By Millie F. Dizon

In 2009, SM began an aggressive expansion program, opening more malls and stores in the provinces to serve more customers. It was the first among the Manila based Philippine mall and store chains to reach out to these areas.

In each mall launching, it is the SM Tradition for our Founder and Chairman Henry Sy, Sr. and members of his family to open the doors to personally welcome the first wave of customers.

And when that happened in Pampanga in 2000, eager crowds quickly filled up the place. It was an opening so phenomenal that by early afternoon it would take two hours to navigate the parking lot and to the mall entrance, and the traffic went all the way to the NLEX. We will never forget the marm welcome Kapampangan gave us.

Then there was the time in 2003 when we opened our malls in Lucena, Baguio and Marilao only a week apart from each other. We could barely catch our breath, but were still bustling with energy as we eagerly waited for the time the doors would open to welcome the first customers.

Expansion, as well as our enthusiasm, went into high gear in 2006 when we opened six malls, including the Mall of Asia, which was envisioned to be the premier destination mall in the Asia-Pacific region, The Block, which began the redevelopment of SM City North EDSA, and SM Supercenter in Pasig. Three other malls – SM City Sta. Rosa, SM City Clark and SM City Lipa – were located in the provincial areas.

To date, 26 out of the SM’s 42 malls are located in the provinces, reaching as far north as Baguio and as far south as Davao.

As we discovered new market and become part of communities we serve, we also became aware of the history and culture, the food and festivals and of course, the wonderful people in our host cities.

In 2009, we thought of sharing our discoveries in My City, My SM, a public relations campaign that would create awareness about our provincial malls on the national level and bring us closer to our host communities on the regional level.

My City, My SM would be a tourism-oriented print communications campaign with a simple but unique proposition: we would promote our malls side by side with the host cities that so graciously welcomed us with open arms.

A prominent personality from each city would act as a tour guide, letting us know more about his or her hometown, sharing us Why I Love My City, on one hand and Why I love SM, on the other.

My City, My SM would be a journey into the heart and soul of a city, a journey that would inspire pride of place and love of country. It would also be a guide for travelers who would like more to know about the Philippines.

When, thankfully, our management approved the concept in 2009, it was time to bring our team together. We tapped Corporate Image Dimensions, who had worked with us in the Generations campaign in celebration of SM’s 50th anniversary in 2008; as well as Raymund Isaac, who is not only an excellent photographer, but is also very good with people. Xander Angeles and Erwin Barleta would later join the team.

Along with our Public Relations Managers and Officers in each region, we laid the groundwork with extensive research about each city, preparing for the launch event that would accompany the campaign. We also worked on the creative with the agency and the Manila Team.

We remember spending lighthearted afternoon thinking about catchy titles for each city. Baguio on My Mind was the first thing thought of, quickly followed by I Left My Heart in San Fernando. Other heartwarming titles like Sweet Home Iloilo, Happiness is Lucena, I Love Lipa, My Marikina followed, but the first two titles still bring big smiles to everyone.

So did an ad we chanced upon on CNN that perfectly described the project. A narration of In My Life by Sean Connery – it was about people and places, celebrating memories and discovering new things.

We launched the first My City, My SM, I left my Heart in San Fernando in December 2009 just in time for the Giant Lantern Festival in Pampanga. Our honorees where Brillante Mendoza, who just won the Best Director Award at the Cannes Film Festival and Mutya ng Kapampangan Nicolette Henson.

This was an auspicious beginning, as in the course of the campaign, we were fortunate to have a former Prime Minister of the Philippines, four National Artists, a CNN Hero, four Ramon Magsaysay awardees and a Miss Universe, among the prominent personalities sharing with us why they love their city and why they love their SM.

Each launch was timed during each city’s festival – the Sinulog of Cebu, Peñafrancia of Naga – and what we would consider The Moment would be the time the panels featuring the honorees would be unveiled. To this day, this never fails us to thrill us.

But we were also amazed at how mallgoers in each city would eagerly crowd around the exhibits showcasing the history, culture and attractions of their city; as well as the buffets spread of regional specialties in cockstail style. This made us realize how much they loved their hometown and how they achingly longed to know more about it.

After a year, our management very kindly allowed us to continue the campaign, which is still ongoing. As it later evolved to include an essay contest and a culinary competition in partnership with the Philippine Star, a travelogue with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, as well as many cultural events, a website, and now this booked published by People Asia, we realized how its tourism-oriented concept made My City, My SM both vibrant and organic.

Tourism, after all, is something close to the heart of our founder and chairman Henry Sy. Sr.

“I have always believed in Tourism as the Philippines has many things to offer,” he shared with us during a magazine interview right after the meeting of the SM Mall of Asia. “It is located at the center of the Pacific Ocean and is just a few hours away from other Asian countries. Our country is accessible and has many tourist attractions, and services; and our people speak good English and are good entertainers.”

Mr. Sy also talked about continuing investing in tourism friendly malls like the Mall of Asia as well as resorts like the Hamilo, which he envisioned to be a major destination in the region. He added that he remains “open to opportunities that will make the company grow and serve our customers better.”

We always remember his words as we discover new cities and open new SM malls around the Philippines.