constantly juggling lives on two continents and still managing to flourish professionally makes you wonder if they can move through time and space. Born and raised in Manila, they now work at internationally renowned companies in New York. Manotoc is a visual designer at R/GA, a digital agency, and Cacho is a junior copywriter at the advertising agency FCB Healthcare.

Manotoc’s projects are painstakingly detailed. She has a penchant for quirky colors and playful typography, but ultimately, each pixel has a purpose. She admits, “Manila has so much life, but it can get over-stimulating. I’m obsessed with intentional design. There are more than enough pretty things out there.”

She says it sounds like nonsense, but she is underselling herself. Manotoc has been recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists, the Savannah Advertising Federation, Monotype, the College Media Association, Graphis Inc., and more. She even founded a literary art journal, Port City Review, four years ago.

Cacho is amazingly versatile. Her writing tone is childlike in one campaign, while the next reads like a middle-aged man wrote it. “Nobody wants a boring portfolio,” she explains. She credits her writing background to advertising and the magazine industry. This includes an internship with McCann Worldgroup and Rogue magazine as well as two years as section editor for the online news source District. During that time, it won awards from organizations like the Columbia Press Association and the Southern Regional Press Institute.

The two friends are busy: Manotoc was most recently a designer on the recent Samsung Holiday campaign and the Samsung GS7 digital launch. Cacho is working on writing all kinds of copy for a Multiple Sclerosis drug and the Blood Equality campaign. Still, they took time off their packed schedules to talk about moving from one big city to the next, pursuing creative careers and why Manila is still home.

How do you balance island time and the New York minute?

GABBY MANOTOC: Luckily, it wasn’t difficult. I’m naturally fast-paced. Though recently, I learned to make time for people. I block off Sunday mornings to call my family even if that means working overtime. Additionally, being international gives me a different perspective on things like culture, technology and even the weather. It’s a different voice when the team pitches concepts. But because everyone has different backgrounds, I learn something from them every day, too.

YSABEL CACHO: When I first got here I set my watch 10 minutes early until I got used to it. As for the time zone, the 12-hour time difference can be a good thing. While I’m writing for social media and manuscripts, my family is sleeping on the other side of the planet. But by the time my mom wakes up, I’ve finished work so when she asks me how I’m doing, I have more to say other than “I’m fine.”

What was the turning point that made you choose creative careers in New York?

YC: Before I was hired at FCB, I interned at their other office in New York and loved living here. Everything was right at my fingertips, if I wanted to get cheap tickets to a Broadway show, I could do that after work. I also discovered that most New Yorkers aren’t even from here, which is a good conversation starter.

GM: I worked at Time Inc. one summer and immediately fit in. A lot of things I enjoy (like music shows) are readily available. Mentors, fellow designers and those I met at national conferences encouraged me. Mostly, a lot of big design companies are here. The professional connections I want and world-class resources are within reach. Still, my work would be vastly different had I not grown up in Manila. I certainly wouldn’t appreciate things the same way.

Do you have any advice for young, aspiring creatives?

GM: Meet the world halfway. There are a lot of opportunities out there, Google them. Reach out to people you admire, cold email companies, apply for competitions and scholarships. Once you make that first step, the next ones get easier.

YC: Step out of your comfort zone because comfort kills creativity. You won’t get what you want by sitting at home and wishing for it to happen. I’m a very shy person but I put myself out there and talked with recruiters and creative directors to show my portfolio.

How have you grown professionally? Advertising is known to be cutthroat and fast-paced. How do you stay inspired?

GM: Instead of self-directed work, I now respond to challenging briefs that push me creatively. It’s great to explore uncharted territory; I have more to pull from. I often ask to work on all types of projects, especially the daunting ones. I’ve collaborated on commercials and photo shoots, things I haven’t done until recently. It’s important to keep honing your skill set.

YC: I get to work on projects in all shapes and sizes, from print ads to social media. I like dipping my toes — well, fingers — in different projects. Being creative is part of the job description and people are hired for their ideas. This is New York; you find inspiration anywhere. I find mine when not looking. It can be anywhere from waiting in line or eavesdropping during an art exhibition.

What are you currently working on?

YC: I’ve been busy with writing social media posts for an MS drug and brochures and print ads for pro-bono projects. Because I spend a lot of time on a computer, I try to spend my weekends away from a screen. To give my eyes a break, I’ll go around with my notebook and camera. I get lost photographing the city but it makes a silly adventure to write down.

GM: I’m working on some pitches while other projects are well into production. I’m also the co-editor-in-chief and creative director for, a music website. I am active with the TedXNewYorkSalon community, too. I’m most excited by a personal project I’ve had in mind for a while; I’m finally making it real.

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