Rappler 10th anniversary

Rappler at 10: The beginnings of BrandRap

Raven Lingat
Rappler at 10: The beginnings of BrandRap
How did a group of feisty women launch a section that pioneered native advertising in digital media?

We are publishing a series of essays from Rappler employees and contributors, old and new, as part of our commemoration of Rappler’s 10th anniversary in January 2022.

MANILA, Philippines – With the abundance of influencer vlogs, in-video and carousel advertisements, and branded content on the internet today, many of us have forgotten what it was like when digital advertising was mainly composed of display ads and press releases. 

This was 10 years ago, when brands first began creating digital content that could broadcast their campaigns and their products. But it was a one-way street. No one had thought of interacting with their audience and driving engagement – until Carla Yap-Sy Su and her team saw an opportunity to produce more effective and credible content. 

That’s how BrandRap was born. 

Built around the core pillars of Rappler – journalism, technology, and community – BrandRap was conceptualized as a space for brands to share their stories and purpose while engaging with the Rappler community through new and interactive forms.  

Birthing BrandRap

It wasn’t easy building something new. At the time, the sales team was composed of four women with exceptional marketing skills: Carla along with Maria Streegan Cruz, Mia Gaviola, and Jenny Velasco-Chua. They doubled as marketing strategists and account managers, which meant that they handled everything from roadshows and customized proposals to project delivery and management.

The team’s first challenges were to unlearn traditional ways of advertising and to convince brands to experiment and take a chance on new ways to advertise. Aside from Rappler being a new media outfit in the country, the methods BrandRap wanted to practice were not what most brands had any experience with.

“BrandRap introduced native advertising in the Philippines by diving deep into consumer behavior and insights then creating a dialogue with the audience through stories they can relate to and conversations they can participate in,” recalled Jenny Velasco-Chua, former head of partnerships and communities. “[It] was a new model we had to introduce to as many brands as possible within a short period of time.”

Some of the most successful native advertising campaigns were produced during BrandRap’s early years. Leveraging technology and social media, the team partnered with brands from different industries to create crowdsourcing campaigns, live social coverages, interactive infographics, video documentaries, and more. Each project was unique and utilized different content strategies and executions.

“What propelled us was never losing sight of Rappler’s differentiators – credible journalism, engaging community, and relevant technology – and that consistent message led to one project after the next,” Carla added.

But there is another value that is vital to BrandRap’s identity: transparency. Mia Gaviola, former head of new business and senior content strategy director, noted that from the beginning, all sponsored stories were published under the BrandRap section and tagged accordingly on social media. “The term itself signals a partnership between “Brand” + Rappler” but could also be read as “Brand” + “Rap” (to discuss)… so that it’s a platform for discussions about brand campaigns.”

POWERED BY WOMEN. The BrandRap team in 2017.
A booming business

Maria Streegan Cruz, former head of global business, said that the team approached each partner with a relationship-first mindset. “We built trust. The brands had to believe in Rappler before partnering with BrandRap. We also brought a great deck, strong ideas, and serious confidence!”

Eventually, it became apparent that BrandRap had grown big enough to stand on its own as a team of creators focused solely on branded content. 

Krista Garcia, former BrandRap section editor and the first writer on the team, helped guide the first team of producers and clarify what BrandRap was to clients and Rapplers alike. “We had to explain, a lot, what BrandRap stood for, especially to journalists who were asking why we had to take in paid stories about products like shampoo or insurance. I’d say in some ways doing branded content is harder compared to straight up feature writing because your angle has to align with both the newsrooms’ and the clients,” she shared.

COURAGEOUS ADVENTURERS. The BrandRap team in 2019.

“In our first year, our landmark project was being the digital partner of Pantene’s #WhipIt campaign. The overall effort of P&G trended globally when it launched, and was even lauded by Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg at the time. It won several local and international awards not just for the commercial but also for the digital campaign work which Rappler produced,” said Krista.

Carla highlighted Champion’s #TapatAko series, Mia cited #ClimateActionPH in partnership with the Climate Reality Philippines, Maria picked San Miguel Corporation’s 125th anniversary campaign #BetterWorld, and Jenny identified PLDT’s #BeTheBoss campaign as some of their most memorable BrandRap projects.

The BrandRap team didn’t just work on branded content. They also led #ThinkPH, a series of forums educating different groups on how to use technology to address business challenges and grow exponentially. “The BrandRap team launched its first forum, Platform Thinking, in 2015. [We invited] digital and tech brands like PLDT, Uber, and Google, to take part. We continued the forum year on year until 2019.”

BrandRap beyond 2022

The founding team has since moved on to new ventures, and Rappler welcomed a new roster to continue their work.

Between 2019 and 2020, the team underwent several key changes, such as the introduction of new team leaders and innovative workflows – including the creation of a brand integration team that handled marketing, freeing up account managers from strategist work.

For Celle Caballero, current head of sales and marketing, the combination of leading a team of professionals new to the Rappler ecosystem amid a pandemic was challenging. While she and her team adjusted to the company, they also had to adjust to BrandRap’s digital-first approach, particularly since she and some members of the team only had experience with traditional media prior to joining BrandRap. And with the number of new teammates, it felt like a new beginning for the entire section. 

“There were differences in personalities, opinions, work ways, attitude, expectations – all of [which I] had to learn quickly on top of the fact that I needed to reach the target!” 

Marj Casal Handog, current BrandRap section editor, spoke about the changes in the executions BrandRap has been producing in recent years. 

“There were executions like roundtable discussions, event coverages, and video shoots that were always done physically. When the pandemic happened, we had to find ways to still offer these executions without risking the health and safety of the team. While it was challenging at first, we managed to mount roundtable discussions solely through video conferencing platforms like Zoom and shoot full-blown videos from home.” 

But the team didn’t let the pandemic stop them from pushing their boundaries as content creators. “Producers learned how to perform dual roles like writing and taking photos or videos at the same time. Since executions that require physical tasks are limited, we were able to give birth to innovative projects that keep up with the times like #RapplerReads, #CheckThisOut, and CommuniCart,” Marj noted.

All throughout, BrandRap has won several awards, established a number of special sections, flourished amid a pandemic, and weathered its own storms – such as a MOA globe-sized controversy.

UNBREAKABLE. The BrandRap team braved the business challenges of the pandemic and beyond.

“I think that no matter what kind of challenges are thrown to the BrandRap team, it will always evolve and find ways to be a cut above the rest. I see the BrandRap team [as] the go-to of advertisers for creative, innovative, efficient, and effective [stories] moving forward,” said Celle.

BrandRap enters its new decade with a promise to continue producing various forms of content that play a part in redefining advertising – doing what it does best for Rappler’s three pillars: journalism, community, technology. – Rappler.com

Taking inspiration from its founding members, the current BrandRap roster takes on the challenge of creating meaningful campaigns. It is made up of some of the best in the industry including head of sales, Celle Caballero, account managers, Patrick Garcia, GB Mauricio, Chewy de Vera, brand integration head, Tristan Zinampan and senior strategist, Armand dela Cruz, BrandRap section editor Marj Casal Handog and senior content producers Raven Lingat, Jaco Joves, and Julian Cirineo, programmatics head Jan Arnaiz and ad operations lead, Athena Balaba, and venerable billing and collection supervisor, Josie Custodio.

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Raven Lingat

Raven Lingat is currently part of the BrandRap content team, where she leads the GoodRap series. You can also find her writing about K-pop and films.