Odette van der Haar
Odette van der Haar

Advertising’s representative body, the Association for Communication & Advertising (ACA), will be hard-pressed to find a replacement for outgoing CEO Odette van der Haar, who has joined J Walter Thompson (JWT) as Johannesburg CEO. Among the agency’s clients are blue-chip brands including Unilever, Shell, Ford, Kellogg’s and Nestlé.

The general consensus in the sector is that Van der Haar has helped reposition advertising as a serious business discipline, where effective work yields measurable sales results.

Speaking to the FM, she says she leaves the ACA "future-proofed, stable and financially secure, with increased membership and industry relevance as well as strong stakeholder relationships".

Van der Haar has been a driving force behind transformation in the ad sector, which has long been criticised for being slow to change. She says among her accomplishments has been "enabling accelerated transformation by driving the industry’s transformation agenda and goals, which saw the MAC charter for transformation of the sector, written into law".

She says transformation has resulted in the industry being more broadly representative of the country’s young and diverse population and more embracing of the principles of BBBEE — which eliminate unfair discrimination, ensure the implementation of employment equity to redress the effects of discrimination, and to promote economic development and efficiency in the workforce.

Van der Haar is also proud of spearheading a code of conduct to govern tenders and pitches "that protects agencies’ intellectual capital, enables healthy competition that stimulates growth in the sector while ensuring that competitiveness is directed at constructive development and not unwarranted disruption of productive client-agency relationships, unfair loss of profitability for agencies, potential distrust between clients and agencies, or the decrease of the general perception of our profession for what it is — a freestanding, highly professional trade in its own right".

She concedes there is more to do on this front. "The industry is still plagued with pitches that demand free intellectual property and devalue our currency."

Though the guidelines are in place, there are many instances of big brands bypassing the process and of member agencies, desperate for work, ignoring the rules.

New role

Van der Haar will have her work cut out for her at JWT — questions are being asked about the future of the big network agencies and their ability to adapt and be more nimble in terms of ideas and turnaround time.

She is confident about the long-term future of global network agencies, saying JWT in particular is well-skilled in digital disciplines and this will enable it to be relevant and useful to clients. JWT, she says, has been at the forefront of global advertising for many years.

Van der Haar says industry the world over is having to adapt to digital disruption and changing client models from the old system of retainer fees to the new normal of project-based remuneration.

"With that has come an increased importance on delivering faster, nimbler and highly integrated communications, as well as a sound understanding of setting relevant, measurable key performance indicators."

What lessons will she take to JWT, as she crosses the divide from referee to player? "A consultative mind-set that will enhance our relationship with clients, the understanding that creativity is paramount across all aspects of business and that advertising and communications make a tangible, measurable contribution to business success."

On the attributes needed by her successor, Van der Haar says the individual "needs to be of strong character with a firm moral compass, firmly grounded in the highest levels of professionalism and corporate governance. He or she will need to deliver a renewed vision and mission to protect self-regulation, to promote the contribution to business success made by advertising and communications and to ensure the sustainability and growth of the sector during tough economic times."

Says group JWT CEO Jim Faulds: "Odette’s reputation goes before her and her immersion in strategy, business and digital, are core elements in JWT’s collaborative partnership with clients."

ACA chair Boniswa Pezisa says Van der Haar leaves a legacy of organisational distinction.