Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Transformation continues to be a major challenge facing the advertising and communication industry – and the pressure is on to ensure that the sector’s transformation efforts bear real fruit in view of the marketing, advertising & communications (MAC) charter, which comes into effect in 2018.

While some agencies have made significant strides in their transformation journey, others have been less successful. “The fact that we’re still having conversations about transformation means we still have a way to go,” says Avatar founder and CEO Zibusiso Mkhwanazi.

For transformation to be successful it means that it’s not business as usual, he says. “Agencies who get transformation right have to be open to taking the road less travelled, particularly from an employment perspective. And yes, it is risky taking a bet on somebody who doesn’t come from a traditional advertising background, but that’s the essence of transformation. There’s not enough time to wait for more comfortable or easier options.”

The big take-out: It can’t be business as usual if transformation efforts are to succeed, says Avatar’s Zibusiso Mkhwanazi.

An integrated advertising agency, Avatar was founded by Mkhwanazi and Veli Ngubane in 2011 as a 100% black-owned agency. It was established with a challenger mindset, and what differentiated it from the outset was a keen understanding of SA’s diverse mass market. Clients showed their appreciation. And last year the agency won the Financial Mail’s AdFocus 2016 medium-sized agency of the year award. For the past four years Avatar has experienced exponential growth, outpacing the average agency growth rate.

Mkhwanazi attributes much of the agency’s success to the diversity of its staff. “We appoint many of our interns directly from disadvantaged areas and we train, develop and nurture that talent. Most of these interns know nothing about advertising when they first arrive here.”

A common lament within the industry is that there is a large degree of staff turnover among talented black employees. Mkhwanazi believes this high churn is not only about staff moving for higher salaries. “Around 65% of Avatar’s staff are black and the majority have been with us for several years. Of course they get approached frequently by our competitors, but they tend not to leave.” He attributes this to the fact that the agency treats its people well and respects each person’s contribution.

“[Elsewhere] many talented black staff leave because they don’t feel appreciated and valued,” he says. “They need to feel included [and experience] that their voice is heard and that they too have face time with clients. They’re not going to leave if they feel they are a part of the business.”

Mkhwanazi maintains that the only way agencies will build up their racial diversity is by growing and developing home-grown talent. “If the pool becomes sufficiently large it’s going to be harder for black staff to move jobs simply for money,” he says.

Clients are a crucial component of successful transformation. The debate about transformation will continue, says Mkhwanazi, until clients demand that their service providers are transformed. “Our experience is that Johannesburg-based clients are asking those questions of their agencies, though fewer questions are being asked in Cape Town,” he says.

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