Mathe Okaba, CEO of the Association for Communication and Advertising. Picture: SUPPLIED
Mathe Okaba, CEO of the Association for Communication and Advertising. Picture: SUPPLIED

Priorities for Mathe Okaba, the recently appointed CEO of the Association for Communication and Advertising (ACA), include ensuring greater visibility and increased awareness of the association in the advertising communications industry and the marketing fraternity. In addition, she’s determined to establish achievable transformation goals and invest in the retention of talent. Her long-term vision is to create an operational sector council with the government’s help.

Another important task will be highlighting advertising and communications as an option to high school pupils on the cusp of making decisions around their careers. This will include making it an appealing choice to their parents too, “because to use an industry buzz word, they are the ‘influencers’ in this regard”, she says.

Okaba assumes the helm of the ACA at a challenging time for the local advertising industry. In addition to the need for faster transformation – which has to be addressed at staffing, leadership and shareholder level – is the growing challenge of staff retention and repositioning advertising as a gratifying and long-term profession, worthy of skills and dedication.

Mathe Okaba, CEO of the Association for Communication and Advertising. Picture: SUPPLIED
Mathe Okaba, CEO of the Association for Communication and Advertising. Picture: SUPPLIED

As a representative of the industry, Okaba is serious about her role as she embarks on a journey to create a better and stronger representative body for the SA advertising profession. She concedes that her greatest challenge will be filling the shoes of her predecessor, Odette van der Haar, who was ACA CEO for 11 years, and did a sterling job, according to Okaba.

One of the first tasks on her list has to do with the overall perception of the industry. “It’s important that we continually reinforce the fact that the industry, through its professionals, offers a particular skill and ability. It needs to be seen as a specialist boutique, if you wish, as opposed to an ‘off the rack option’.” She adds that this can be done via programmes which champion effectiveness, such as the Apex Awards.

A long-standing issue is the agency remuneration model and whether it should be revised. “This all depends on which side you’re viewing it from,” says Okaba. “From an agency perspective, I believe it does need to be relooked. Agencies operate on very low margins and are under constant pressure from marketers to further reduce fees. In some cases, payment terms can be crippling.”

The big take-out

As Mathe Okaba takes over as CEO at the ACA, she highlights transformation and staff retention as key priorities on her agenda, as well as presenting a career in advertising as a worthy and viable option

She concedes, however, that what works for one agency may not work for another, or for their respective clients. Ideally, she believes the industry should be working towards an environment where all agencies, at all times, are fairly remunerated for their services. This would also be an environment where the best talent can be allocated to a client brief. “Remuneration models – irrespective of whether they are retainer, commission or project based – can and should be discussed and negotiated. The bottom line is that agencies should always be fairly remunerated for delivering work that meets the objectives of their clients,” she insists.

Despite a difficult operating climate and severely constrained economy, Okaba believes there are still opportunities for SA ad agencies. The first is the opportunity to consistently alter and realign effective brand engagement with consumers. “We all know that the ability of traditional mediums to engage with consumers is diminishing,” she says.

Winning agencies, Okaba believes, are the ones that recognise continually shifting media consumption patterns, and are able to consistently deliver on their clients’ objectives. This is even more important in the SA context, with its unique sociopolitical and demographic challenges.

It’s a situation which ultimately raises the bar for agency output, Okaba maintains. “This is evidenced by our successes, for example, where operations based in SA are delivering global work. Our agencies have this ability because they are asked by clients to develop communications campaigns across a variety of cultures and languages, under difficult trading conditions, all the while landing the message and delivering results.”

Rather than becoming disheartened by the economic outlook, Okaba urges the industry to embrace the challenge, and work on continuous reinvention to remain relevant in these difficult times. “Our ability to overcome difficulties and find creative solutions is our number one weapon, as is our capacity to strategise on how to make brands win. This is the greatest opportunity we can exploit,” she says.

Okaba has more than two decades of experience in the advertising, media, sponsorship and events industries. She is currently studying towards an MBA and holds advertising qualifications from the AAA School of Advertising, a certificate for the management advancement programme from Wits and a certificate for the leadership development programme from the Gordon Institute of Business Science.