Toni Gregory Palenzuela when she turned 72 last May 17.
Toni @ 72
PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - May 26, 2020 - 12:00am

She is empowered, emboldened and enhanced by her zest for life.

At 72, PR and creative maven Toni Gregory Palenzuela looks forever 52 — by the way she looks and the way she thinks.

For her recent birthday, Toni replied to those who sent her a greeting with a photo of herself bare-shouldered in a pool, with this dedication, “Celebrate with me, my zest for life @ 72!”

It captures what this former advertising and hotel executive is: not your usual septuagenarian. Not your usual, period.

Even before the word “new normal” became the adjective du jour, Toni has always been the new normal for women of her caliber.

For her, it’s all about “loving the child in you and having no fear in being ‘different’.”

Lino and Toni Palenzuela.

“It is often said that to be a creator, one has to think outside the box. I do not think there is a box!” exclaims the tall and tanned Toni. Thus, even her team has long gotten rid of the “box.”

She also guards against being an intellectual snob, and believes in “never saying ‘no’ to a creative challenge, big or small.”
 

Toni looks great at 72 and is as tireless as she was at 52.

Toni and her friends Annie Ringor and Leah Caringal set up Bridges@Com Ideas & Strategies, a PR and events agency, in 2000. It was a bold step at the dawn of the new millennium for the three friends, all former hotel executives. But look where they all are now — from a team of three, Bridges is now a force of 33. (Leah has set up her own flourishing agency as well.)

“Actually, it was Leah Caringal who came up with our agency brand. It has worked well for us because we really act as a bridge between market targets and brands,” recalls Toni.

“Toni  is doing what she loves, and does it with a passion. To her, being passionate is next to being attractive,” says long-time colleague, friend and business partner Annie Ringor.

Of their long-standing friendship, Annie, who is president of Bridges (while Toni is chairperson), muses. “We have so much in common, and yet we are so different. But what she is to me is a true and loyal friend, who inspires me, supports me, trusts and respects me, makes me feel valued and loved.”

Toni and Annie bridged the distance from their beginnings to their present success by surrounding themselves “with young people who bring new knowledge, and older people who share their wisdom.”

“In this day and age, PR has evolved into wider perspectives using alternative digital and online platforms for relevant narratives the target audience understands. We work in tandem with clients and explore ‘what it will take’ to get the brand message out there with the right creative and media strategies to achieve their ROIs,” Toni shares.

As a member of media, I have always associated Bridges with unforgettable creative events. For HSBC Premier, for instance, Bridges invited influencers and media to a multi-course dinner at the Peninsula Manila, each course a surprise unfolding and a reflection of the brand’s message: safety and stability.

For instance, the first course consisted of appetizers served in a box, symbolizing a safety deposit box “to keep your family safe like the safety box.”

And for the main course, which represented wealth, steak was served on solid wooden slabs, to underscore “why you need a strong foundation, like the solid wooden board where our main course is presented!”

That’s Toni and her team for you.

“We have fortunately been associated with creating events, which pay strict and deliberate attention to detail, being conscious that the brand message is experienced from the moment a guest receives an invitation, to that awesome arrival experience, the venue styling, the menu presentation, choice of hosts and program flow to the memorable tokens which guests go away with,” Toni says.

“Very soon our EDGE events division will be rolling out their brand design services to add to their expertise on crafting events. At this time, this includes even online events plus development of gifting and packaging,” adds Toni.

Bridges’ longest-standing client, so far, is a giant in its field. “Unilever is still by far our longest standing client of two decades that has given our creative teams constant challenges to work under the premise that ‘there is no box’.”

Toni considers Bridges’ campaign for Unilever’s Magnum as its “biggest creative hit, from launch to succeeding product innovations.”

***

Toni is in herself an exuberant brand — she still turns heads whenever she enters the room, but she keeps those same heads glued to her when she speaks.

A widow, she married widower Lino Palenzuela in 2010.

“Life and love the second time around is like a new beginning. Lino has accepted and continues to accept that he married someone who can’t stand still. And I have and continue to fulfill my vow to give him a life of never-ending surprises!”

That she also views life as a never-ending surprise is perhaps the secret of her zest.

“Celebrating every flower that greets me in the morning makes my day! During quarantine, I found time to go through albums of memories to discover that I have been the same person I am all these years and laugh at myself at the same time,” she confides.

If she begins her day by acknowledging the silent greeting of flowers, she ends it with resounding gratitude for the new dawn that will unfold when the sun rises the next day. “I say thank you for another day when I can look in the mirror again, and say ‘there’s hope’!”

Toni, a mother and grandmother, will always be excited for every new day, because retirement isn’t in her horizon.

“She says she will never retire and at 72, she thinks she is still young!” says Annie with a naughty twinkle in her eyes. “Well, she looks great at 72 and is as tireless as she was at 52.” *

TONI GREGORY PALENZUELA
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