Debunking ad agency culture


First published on in October 2015

When we say ‘ad agency’ what comes to mind? A tribe of hipsters wielding MacBooks and cappuccinos? Bearded men working all hours with a stiff drink in hand? Don Draper from Mad Men? We chat to some insiders to dispel the myths, and confirm the clichés that cling to this industry’s culture.

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By Remy Raitt

Advertising agency culture has a purpose. In an article for ADSUBCULTURE, Ed Burgoyne says this reason is that “an agency’s culture is part of what the shop is selling to a client”. Michael Udell, a managing partner of Punk, a digital agency within the King James group, agrees. “Clients buy into agencies to do things they can’t do,” he says. “In the agency there’s a freedom of thought which starts from a completely different place than it would if the client did it themselves.”

This place is creativity.

Sterling Cooper*, who has worked at ad agencies of varying sizes across South Africa says the misconceptions and clichés of ad agency culture are all rooted to the creative process. He believes the biggest misconception is “that the process of creativity is akin to f***ing around and being less than professional in its approach,” while the biggest clichés is that “outwardly, it can look a lot like f***ing around”.

Hipster home base

Cooper confirms the cliché that ad agencies are where many of the trendy set make their money. “The industry is like a Venus flytrap for young people, its aesthetic is more appealing than a lot of other starchier, white-collar institutions,” he says. “High School graduates and career flounders are drawn in by the promise of getting paid to do something more fun than spreadsheets. MacBooks, and Apple in general, provide the tool of choice. They are handsomely priced but well suited. And the only thing more prevalent than high-tops and thick-framed, non-prescription, bamboo spectacles is caffeine in all its forms.”

Udell agrees. He says a relaxed dress code is the norm in most agencies but believes most employees would resent being labelled. “We are culturally aware and therefore adopt trends. I’m 43 and I have a beard and a MacBook, but I would hate to be called a hipster,” he laughs. “I don’t even think the hipsters in our office would like to be referred to as hipsters.”

Environmental issues

“For me, the best agencies allow for an environment where employees can feel safe while taking (creative) risks and communicating, unafraid of making mistakes, open to questioning, doubt and curiosity for going beyond what is being asked,” says Burgoyne.

Udell says this happens in creative social spaces. “These spaces allow the team to detach themselves from the work at hand and get some perspective,” he says. A game of foosball or pool would usually do the job, or perhaps a drink at the bar, which Cooper says is usually stocked with an affiliated client’s alcohol brand.

Raising the bar

“A creative environment is a push-pull struggle with deadlines, creating fresh ideas and executions with sound underlying business strategies,” says Cooper. “It’s stressful. That leads to drinking. Generally from the well-stocked bar.”

It’s no secret that most agencies have bars in their offices. This does not mean creative directors and copywriters are getting all Mad Men on the daily. In fact, both Udell and Cooper believe bankers are way bigger boozers.

Creativity has no clock

Udell says drinking is a part of the culture because creativity doesn’t work nine to five. Employees work overtime, why not with a drink to help the process?

“You can become excellent at creating an environment, mentally and physically, for coming up with the requisite ideas,” says Cooper. “But you can’t force them into existence. Relatively often that means burning the candle at both ends. Plus the bar only gets unlocked after 17:00.”

But this overtime work isn’t done begrudgingly says Udell. “There’s commitment to the idea, which at times pushes us. It’s a collaborative effort. People are committed to the craft and the final product.”

The crux of the culture

Udell says what it all boils down to, is that when it comes to creative people, “advertising is not just a job, it’s a passion”. He says the commitment to the production of ideas is what ultimately creates the culture. Well, that, and the free beer of course.

Do you work in an agency? What do you think are the biggest misconceptions or clichés? Tell us below.

*Not his real name

Building your marketing army


First published on in October 2015

A marketing agency, like any business, is the sum of its parts. Without the right employees, building a great reputation will not be easy. The question is, where should you look in order to minimise the pangs of growing pains?

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By Remy Raitt

There is no cut and paste marketing agency formula, because needs, teams and dynamics differ from agency to agency. There are, however, fundamental boxes an agency should tick in order to achieve a successful working environment and consequently successful offerings to your clients.

Two sides to the story

The chief disruptor of Integrated Marketing Solutions, Francois Vorster says there are two sides to every agency; client services and the creative team. “Client services need a good understanding of people, the media and strategy,” he says. The creative side of the agency will take care of all things, well, creative.

The wisdom to youth ratio

“A successful marketing agency is a combination of the wisdom of age and the exuberance of youth,” says corporate marketing analyst, advisor and media commentator, Chris Moerdyk. Vorster agrees; “In my opinion, youth brings energy and insights, they are the reality checkers but, they don’t always see the broader picture. Wisdom, on the other hand, knows what works and what doesn’t.”

