Conditions during the current financial year has unlocked new agility and innovation for Ebony+Ivory: not only as a reflection of the heightened sense of interconnectivity and mutual dependence needed to deliver as a team, but as a brand and the way in which brands behave.

This year, says director Nombini Mehlomakulu, has brought to the fore a distinct demonstration of how local and regional economies have grown closer and, as such, how these economies have the opportunity to become more robust.

In the agency environment, for example, having insights, media and creative housed in one team proved effective, with tighter co-ordination and faster turnaround times, despite video conferencing connections and social distancing.

One of the oldest independent agencies in SA, having celebrated its 50th year, Ebony+Ivory has become renowned for its full-service, 360° offering, which includes media research, strategy and buying.

While 20% of the agency’s clients suspended their advertising campaigns during t he global pandemic, most have since resumed activity.

The lockdown required that communication strategies were reassessed, current campaigns repurposed and others put on hold.

Budget cuts meant the team worked smarter and harder, finding innovative ways to add value through the strategic insights that the agency has developed a reputation for producing.

These insights, coupled with its long-standing, well-established client relationships, paid off, given that the agency was able to successfully assist clients to navigate this uncertain period.

The agency’s sustainability is assured through multiple revenue streams and a core team of highly experienced professionals. It’s a team, says Mehlomakulu, which is passionate about, and invested in, bringing brands to market and which is determined to abide by the agency philosophy of going beyond the brief, to produce work that is effective, on time.

Navigation through the current environment requires extreme focus, says MD Paul Middleton, a keen hockey player who has played at club, provincial and country level. “In the same way that the difference between a club game and an international game represents a 10-fold step-up, so too is business getting significantly tougher each year.”

The rapid rate of change, given the proliferation of new channels and shifts in consumer behaviour, is tantamount to establishing a new business every 18 months, says Middleton. To succeed in this environment requires consistent attention in terms of ensuring that every aspect of the business is sharper and more agile.

“Like an athlete works on improving their fitness, in the agency world, success is reliant on teams getting better and better at what they do. Success is directly proportional to the amount of effort put in.”

What the lockdown reiterated was the importance of strong client-agency relationships, while highlighting the challenges inherent in a multi-agency model. Pre-Covid it was hard to co-ordinate multiple agencies. It’s now become even more challenging, says Middleton.

The agency’s investment in a concerted marketing campaign is starting to pay dividends. In fact, at a time when many agencies were losing clients, Ebony+Ivory won new ones.

The agency has made significant investments in the past year into its structures, processes and people — including providing training opportunities.

Having successfully worked through a challenging year, Ebony+Ivory is looking forward to impacting possibilities into 2021 and beyond.