Dan Mejia is a familiar figure in the local fashion scene, having served as Head of Communications and Press for H&M in the Philippines for almost a decade. Recently, the always pleasant and mild-mannered retail exec let us in on a bit of happy news: he’s been appointed Regional Head of Communications and Public Relations for H&M South Asia, which means he’s expected to build and oversee the communications and PR team of H&M not only in the Philippines but also in Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, and India. The 41-year-old PR exec is the only Filipino in this regional core team.
It seems like a natural progression considering how his leadership helped propel the fashion brand to great heights since it launched in the Philippines in 2014. As Mejia himself tells us, nothing happens by chance. Everything he’s accomplished in life was borne out of courage, hard work, and a strong sense of self.
Unlike many successful communications practitioners, Mejia had to overcome a speech impediment and the feelings of insecurity it brought to get to where he is now. “I had difficulty pronouncing F, R and S,” he recalls. “I’d mix F and S sometimes. For instance, I’d say sass and then sometimes [people] understood it as fast.”
He hasn’t shared this story outside his close circle of friends. But what inspired him to finally talk about it was his interview for the current position he’s in. “Our regional manager appreciated what I had been through and it got me thinking, my experiences could actually help inspire and empower other people,” he says.
It was in his teenage years—a precarious phase in a boy’s life—when Mejia started becoming conscious of his speech defect. He spent his growing up years in Manila. But when their family experienced a financial crisis and supporting the Mejia boys’ education became difficult, relatives based in Iloilo offered to take Dan in so he can study in a public school in the province.
Being a transferee from Manila came with an expectation that he can be an asset for inter-school competitions like declamation contests. High school competitions in Iloilo are very competitive and considered prestigious, says Dan, so having a student who’s bright, eloquent, and confident in one’s team is a big advantage.
Unfortunately, the boy from Manila had a lisp. “There were letters and words I could not pronounce well,” he recalls. “So the tendency was for me to be shy about it. I’d also lower my voice even further so all the more they could not understand me. I felt like I was disappointing them because I could not live up to those expectations.”
“Going through college, I tried to avoid speaking,” he says. But what he lacked in oral communication, he compensated with his talent in writing. He became news editor of The Advocate, the official publication of Far Eastern University (FEU) and vice president of the Journalism Society. He represented the oratorical and debate council, not thru debate and oration but by joining a literary writing competition. Still, “Internally something in me wanted to be heard or wanted to be listened to,” he recalls.
After graduation, despite his speech disorder, he took his chances and applied in the BPO industry. He trained hard and to his surprise, would top the simulation trainings and exams. “That’s when I realized that my speech disorder tends to aggravate when I’m not confident about myself,” he says.
Wanting to explore other opportunities and develop his skills in the field of communication, Mejia left his call center job after a few years. “I packed my bags and went to Vietnam with no certainty where I will be working,” he says. At that time, his older brother was already working in Vietnam.
Applying in PR jobs proved to be difficult though since he had no experience in the field. But just before he was about to give up on his job search, someone finally decided to take a chance on the Pinoy applicant—the managing director of Venus Communications, the PR arm of Saatchi and Saatchi Vietnam.
Mejia told the boss that while he has no experience in PR to speak of, he studied it in the university. “What if you give me something to work on and I get back to you in a week?” he offered. The managing editor gave him a challenge.
“I'm really grateful to her for opening the door for me, for letting me in into the industry,” Mejia says. After a few months as senior PR account executive, he applied for the PR account manager post in the same company and got promoted. In the succeeding years, he further honed his PR experience working as marketing director for a couple of fashion retail companies, handling luxury fashion brands like Chanel, Ferragamo, Cartier, and Rolex.
Wanting to practice at his home country, the then 31-year-old Mejia moved back to Manila which was when he got hired as publisher and marketing director for One Mega Group. He worked in the publishing company for nine months before he got a call from a headhunter saying a global fashion brand is coming to the Philippines and is looking for a PR head. He immediately applied for the post and started working for H&M in 2014.
Aside from the brand’s successful PR campaigns, Mejia says what he considers his most meaningful achievement was helping develop his team into competitive leaders and industry experts, “having helped launch their career in Communications and PR.” Talk about paying it forward.
In his current post as Regional Head of Communications and PR, Mejia says he’s looking forward to more challenges and career milestones being the only Filipino in the regional core team.
The past three decades taught him many life lessons, he says. One of which is echoed in a quote by Napoleon Hill, “Our only limitations are the ones we set up in our own minds.”