by MarkLives (@marklives) The marketing and advertising industries are transforming. So why are so many black professionals disgruntled with the rate of progress? And is the quality of most of the work specifically directed at a black audiences still sub-par? We emailed a panel of key industry executives for their take. This week it’s the turn of Zibusiso Mkhwanazi of AVATAR.

Zibusiso Mkhwanazi

Zibusiso MkhwanaziZibusiso Mkhwanazi (@ZibusisoSays) is group CEO of AVATAR Investment Holdings (AIH) and AVATAR360 Group, as well as co-founder of AVATAR Agency, from which he recently stepped down as CEO. He’s a serial entrepreneur, previously known in the agency world for being executive chairman at KRAZYBOYZ digital and later chairman of The Red Quarter Brand Design. Zi was a contender for Most Admired Ad Agency Boss in South Africa and in Jozi in our MarkLives Agency Leaders’ Most Admired poll for 2016, while Avatar was runner-up for Most Digitally Integrated Ad Agency in SA and Jozi, as well as runner-up One to Watch in Jozi in 2017. In January 2017, the AVATAR founders acquired a significant minority stake in M&C Saatchi’s SA agency network, which has allowed M&C Saatchi PLC to acquire a 20% stake in AVATAR from AIH.

Fast transformation is important for a sustainable industry and country as a whole. We all need to have a tough conversation over a short period of time, where we clearly agree that inequality in the workplace is unacceptable.

No industry continues with the same model forever. Times change and the businesses that operate in that industry have to be willing to accept change. It is no different to our industry.

While the marketing and advertising industries may be transforming, it is doing so at a frustrating pace. The only way to know if an agency is capable is for the client to give it a chance to prove itself. Clients have to be willing to take the road less travelled if they truly believe in transformation. If we are to build a sustainable marketing industry, if transformation is to be more than talk, it cannot be business as usual.


If a brand is going to pit upcoming agencies that are black-owned against the more established large agencies — those with international backing — the results are fairly obvious. Frustration will continue to grow because the pace of transformation will continue to be staggeringly slow. Transformation means taking a risk where there are more comfortable options available.

I don’t believe that the failure of one black agency should be a mark against all black agencies.

Clients should consider their needs and find the best agency with which to partner and grow. Finding the partner you are comfortable with helps clients meet their transformation agenda.

We need to remember, as businesses, we are part of the community in which we operate. So what does transformation mean? It’s giving people, who would ordinarily struggle, a chance to prove themselves.

Doesn’t equal entitlement

This doesn’t equal entitlement. It is doing what we all know is right. If we are not willing to make brave decisions as an industry to help solve the social ills of our country, we will continue to live with two economies. We will never enjoy the fruits of our labor without constantly living in fear that it will be taken away.

Twenty-three years into our democracy, it is deeply worrying that there’s no large black-founded agency in South Africa. There are definitely rising stars but there aren’t enough of us. If brands don’t get involved in helping build agencies that are more representative of our population, brands will struggle to get their message across to the general population. Transformation is, therefore, good for business and sales. The flip side of the coin is that up-and-coming agencies need to also push to unlock value that results from speeding up transformation.

For transformation to move at a faster pace and the quality of work to improve, all of us need to play our part. Clients, established agencies and the rising stars who are representative of our population all need to gain understanding from the others’ perspective and share knowledge and success stories in a meaningful way. We need to have more conversations that build our industry.

Take on the Goliaths

I bear witness that it is very possible to take on the Goliaths of this industry and win if you have a challenger mindset. I am deeply inspired by Mediclinic’s vision and reason for being: to be respected internationally and preferred locally.

We as up-and-comers need to strive to have world-class systems, world-class processes and world-class people. We can’t wait to be given opportunities but have to seize them — power must be taken with excellence and not wait to be given. That is how you build an agency that can take on the Goliaths.

See also


MarkLives logoLaunched in 2016, “The Big Q” is a regular column on MarkLives in which we ask key industry execs for their thoughts on relevant issues facing the ad industry. If you’d like to be part of our pool of potential panellists, please contact editor Herman Manson via email (2mark at marklives dot com) or Twitter (@marklives). Suggestions for questions are also welcomed.

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