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Thabang Skwambane. Picture: Supplied
Thabang Skwambane. Picture: Supplied

The new CEO of the Nahana Communications group, Thabang Skwambane, has his hands full — the market is under pressure, he says, with brand needs constantly changing and agencies having to provide solutions to what he calls moments of turmoil.

He takes over from Brett Morris, who held the post for eight years and is now assuming the role of executive creative chair. Skwambane was previously group MD of the FCB Joburg and Hellocomputer Joburg agencies. That position will be filled by Joey Khuvutlu, who ran Hellocomputer.

The Nahana group comprises FCB, Hellocomputer, HelloFCB+, McCann1886, Fuelcontent, Meta Media, The MediaShop, Craft, Lucid Media and Weber Shandwick. It counts among its clients Coca-Cola, Toyota, Koo, Tastic rice and Mrs Ball’s chutney.

Skwambane tells the FM that coming out of the pandemic, the needs of clients have expanded, and agencies need to constantly build or evolve their capabilities. He believes big agencies still have a vital role even though there is a trend to smaller, more specialised offerings.

"Our size is a big advantage to clients as we are bringing in more tools and technologies to enhance our service offering. Through our open architecture approach we have a multitude of specialist skills, capabilities and experience that are adapted and adopted as and when required. We should be measured by how we bring all these elements together, creating economic multipliers for our clients, not by our size."

Joey Khuvutlu. Picture: Supplied
Joey Khuvutlu. Picture: Supplied

Under Morris’s previous creative leadership, before he took on the CEO role, FCB won a slew of awards, including SA’s first Cannes Grand Prix. He tells the FM the debate over the value of creative advertising in a margin-squeezed environment continues.

"Some clients appreciate and understand the power of creativity no matter the environment. Then there are those that tend to favour efficiency and will cut back on creativity, but we know this is not sustainable and will hurt a business in the long term, so the pendulum always tends to swing back to creative advertising. We believe it is important to provide advertising through the funnel that is timeless and timely."

Morris says during the pandemic there was an increase in digital media spend but TV audiences also grew significantly. He says media choice depends where in the journey the customer is. "Sometimes they just want information delivered in a highly accessible and digestible way and this generally happens online — and requires creativity — but it may have a different tone or a more direct approach. The immutable truth, however, is that your communication needs to be relevant and engaging whatever the media. It all forms part of a bigger brand story and we believe that creativity sits at the centre of it."

Khuvutlu is an active industry contributor, having judged multiple award shows including the Loeries, Bookmarks and Effies. In 2019, he became the founding chair of the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s education council.

One issue he’s dealing with is how agencies sell their digital services and capability when there is so much market parity.

Brett Morris. Picture: Supplied
Brett Morris. Picture: Supplied

"For the most part, all agencies have access to the same technology, platforms, tools and digital media inventory, resulting in the perceived parity of services," he says. "Differentiation, however, lies in an agency’s ability to prove their track record in using digital throughout the purchase funnel and beyond engagement metrics. Agencies need to show how they have delivered measurable conversion and retention results — likes and views are not enough."

Another conundrum facing marketers is what percentage of their budget to devote to digital. "The reality is that with the rapid growth in online over the past few years, it’s possible for some brands to reach their entire audience completely using digital," Khuvutlu says.

"For instance, in 2018, we had our first large [R50m-plus] campaign that reached a wider audience in digital than it did in TV. However, in SA we still see incredible effectiveness in TV and no reason at this point to not have it as a critical part of the media mix. The better way to look at the media split is not to think of a split between digital and other channels, but to rather consider the holistic consumer journey and identify the most meaningful points where you can intersect with the consumer to influence purchasing propensity in the most creatively distinctive way possible."

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