Building your army

“Like anything significant, the ideal marketing team starts with a solid foundation,” says Kevin Barber in an article for HubSpot. “With the right foundation and plenty of grit, you can build (or even re-build) anything.”

Moerdyk believes four central roles make up this core foundation. “Right at the top you need someone who has grown up with the industry and all its changes over the last few decades.” He says this will prevent clients from making the same old mistakes.

Market researchers come next. “If they’re not personally doing the research they need to be able to commission the right researchers. This is a very tricky part of the work and it takes an awful lot of experience to ask the right questions to ensure you’re not just getting knee-jerk answers,” Moerdyk continues.

Another key player is a media specialist. “This person needs to be able to select the right media channels, not someone who is going to get talked into the wrong ones. You need someone who can rationalise the right media mix for the target market.”

“Another vitally important person, which few agencies have, is a salesperson who is very senior and very good at what they do. So many people just think their MD can do the selling, and that’s a weakness,” Moerdyk concludes.

Stacking up skill sets

Vorster believes the days of only offering one skill are long over. “I’m all for multi-skilled people. In today’s world, things are so dynamic you can’t look at one thing without looking at the other,” he says. “If you can’t at least develop multiple skills, you aren’t going to work out.”

Moerdyk says it’s imperative that the people at the top of the agency possess multiple skills. “Lower down the order, employees can have more individual skills, especially with regard to things like social media and analytics,” he says.

Relationship advice

“The strong foundation of modern marketing is building towards a team culture with integrity, character, creativity, love, and loyalty,” says Barber.” If your team loves the company they work with, and love serving the customers before, during and after the sale, you have a great foundation.”

Vorster slightly disagrees. He says he looks for trust over loyalty, because each individual employee has their own value set and, therefore, may cut ties with the agency in favour of something or someone else. “I look for trust and the real life work skill of the ability to learn,” he says.

Moerdyk says that if your employees don’t get along, your agency is in for a rough ride. “At the end of the day, human compatibility is the most important thing to consider,” he says.

How would you build your marketing army? Tell us below.

An introduction to brand loyalty


First published on in October 2015

Loyalty is paramount in any relationship. When it comes to loyalty between a brand and their consumers, marketing plays the role of the mediator. These middlemen need to ensure there is trust, faithfulness and, most importantly, positive feelings flowing – especially in the brand’s direction.
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By Remy Raitt

Nick Terry, CEO of TMARC defines brand loyalty as; “the level of trust combined with a propensity to purchase the brand often as a first choice”.

Basically, Terry says it amounts to this; “The more I buy ‘you’ and use ‘you’, the more I want to buy ‘you’ again, plus I tell others about ‘you’.”

Why you need it

Brand loyalty brings good business. It’s almost as simple as that. Terry explains that with brand loyalty comes positive growth, sustainability, and “future proofing against the competition”.

“It extends the longevity of a brand’s life,” says Clive Evans, partner at The Strategy Department. “The more loyal consumers are to a brand the more they will encourage and tell others to buy the brand. The more loyal customers you have the higher the potential to make a higher margin.”

How it’s cultivated

Terry says the use of the words “I love” towards a brand normally indicates a high level of loyalty. But, just like in any other relationship, those words aren’t uttered off the bat.

Continuing on the theme of love or allegiance, Evans likens brand loyalty to a marriage; “It takes time and effort,” he says. “Marketing and advertising have a big role to play in building and creating the emotional connection. Again, like a marriage,” he continues.

Terry agrees that time is an essential part of the process. He adds that brand loyalty is cultivated “through consistent delivery of the brand promise, through innovation, through marketing, through meeting consumer needs, through good story telling and by staying relevant”.

Brand Marketing Integration’s Suzanne Vara says marketers need to ask themselves these questions;Socially, how does your product fit into the consumers development and why should it?; and Why should they want to be a part of your brand and what will they gain? She believes there are six ways to win brand loyalty; focus on what you do better than anyone else, create a sense of belonging for your consumers, be credible, be accessible, be connected by learning about your audience, and then continue exercising the previous five steps.

The brand loyalty crusaders

Building brand loyalty requires input from all corners of the company. “The marketing professionals are no doubt at the front of building brand loyalty,” says Terry. “But, let’s not for one minute forget that every other department contributes to the overall brand loyalty – the people in manufacturing who made it to the required specification, the people in sales who made sure it had a sufficient distribution base. Everyone needs to understand the role they play in building and maintaining brand loyalty.”

