For the last 12 years, I’ve been hearing the same stories from Sari Yap and the beginnings of MEGA Magazine over and over again. By now, I know the story by heart. She won’t be around to tell her inspiring stories anymore, so perhaps I should add some more.
Just like some of today’s finest journalists and professionals, Ma. Sarita Rosa V. Yap was educated at the exclusive all-girls school of Maryknoll College in Quezon City. She moved to the state university in Diliman to major in Broadcast Communication and it is in UP where she learned how to write, edit, and produce content for television, her first love. Sari graduated cum laude. Later, she became an educator there and was a self-confessed terror because of the high standard that she already espoused. With her passion for knowledge, Sari wanted to learn more. She applied at Universidad de Navarra in Spain where Sari studied her masters in Periodismo. Sari loved books and magazines and even told me that she never puts out a book in her home or office that she has never read. Clearly, she was very responsible.
One afternoon in Pamplona, Spain, she chanced upon Telva, a local fashion magazine for women. The cover, she described, had a woman with just enough makeup to highlight her features, neat but natural hair style and photographed with no filters or gels. The cover girl had warm skintone, the kind that made you feel good. She described a cover that was relatable but aspirational at the same time. As the creative director of MEGA, she described to me the fonts, which really was an informal lesson on art direction. Sari said the cover lines were fat, simple and readable from a near distance. She grew obsessed with Telva, and would be the inspiration for MEGA’s covers. Tasked with completing a thesis, she thought, “I want to make a fashion magazine for the Filipina.” She graduated and took home much more than she brought. She brought a vision that would later teach women how to dress and live a meaningful life and looking good while doing it.
Sari had a vision, but didn’t have a name or a brand that would give it life. She also have very little money and resources. She thought of Metro, but it already existed as a non-glossy lifestyle magazine at that time. Sari wanted a short name that meant big, large, classic, modern and was all-encompassing all at the same time. She didn’t want to be limited to fashion. She also didn’t want a Filipino name because she already had hopes of appealing to a global audience. Sari thought of the name MEGA.
With the little money that she had, she incorporated Mega Publishing Group, Inc. (MMPI) in August 1991 together with her business partner Jerry Tiu and his lovely wife Lianne. Like all magazines, MEGA needed a leader and an Editor-in-Chief. She had zero publishing background then and thought, “How could I be the Editor-in-Chief if the only thing I had was a vision for women,” she shared. “Heck, it’s my magazine, I can do whatever I want.” And so she named herself the first Editor-in-Chief of MEGA. To ensure it’s publication, Sari called on Liza Ilarde who later became Editor-in-Chief to gate-keep its editorial point of view. She also enlisted Lorraine Belmonte to guard the visuals and art direction. Sari, Liza and Lorraine became the triumvirate, the formidable three of the Philippine fashion industry. On February 1992, Sari published her maiden issue with model Gerone Olocrisimo on the cover, her first legacy.
The months and years to come would only become increasingly more difficult. Sure, they were able to publish a maiden issue and other compelling issues, but what was difficult to sustain financially was the high cost of printing and production and truly living up to the words written on every spine of the magazine, A Prestige Publication. How does a magazine survive without fuel from advertisers?
Sari’s answer to that was through excellent and innovative content. If you make excellent and innovative content, and put it in the right place where the most number of people could see it, the advertisers will take notice. She was right, suddenly, MMPI moved office from the original chicken farm where the only phone they used was the one by the nearby sari-sari store to an office that finally had airconditioning and a fax machine. They would receive phone calls and pretend to have an editorial, circulation, advertising and finance department. Sari recalls that she would love it when she would receive calls that asked for a fax tone, this meant a purchase order from an advertiser would be sent. This happened on the daily and would be Sari’s second legacy, the woman that made a business out of photographs and prose laced with integrity and excellence. Then and today, she created the thickest magazines in the country which had an equal split of 50% editorial content and 50% advertising.
MEGA’s Little Sister
Despite the trust accorded to her by MEGA’s advertisers, Sari felt one magazine was not enough to sustain her business. At that time, Lorraine Belmonte’s daughter would frequent the MMPI office. Sari and the office staff would take turns taking care of Helena and assisting her with her school assignments. She would sometimes look at the MEGA clear book and hold a current issue in her tiny hands. It was then that Sari realized, “Hey, Helena needs a magazine, too.” One that would fit in her hands, of course. This was how Meg was born, the little sister of MEGA which would be dedicated to the youth culture. Sari’s third legacy would be helmed by Liza Ilarde while she worked on MEGA. The miniature magazine would feature young women who were pretty and had the ideal set of values.
Living At It’s Finest
Sari and her Mega Magazine Publishing Inc. (MMPI) was now a top caliber media company with glossy pages thanks to the technology of printers in Hong Kong where she and Lorraine would frequent and print the magazine monthly. The Asian financial crisis hit and suddenly Sari couldn’t afford to print in Hong Kong anymore, so she resorted to printing in Manila where her suppliers promised “MEGA-quality,” a term coined by local printers who took notice of the new media giant.
