Halo — an agency built with heart, for work & people
by Herman Manson (@marklives) Like a lot of business owners, Dean Oelschig (@DeanOelsch), managing director at Halo, was set on his entrepreneurial path by a dislike of the status quo. He had worked at an agency that treated creatives badly — the sales force that brought in the business, after all, or so it argued — that set him upon a path that would lead to the launch of his own agency.
Oelschig had always been interested in the world of advertising. In grade 10, he spent a week working at FCB to see if the industry was for him. Surprisingly, it wasn’t, at first. “My time at FCB, which was only a week in 1997, was eye-opening but it never really grabbed [me] and said I must be in this industry,” he says. “It was, and still is, a massive shop and I was exposed to multiple facets of the agency, from traffic to creative to planners to art directors and, I still remember, some epic Playstation ads they had created which client bombed for having too much sexual innuendo but, as a 16-year-old, they worked for me.
“The thing that stands out, looking back, is how I never even looked at the creative department as an option because the school system, in which I did quite well at maths and science but couldn’t draw, had led me to believe I wasn’t creative and needed to go into a career like Accounting (which I ended up studying at Stellenbosch until finding my way home). I wish I had gone to an ad school, though, which I feel would have given me experience inside the big shops — one regret I do have. The school system is not built to support creativity and that, for me, is the real lesson in this and a travesty that we need to support and fix; something that I believe Gordon Cook is trying to get going.”
In 2010, Commercial Bank of Africa invited the Interbrand Sampson Group (which had already been doing work for the independent Kenyan-based bank,) to pitch for its advertising against its incumbent Kenyan agency. Interbrand Sampson South Africa won the account and it launched Halo, with Oelschig and Chris Koller (then managing of IBSA) in charge.
“A sister agency inside IBSA”
“I was at another agency that held client service in the highest regard as they were the salesmen,” says Oelschig. “Creatives were a back-office operation and I hated that.” He’d floated the idea of starting his own small shop past Koller in the past but his partners at IBSA had had little appetite for a traditional/advertising agency inside it until, one day, CBA requested it. “Chris immediately called me and asked [if] I wanted to leave my current agency and start a sister agency inside IBSA. I didn’t hesitate,” he says. “We began with no capital and no clients. Just myself and a desk inside their building.”
Two-and-a-half years later, Koller left Interbrand to go to New York, and that’s when Koller and Oelschig bought out the other shareholders and moved to the current premises in Sandhurst, Johannesburg. It was slow going for the first two-and-a-half years, especially as the agency initially struggled to define itself, now that it had stepped out of Interbrand’s shadow — but Oelschig didn’t mind that the business was being built over time.
Halo’s biggest client remains CBA. Halo recently helped launch Loop, CBA’s new new mobile banking brand, in Kenya (see below). Its current client list also includes Jacaranda FM (see below) and project work for Virgin Atlantic. The agency works closely with Demographica, so was involved with the rebranding of Zurich Insurance to Bryte.
Best clients –> best agencies
Oelschig believes the best clients allow agencies to become the best agencies. Halo focuses on building relationships with the people managing brands, and to create work that have a connection to them and, ultimately, to their own clients. He and his team try to produce work that both agency and client love, and that the people working on client brands want to be part of. It’s how expectations and delivery are finally aligned. Anyway, Oelschig and his team tend to report to the client CEOs or GMs, which allows for this approach to be successful.
Halo has always tried to look and act bigger than it is but, of late, Oelschig has come to realise the value in being small and nimble. He describes Halo as a small, independent, creative agency and says it wants to build itself into one of Africa’s most creative. Halo focuses on strategy (no creative work is done without one), creativity, design and production.
The agency produces a broad range of communication across platforms, including TV, radio, print, outdoor and digital.
South African office
Although a significant percentage of its revenue is generated out of Kenya, most of that work is done remotely through the South African office. Oelschig’s parents lived in Kenya in the ’90s and spent a lot of time there during holidays, so he says he’s come to understand the market and people over many years. Today, he still spends a significant amount of time in the country.
He intends growing the agency both in SA and in Kenya, and will continue to build his agency’s unique culture. He recently scrapped the HR function, hiring an employee experience manager instead to improve the agency work environment for both staff and clients.
Halo should be the best agency to work at, says Oelschig, and should keep on pushing and challenging itself. Ultimately, the agency doesn’t care for gimmicks. “We produce work we love with the people we love.”
As selected by Dean Oelschig and in his own words
Halo’s own brand redesign
“Our own brand redesign, launched in April 2017. If we preach creativity and design craft, we must practice it, and this design we worked on for 12 months to create something I am incredibly proud to represent. Images of the new brand [may be found at] brandhalo.co.za/
“This TVC for Loop (a digital financial services disruptor brand in Kenya) shows the team’s willingness to create insightful work, even in other countries. Millennials are often labeled as lazy and entitled but the insight we found in Kenyan millennials is that, even though they may have 9-5 jobs, it’s their 5-9 side-hustles that gets them passionate and working hard. Tristan Holmes is also a future star director so it was a privilege to work with him and the Star Films crew. The ad also has 2.5m views across YouTube and Facebook so it’s obviously connected to the audience.”
Jacaranda FM’s radio simulcast live lip-sync billboard
“I love the simplicity and power of this idea and when it went live, even after months and months of planning, I was still amazed how perfectly synchronised it was and how well it worked. This campaign also had insane results for the client.”
Herman Manson (@marklives) is the founder and editor of MarkLives.com.