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Picture: 123RF/scanrail
Picture: 123RF/scanrail

With a youth unemployment rate of more than 40%, SA desperately needs to create decent work at scale for young people. Ideally, we need to generate employment that is relatively well paid, doesn’t require full-time tertiary education and plays to our strengths as a nation. One of the areas where we can excel is in providing offshore digital marketing services to countries around the world. 

 This is a field that some companies in SA are starting to explore, including in our own sector.  It’s an opportunity that can build on South Africa’s exceptional reputation as an offshore global business services hub. McKinsey has called this country one of the most attractive business process outsourcing (BPO) destinations in the world.  

 The BPO sector is growing rapidly and already employs about 65,000 people. According to industry body Business Process Enabling South Africa (BPESA), the youth are appointed to about nine of every 10 new jobs created in this field. Add that to our small but highly regarded offshore software development sector, and SA punches above its weight in business services.  

 Focusing on the digital marketing sphere makes enormous sense because of the global skills and labour shortage in this sector. According to one study, more than 81% of UK MDs say a lack of digital skills is negatively affecting their company. With our large pool of university graduates and our competitive currency, South Africa is ideally positioned to step into the gap. We also have the benefit of strong English proficiency and being in a similar time zone to Europe’s.   

 Digital marketing campaign management, like BPO, is a great fit for offshoring, because the service can be delivered completely remotely. And, because most businesses outside China use the same platform, such as  TikTok, Google, Facebook and Instagram, the certifications and skills required to run a digital campaign are universal.  

Best of all, a motivated and intelligent young person can learn these skills on the job within a matter of months. This is different from software development or accountancy, for example, where it is difficult for a small country like South Africa to achieve global scale because of the time it takes to train resources or source people with the right qualifications.  

 We first started exploring the provision of digital campaign management skills to companies in the UK during 2020, when the pandemic made companies more receptive to remote working models. The people we hired to serve offshore clients had no experience — we simply looked for people with the motivation, energy levels and social skills to thrive in a digital environment. 

 We also backed them up with an experienced team for support. In this model they are  not left to their own devices but can look to their peers and mentors for advice about any optimisation, strategy or technical integration challenges. The model enables us to deliver high-quality outcomes at a competitive price. That said, it has taken us a decade to learn how to do this well.  

 The benefits of on-the-job training for digital marketing 

 There is a science and an art to recruiting and retaining the right people. We hire for aptitude rather than for qualifications — and we have found that people who learn on the job often outperform those with a formal digital marketing qualification. We also focus on retaining high performers, even though the industry is one where high churn is seen as a fact of life.  

 This approach enables our people to grow rapidly from entry level to embracing the challenges of running large-budget digital campaigns. Staff are monitored and mentored until we are confident that they can run a campaign on their own. Even the most experienced campaign managers, however,  are part of a team, and still get the benefits of advice from smart colleagues with deep knowledge and experience.  

 In fact, the challenge we have lies more in getting clients to trust our new and young team members to deliver. When short-staffed global agencies entrust us with campaign work, however, we get hugely positive feedback from them. These agencies report that our team’s analytical capabilities, interpersonal skills and platform knowledge will be difficult to find in their home markets at the same cost.  

Providing offshore digital marketing campaign management services could well be  South Africa’s next big export success story. With our young population, we could potentially build a large workforce to service global demand. This market is still underserved, and we have a window of opportunity to become a leader in this sector. 

 Grant Lapping is the digital executive at new-age systems and solutions integrator +OneX. 

 The big takeout: Providing offshore digital marketing campaign management services could well be South Africa’s next big export success story. 

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