Still, the books weren’t showing any significant revenue, only a large operating cost. Despite all of her mini successes, Sari was still faced with tough competition, Exequiel B. Garcia and his Lifestyle Asia magazine still enjoyed the largest share of advertising revenue in the print landscape. To truly be a prestige publisher, Sari needed a luxury lifestyle magazine. She made a bold move and offered to buy Lifestyle Asia from Mr. Garcia with the little revenue she had from MEGA and Meg. He said yes!
Sari now had a fashion magazine, a teen magazine, and a luxury magazine. Her portfolio was almost complete. From journalist to editor, Sari became a shark of an entrepreneur, she searched for the perfect business partners and found Mr. Jerry Tiu, a Chinese-Filipino entrepreneur who had expertise in managing business and a man who also had the biggest heart. Together, they created the architectural magazine Bluprint, acquired the home and design media brand, My Home and later, men’s magazine Manual, Appetite, Me, Girlfriend, CondoLiving, S!, Inside Showbiz and Lifestyle Asia Travel. Sari’s next legacy was cemented when she completed an entire portfolio of lifestyle magazines from fashion, beauty, teen, home and design, food, travel and entertainment. She has done it. Mega Magazine Publishing Inc. was now a misnomer and a new name and tag line were in order. “For all the lives you lead, your prestige publisher, Mega Publishing Group” was incarnated.
Making it MEGA
Sari wouldn’t stop at making magazines and wanted to reach an even larger, broader audience. This would be her next legacy. While completing her print portfolio, she was already envisioning products and Filipino talents that could complete globally as well as TV shows and fashion documentaries. Championing local talent was part of her mission and vision. She wanted to find emerging fashion designers and give them a platform to showcase their wares, so she launched the MEGA Young Designers Competition (YDC) in 1994.
Even before Project Runway, there was YDC, the most prestigious competition for fashion designers. Established creatives such as Josie Natori, French Vogue editor Annie Flanders and Harper’s Bazaar and V Magazine’s Stephen Gan would select the finest young talent who had local flair and global appeal. Industry giants such as Furne One, Rajo Laurel, Mitch Dulce, Ivarluski Aseron, Chris Diaz, and Gian Romano would be alumni of Sari’s YDC. YDC would later be viewed by a larger audience as a TV show on ETC.
In 2011, Sari wanted to turn the spotlight on models, photographers, makeup artists, fashion stylists and hair stylists because they, too, deserved center stage. This is when she launched MEGA Fashion Crew (MFC), which she hosted together with top designer Avel Bacudio and perma-it girl, Raya Mananquil. Eight years later, contestants from MFC are some of the brightest today including photographers, Niko Villegas, Dookie Ducay and Jerick Sanchez, fashion stylist Angelo Ramirez de Cartagena, makeup artists Jelly Eugenio and Amanda Padilla, hair stylist Katchie Mejias, and model Monika Sta. Maria and Chelsea Robato. They and over 160 MEGA worthy talents are working professionals today.
Her global aspirations didn’t stop at YDC, MFC and her other TV shows for all the brands of Mega Publishing Group, this time she wanted to laud Filipinos who were excelling in foreign lands and at home. Together with Tim Yap, they crafted MEGA’s signature event, the MEGA Pinoy Pride Ball which was an annual celebration on June 12. At this world-class event, Sari and her 200 employees would join forces to honor the work of designers, inventors, journalists, bloggers, musicians and other Filipinos from various industries. In later years, Sari, together with current President and CEO Archie Carrasco, Director Mike Carandang, MEGA Editor-in-Chief Peewee Reyes-Isidro and myself would gather Filipinos for the #NewPH photo campaign, a coming together of Filipinos on Independence Day to pledge a promise to make the Philippines an improved country.
Print, TV and Events are now at the core of the One Mega Group, our current name. All of this content can be enjoyed on digital, Sari’s newest playground. In the last three years when Sari’s presence has been reduced to viber messages as she focused on healing, her lessons and legacy are still very much palpable. We remember all of the rules she taught us:
“Don’t make it difficult for the reader to consume the content.”
“Keep the fonts thick and basic.”
“Maintain skin natural skin tone, don’t use filters!”
“Write well-thought of stories that serve a higher purpose instead of just entertaining.”
“Go into a room a find out what is signifcant, don’t just be present.”
“Think of a lowest common denominator.”
“This job is never about us.”
“Story tell,” she kept telling us over and over and over again.
Whenever we would get lost simply because of fatigue or lack of inspiration, she would always remind us to go back to our editorial person, the MEGA Woman. She would consume our content in the comforts of her home where she was most comfortable. Sari reminded us to never give the MEGA Woman a hard time. She didn’t need fancy words, or over-designed layouts. She didn’t need clothes and accessories that should couldn’t buy easily. It was our job to make the MEGA Woman’s life easier. Always.
On 09/09/19 at 2:07AM, the Founder of MEGA Magazine, the Philippines’ Best Fashion magazine passed away after battling cancer the last three years. In numerology, this signifies that the golden gates of heaven are wide open, meaning this accords a smooth transition from MEGA to the next life, which in part, she has done for us.
Sari, your legacy, MEGA, has outlived you. You are right by saying that MEGA’s survival after your time is a testament of an excellent founder. MEGA is very much alive and it will long after 09/09/19. Thank you very much, Miss Sari. You can rest now, but the story telling will continue.