South African hits and misses

Both Evans and Terry agree that loyalty and rewards programmes are favoured by South African consumers. “Loyalty is about building for the long term, you’ve got to stay with it, you can’t dive in and out and swop to and from – particularly in the world of sponsorships or reward programmes,” Evans says.

Programmes like Discovery’s Vitality and the Woolworths W Rewards are creating loyal customers through visible benefits, discounts and savings, and the alignment of customer and brand ideals.

Terry says brand loyalty programmes that are bound to fail will involve gimmicks, unmet promises and long timelines before the customer recognises the rewards.

Terry says it’s important to be critical of the brand loyalty programmes you put into play. “The job of any marketer is to sell more stuff to more people more often and that must include the loyalty programme. If it does that, then carry on, but if it doesn’t then stop immediately and do something else.”

What have you done to create brand loyalty? Tell us in the comments section below.

How to host a memorable industry event


First published on in September 2015

Hosting an industry talk gives companies a chance to learn and share. You just have to look at the worldwide phenomenon TED Talks for proof. Inspirational speakers can motivate clients and peers, and if you’re not holding any, you could be missing out.
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By Remy Raitt

“Inspirational speakers can really motivate people to think differently and make smarter choices,” says Justin Ramb in an article for Big Eye Agency. “When it comes to the marketing world, one good innovative idea can mean the difference between branding success and downfall.”

He says events like TED Talks serve as an “idea platform for viewers across the world by delivering interesting discoveries and starting conversation about topics people may have forgot about”.

But it doesn’t even have to be global. A local event with (and for) people who care about and want to learn about how your brand is breaking boundaries can put you in a powerful position.

Sharing is caring (about your industry)

CEO of World Wide Creative, Fred Roed says they started hosting their now infamous Heavy Chef events in the mid-2000s because the industry wasn’t gobbling up what they were serving.

“In order to taste-test the ingredients of digital marketing, we chose topics where we felt light and invited the heaviest speakers on those topics we could find. These quickly and organically evolved into our monthly Heavy Chef sessions which regularly host 200 to 300 people at a time. This tells me that people are hungry to learn.”

Roed says these types of talks are important in South Africa due to the fact that we often lag behind more developed nations. “This means that there is a lot of equivocation and uncertainty around particular topics, which in turn means that the learning and sharing is critical for the South African context.”

“It’s a tough gig to do events. It’s hard, competitive, complicated, stressful and messy. If you’re considering doing events, ensure that it’s something that you’re doing because you love it – because if you don’t love it, you will come well short.”

A talk that will be talked about

What are the key ingredients of a good talk? Speakers who know their stuff is, of course, a good start. Roed says concentrated material is also a wise idea. “It is my belief that the best talks provide a single point; one key learning around which a narrative can be conveyed to make it more interesting and resonant.”

Ben Wagner, head of NATIVE VML Cape Town believes it’s also important how the content is shared: “We pay particular attention to snackable content, that doesn’t overwhelm audience and gives them key actionable takeouts that they can test in their own marketing activities.”

Authenticity is also paramount. “Don’t try and sell yourself or your brand. Rather tell your story and make a valuable point. People will respect you for it, and you’ll be far more effective at winning people over and make the right connections,” Roed advises. He says crafting a story through your talk will also make it memorable.

Elements to avoid

Roed says a great speaker will keep things focused. He says trying to make too many points could easily sink your speech.

For Wagner, boring PowerPoint presentations should be avoided. Roed agrees: “If you have an audience you should look them in the eye. That cannot happen if you’re reading from slides, or if they’re distracted by your slides. Your presentation should complement and support your message with simple, visuals – not bullet points.”

Do you host industry talks? What made it a success or failure? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

Corporate gifts; trash or treasure?


First published on in July 2015

Whether it’s a branded pen given at a trader’s exhibition or good bottle of wine at an end of year function, corporate gifts and branded products aim to create front-of-mind awareness. But, as marketing budgets continue to shrivel, can you count on a mass-produced item to make existing and potential clients remember your brand?
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By Remy Raitt

The goal of the gift

Heidi Andrews, the owner of Brand Innovation says your choice of gift should always be dependent on the intended audience. “It should add value to the receiver and aim to make them feel appreciated,” she says.

Gifts can’t go without…

Janet Van Ginkel, the owner of Paper Tree Projects, a member of The Vortex, says if you are planning to give gifts or promotional items the most important thing is to ensure your logo and contact details are visible.

“There is no point in handing out a pen with no details, it’s a waste of money and won’t achieve any marketing goals.” Van Ginkel says the two things that should appear on every promotional item are the company’s logo and web address. “If there’s limited branding space, ensure those two things are clearly visible, if you have more space other details can be added, but you don’t want to overdo the information either.”

