Reflecting on a career in advertising and marketing
As advertising agencies struggle to remain profitable, advertising is no longer the sought-after career it once was
After more than four decades in the advertising industry, Ludi Koekemoer’s Lifetime Achievement Award at the recent AdFocus Awards is well deserved. As the author of several industry textbooks, he is regarded as something of a guru with a wealth of experience in advertising, brand management, strategic planning and new product development.
Much has changed in advertising in the past 46 years, he says. It’s a very different landscape today, with most agencies struggling to remain profitable. Sadly, he adds, advertising is no longer a sought-after career and pays poorly. Marketers no longer see agencies as their partners but rather as suppliers. They want to pay them less but expect more. For their part, agencies have lost the ability to provide strategic input and tend to do what the client tells them to do, he says.
Exacerbating the situation is the fact that advertising graduates are migrating to clients that offer fewer hours and better perks and prospects.
“We live in a very different world with access to so much more data and information, but are we better off than we were two or three decades ago? I’m not so sure about that.”
Having spent time as a researcher, consultant and business leader, Koekemoer is well equipped to comment. His career started as an economic researcher. Koekemoer joined Market Research Africa (MRA) as the personal assistant to owner and chairperson Wally Langschmidt.
It was at MRA, where mostly quantitative research was conducted, that he discovered the value of facts, he recalls. “Throughout my career I relied on facts to support all my strategies and proposals. I’ve always maintained that somebody without facts to back up their beliefs is just another person with an opinion.”
His first job in the ad industry was as a research manager for Van Zijl & Schultz, Lund & Tredoux (VZ), the largest agency in SA in the early 1970s. “I had no previous experience of the ad industry so the first few months were frightening – not to mention daunting as an Afrikaans speaker with little prior exposure to English.”
It was after VZ had successfully pitched against De Villiers & Schonfeldt (De V & S) for the Wool Board account that Koekemoer was approached by Hume Schonfeldt, co-owner of De V & S, to join the agency as research manager and account director. “He told me that if I was good enough to beat him then he wanted me to join him,” says Koekemoer.
Looking back on the 1970s Koekemoer recalls a period when clients respected ad agencies and their opinions. A number of new products were the result of ad agency research and proposals.
In late 1978 a team of individuals from various agencies were approached by Roy Mortimer and Alan Tiley, who were on a quest to revitalise Mortimer Tiley. The new team, which included Koekemoer as deputy MD in charge of new business, strategic planning and accounts, were sold 50% of the business.
The big take-out
As advertising agencies struggle to remain profitable, advertising is no longer the sought-after career it once was.
Mortimer Tiley was ultimately acquired by BBDO International in 1986 and because Koekemoer had to sign a three-year restraint of trade, he joined the University of Pretoria as professor of marketing. “I’ve always had a passion for teaching, especially at an MBA level, and I spent four wonderful years in this position.”
At the same time he launched Checklist Marketing Consultants as a part-time marketing consultant. His clients included Unilever and Sasol, among others.
In 1990 he joined the Rand Afrikaans University (now the University of Johannesburg) as professor of marketing, chairperson of the department of business management and director for the development of business leaders, where his main focus was the MCom business management and executive training.
When the Council on Higher Education (CHE) and SA Qualifications Authority (SAQA) kicked in, they required that all academic institutions become registered with the CHE and their qualifications accredited by SAQA. Nina de Klerk, then CEO of the Association of Advertising Associations, asked Koekemoer to take the AAA School through these processes.
Until his retirement in 2015 more than 2,800 students, 40% of them black, graduated from the school with the majority immediately employed in the marketing, media and advertising industries.
Commenting on the sale of the AAA School to Richfield Holdings earlier this year, Koekemoer says what made the school so successful was the fact that all aspects of advertising were taught via class contact by full-time seasoned lecturers and part-time industry experts with real-life campaigns challenging students and ensuring they were career ready.
After retiring from the AAA School in 2015, Koekemoer developed and launched an MBA programme for Monash SA. He currently lectures at Monash part-time and is writing a book on successful marketing practices where he shares the secrets of success he has learnt throughout his career.