How a shy kid became a leader among Hamilton young professionals

This article was originally published in Hamilton Media Guild, April 22, 2014.

Growing up, Abigail Santos was painfully shy.

Just the thought of speaking publicly gave her butterflies.

“My hands would be clammy, I would be shaking,” recalls the 30-year-old who was born in Quezon City, Philippines and moved to Hamilton at the age of three.

But that all changed when she was 18 and decided to take part in the 2002 Miss Philippines Toronto pageant.

The annual pageant celebrates and promotes Filipino culture. It is hosted by the Philippine Independence Day Council (PIDC).

“That kind of just thrust me into the public sphere. I was forced to address crowds, welcome people,” says Santos, explaining that she found herself being the emcee and even a dance performer at concerts featuring international Filipino stars.

Since then, Santos has been in the spotlight as a TV host, as the second-in-command of Hamilton’s young professional organization, Hamilton HIVE and in her day job as a marketing professional.And she never looked back.

In 2010, she beat more than 44,000 competitors to vie for the $50,000 grand prize in the world’s largest obstacle course in the reality TV series Wipeout Canada. In her audition video, Santos danced in full Polynesian costume, wowing the judges with her dynamic personality.

She says winning the 2002 Filipino pageant showed her the basics of professional communication.

“You need to learn how to present yourself. That’s how I broke my shell.”

Communications in the field

Santos stayed on with PIDC to assist with its communications initiatives and events while pursuing a bachelors in Communication Studies and minor in Anthropology at McMaster.

While she studied the foundations of communication at university she also volunteered to promote Filipino culture to other Canadians.

She wanted to attract a younger generation so she planned sporting events, galas, community picnics and festivals, most notably the Mubuhay Festival (“Welcome” in Filipino), one of Canada’s largest festival celebrating Philippines’ art, culture and heritage.

Currently as a Press Relations Officer for the Philippine Canadian Association, her role requires her to build relationships between the organization and its many publics; Santos saw herself progressing naturally to a career in public relations.

Telling the stories of young professionals

Now working full time as a Marketing and Admissions Coordinator for the Ontario Dental Education Institute, Santos liaises with organizations to recruit students for programs and courses on dental hygiene and education. Her clientele ranges from high school and international students to foreign nurses and working professionals seeking a second career, including a 56-year-old male nurse.

Recruiting students is just one part of her role.

“It’s also my job to communicate with local media and promote it [student initiatives], to get into the public eye. It’s about making those connections and getting the stories out.”

She knows hundreds of Hamilton’s young professionals and knows they are thriving, with no shortage of success stories.

So when she was approached by Torstar’s to cover the young professional beat, Santos knew she couldn’t pass on the opportunity.

Santos’ first story offered a comprehensive look at the city’s umbrella organization of young professional groups, Hamilton HIVE. The article was one of the best read at YHB.

Her stories put her in touch with young professionals at the ground level to learn about the innovative things they are doing.

“It challenged me in a certain way that I wasn’t challenged before, talking to different organizations, meeting new people to cover stories,” said Santos.

She has a knack for building relationships and she combined that with her communications expertise to spearhead marketing of HIVE’s annual young professional conference HIVE X in 2013.

The result was 250 attendees, the best turnout ever.

Her leadership did not go unnoticed. Santos was elected the 2014 Hamilton HIVE Vice-Chair, defeating six other candidates. She will become Chair in 2015. As part of the exec team, Santos now keeps in touch and provides support to over 20 HIVE groups to ensure that the organization can provide the best experience and opportunities to young professionals in Hamilton.

Reflecting on her journey in media and public relations, Santos knows that she has come full circle.

“Journalism, marketing and public relations are in the same family; you end up doing storytelling.”