Choosing an item

“Lots of gifts like pens and USBs have been done to death and will continue to be done,” says Van Ginkel. “People won’t throw these items away, they do have a lifespan, but eventually they will find their way to the back of a drawer or into a jar.”

Andrews says because these items are usually bought in bulk at limited cost, care should be taken in selecting something useful. Both she and Van Ginkel encourage people to try and source local products in favour of mass-produced items from Asia.

Van Ginkel recommends always choosing something simple, effective and thoughtful over mass-produced, cold, hard plastic.

“We focus on local business for manufacturing locally produced items,” says Andrews. “Some of the popular items we supply are solar lamps, first aid kits and technology.”

Relevance is paramount

There’s an abundance of opportunities to be witty and clever when deciding on a gift. A golf club shaped pen won’t go down if you’re a medical supplier. But measuring cups would be a useful, memorable and applicable gift for a media monitoring company.

Think out the box and seize the opportunity to spend your budget on something that’s bound to be effective, and most importantly memorable.

Taking it beyond the tangible

Nancy Wagner of Demand Media suggests using your promotional gift as a gateway to further brand awareness. By including online competition codes or QR codes, receivers are encouraged to further explore the brand online. This also opens up opportunities to capture information about the recipient, who could then be targeted as a customer.

The risks

Wagner warns that promotional products at events attract two types of people; those who are genuinely interested in your brand and those just looking for a freebie.

“The best way to eliminate the freeloaders is to qualify the person as a potential prospect by asking questions and finding out their level of interest in your product or services. Then, even if they don’t buy immediately, at least you know there’s interest.”

She says giving out gifts also has the potential to set standards, prompting expectations from clients or staff. She advises the best way to avoid this is to give gifts randomly.

There are ways to incorporate promotional items into all budgets. Do you believe they make a difference? Let us know in the comments below.

Why your brand should be emailing newsletters


First published on in April 2015

Marketers and digital strategists agree; if you’re not sending out newsletters to your customers you are missing out. “Sending out a newsletter via email is the way that a brand can connect with their customers in a direct and personal way,” says Vera Romano, marketing manager at Everlytic.

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By Remy Raitt

Why are newsletters invaluable?

“Sending your promotions, latest trends or news about your product via email to a subscriber base, ensures that they are receiving the information that they want about your product directly in their inbox,” Romano says. “And most importantly, research that we have done has shown that 54% of South Africans that are online, have made a purchase as a result of something they have seen in an email. So email directly links back to revenue growth.”

Mike Jones, a strategist at NATIVE VML agrees. He says traditional post is outdated and wasteful, but email “is highly measurable and utilised by a wide range of users”.

Newsletters vs. social media

Some people argue that social media can replace the function of an emailed newsletter. But our experts don’t fully agree.

Jones says; “Social media might lead to more traffic but the quality of that traffic should be questioned. Email newsletters can be more personal and direct.” He says the most effective strategy is to include both in your media mix. Romano agrees that they have a “symbiotic relationship”. “Email helps to generate business and encourages repeat business, social media creates brand awareness,” she says.

Big benefits

And the benefits of sending out newsletters are abundant. Jones says newsletters drive traffic and help indicate article content, which gets people to where they want to go faster, so more time on the site, more engagement or potential for conversation is created.

Romano says inserting a UTM tracking code into your newsletters will allow you to track how many people visit your site as a direct result of the newsletter. And from a marketing point of view, Romano’s colleague, Everlytic clients services manager, Jodine Landman says newsletters help create needs readers don’t necessarily know they have yet. “It keeps top of mind brand awareness and in return sends traffic to your site,” she says.

But businesses aren’t the only ones benefitting. Jones says that if it’s valuable and intuitive content, not spam, then the benefits are clear.

Do not spam your readers

The frequency you send out newsletters is totally dependent on your business objectives. But Romano says it’s important to not spam your readers. “Your IP address will be blacklisted with the service providers, and you will not get into the inbox,” she says. “More importantly you will damage your reputation with your subscribers, and that will not be as easy to repair.”

She also says it’s important to get explicit consent from readers for you to send them newsletters. “Keep up to date with your lists and ensure that unsubscribed people are noted and removed from receiving future newsletters but you should still keep the list, so you know who has unsubscribed in the past.”

The jury is out, newsletters are an invaluable source and both Everlytic and NATIVE VML agree that failing to send them could jeopardise your relationship with your customers. “Email is here to stay and is becoming more valuable each year,” says Romano. “If you can get into the inbox, then half the battle is won.”

What are your thoughts? Do you agree that brands should be emailing newsletters? Tell us below.