Growth in the ad industry is going to be hard to achieve given the challenging and uncertain operating environment, says Monalisa Zwambila, founder and CEO of Riverbed, one of the largest black-owned creative agencies in the country. The company celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.

But Zwambila says there is always room for independent agencies to grow their market share. She says this is the ideal time to focus on transformation in its truest sense.

“Now, more than ever, consumers are demanding that brands understand who they are. In this space, transformation has to be more than a tick on a BEE scorecard,” she says. Change can really only take place at a deeper level when both clients and the industry itself understand the value of working with black-owned agencies, she says.  “We can provide clients with proper urban insights into their markets, and [offer] the ability to work with diverse teams that have a thorough understanding of these markets. It can only provide a positive benefit to the brand.”  

This is even more relevant when one considers that to have a narrative that resonates with consumers, brands need to have a voice in this environment and understand and be sensitive to the issues they face. “This is something we are happy to workshop with our clients,” says Zwambila, adding that agencies are under greater pressure to show their value and showcase the effectiveness of their campaigns against sales and lead generation. To illustrate she uses the work Riverbed has done for Old Mutual iWyze and the rebrand campaign for Eduloan to Fundi.

Knowing the strategic imperatives of one’s clients is also key, says Zwambila. She points out that it is only if one understands the client’s business and how it works that an agency can be swift and agile in terms of its responses when the markets change and the need for a different strategy becomes apparent. “One has to be able to pre-empt what can happen to marketing budgets when recession hits, and show the agency’s value in the way it benefits the client’s bottom line,” she says.

These lessons and the many others Zwambila has learned along the way have been hard won. Before Riverbed’s success, she opened two other businesses, which subsequently folded. “The benefit of experience certainly brings greater success, as does an understanding of how the industry and its players work. At the end of the day, though creative ideas are important, clients want delivery above everything else,” she says.

As an entrepreneur, Zwambila believes the most important thing to have is a belief that one’s idea can work in the market, based on research, knowledge of the challenges you’ll be facing and a solid business plan. “Passion and belief are not the same thing. Passion alone is not enough. To succeed, you need to know what differentiates your offering and how to run a business and, above all else, have an unfaltering resolve to see your vision become reality,” she says.

The big take-out: Founder and CEO of Riverbed Monalisa Zwambila celebrates the company’s 10th year in business this year. In a faltering economy, businesses look for agile agencies and fresh ideas, she says, and adds that now is the time to focus on true transformation for the right reasons. 

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