By Luis Arcangel
Global creative agency Montgomery Fitch + Associates was first founded in New York City in 2007 and ran as a small creative boutique until it got hit by the U.S. financial crisis. Founder and CEO Luis Arcangel went back to the Philippines and started teaching at the UA&P while doing consultancy on the side. He eventually relaunched his NYC brand and thus, the Manila office was born.
Today, Luis a.k.a. “Mr. Fitch” shares the stories, the sacrifices, the coffee talks, and the learnings that helped Montgomery Fitch + Associates build a team catering to some of the Philippines’ most recognizable brands.
In industry parlance, we are what you would call a full-service, full-stack creative agency. Once upon a time, you would get a specific agency for strategy, for creative, for Above The Line (ATL) advertising, for PR, for production—and it was one convoluted mess because everyone had a different agenda and vision for the same campaign. Now, you need to have aptitude in pretty much multiple disciplines and be able to integrate if you want a shot at getting clients in this segment.
At Montgomery Fitch + Associates, we do everything from traditional advertising (TV, print, radio), to strategic planning and market research. We have our own in-house production studio and over the past couple of years, we have pivoted heavily into digital and programmatic media as well.
We are located in Prestige Tower in Ortigas, Pasig City, Philippines and this actually our third office already. We are fast outgrowing the 105sqm open office-style space and might look for a new home soon depending on how the year turns out. It’s decked out in what the fancy people call “industrial-eclectic”, and has made some of those Cool Office lists that have come out recently.
I think one of the novelties from the very beginning was that we were identified as the “go-to” millennial agency within the industry. If a tired, old campaign needed sprucing up, or if clients wanted “younger” insights, we would usually receive a call. With my current team, I’ve been working with some of them since they were 18 years old, and now they’re hitting 24, 25 already. In essence, you’re talking to professionals with nearly a decade’s worth of experience but who are all still on the right side of 20. In fact, 95% of “Fitches” are under the age of 25.
How did you obtain capital? Were there investors? If yes, how did you entice them into believing in and investing in your idea?
We were self-funded from the very beginning, no incubators or accelerators. As we grew bigger, we started entertaining the idea of external funding. We have had several very robust rounds funded mostly through private equity and angel investors, and this kind of approach helped our organic growth. We didn’t succumb to the “hockey stick curve” projection pressure that would have compromised our direction if we had engaged with an institutional investor. Works for others for sure, but in hindsight, I wouldn’t have changed anything on how we did it.
How did you build your customer base? What form of marketing has been most effective for you so far?
Referrals, relationships, and human interaction have trumped and outworked all the sophisticated business development campaigns we have put out there.
What kind of company culture are you implementing/would like to implement? What are your core values?
Our ethos is predicated on something we call, “No Rules, Just Results”. We don’t conform to your typical 9-to-5. There is no login/logout. There’s no cap on leaves, and quite honestly, we don’t really care what they do in the office. What we do care about is they deliver their output on their specific pipelines, and deliver it at the highest level possible on time. With all the freedom, we have very strict internal accountability. And with our people always working in teams, there’s even something I would like to call “social accountability” where words are not minced if someone wasn’t pulling their own weight or holding up their end of the bargain, so to speak.
What skills do you believe are necessary in handling a business?
Guts, gumption, and a willingness to accept failure as part of the process. The rest you can learn along the way.
Was there ever a time you felt afraid that this might not work? How did you manage this fear?
The thing is, as the boss, no one is going to hold your hand or pat your back and tell you that everything is going to be alright. You have to figure it out on your own and have to have tremendous willpower to work through the bad times. Mental toughness and resiliency will be key to whether or not your company goes past the hump.
Describe a typical day for you.
Coffee, meetings, meetings, meetings, meetings, meetings, coffee.
How many hours of work a day do you put in? How many days per week?
On call 24/7. If you’re the CEO, you never take an off day.
What sacrifices have you had to make to get here?
Social suicide, for not being able to pay my people when we became broke. Sold my beloved triathlon bike because I had nothing to pay my people. When that didn’t work, sold my car because I had nothing to pay my people. Swallowing pride and ego, especially when times are tough and you have to admit you failed. Long hours, sleepless nights, general sanity. If you want to be part of the world’s 1%, you have to be willing to do what the other 99% are completely unwilling to do.
What can you consider is your greatest success?
Not just surviving, but thriving and expanding in the face of almost certain failure after practically everyone wrote us off for dead already. We now have offices in three Australian cities, and in Myanmar, Mongolia, and Vietnam.
What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Seeing your vision executed and how it affects the lives of your employees and stakeholders
What motivates you?
That the grind never stops, and there’s always some way to get better.
Who has been your greatest inspiration?
Every single entrepreneur who never threw in the towel, even if all forms of common sense dictated so.
Where do you see yourself and your business in 10 years?
My vision is for Montgomery Fitch + Associates to be a true blue, Filipino grassroots multinational conglomerate, with a worldwide presence but with its headquarters in Manila.
What piece of advice can you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Just go ahead and do it. Take the plunge. Be willing to fail. Never second guess and accept everything that follows after. All the expert, meticulous planning in the world is trumped each time by someone who is actually willing to put themselves out there.
Edits: Kath C. Eustaquio-Derla | Image Credit: Luis Arcangel
Luis Arcangel is the founder and CEO of Montgomery Fitch + Associates. The New York-trained ad dude-turned-university professor has brought