Hello from the other side — views on creativity from Botswana
by Obakeng Kokwe (@obiedigital) Botswana flies under the radar in a many ways when one thinks of Africa and the world, generally. Mention it in the international domain and some will ask “where is that?” and, if they do know of it, it’ll mostly be in connection with the accolades that the country is associated with —as a tourist destination, a diamond-producing powerhouse, one of Africa’s strongest and steadiest economies, and a thriving democracy. Needless to say, they’ll most likely not refer to the country’s creative prowess.
Vibrant agency space
Yet young Botswana is moving about and setting things in motion; there’s a shift in the creative space that is challenging the establishment and the people behind this shift are very much unapologetic about the way they’re going about their business. The agency space is just as vibrant, with agency networks such as Publicis Africa, TBWA, FCB, Y&R, Ogilvy forming partnerships with the creative capital here. The independent agency space is continuously growing, too, and there’s a sense of this being a time where Botswana as a country is coming of age and announcing itself as one to look out for on the global stage.
I’m personally excited about developments in the creative and cultural industries as the country dialogues about economic diversification, and the lack of opportunity in the traditional spaces is fuelling a rise in individual creativity, skill and talent base, with a huge potential for wealth and job creation. Key to note is how the communications and advertising space stands to benefit through the generation and development of intellectual property.
Digital is a big part of it all, if not at the very heart of this exuberance. Cheaper and more widespread connectivity is enabling a more-democratic playing field, as there are alternative routes to market for startups and independents alike. It goes without saying, then, that there’s a need to transform it all.
Botswana has a population of around 2.5m and an astounding 3.5m active mobile phone connections. Marketers are steadily waking up to a domain where traditional ‘communications’ doesn’t necessarily achieve the impact that they hope for when rolling out campaigns “because the consumer is caught up in their own micro-moments” where the all-important human truths (or insights) are found.
Being a small market has its own challenges and pressures, so it would be amiss of me to paint a picture that it’s “all butter and gravy” in the Botswana marketing space. Clients’ budgets are being squeezed by toughening economic conditions; a lot of the work from international brands comes ready-made from outside the country; and the numbers sometimes don’t justify the effort and ambition that agencies set out in their visions for a campaign and what the client can or is actually willing to part with in the name of a campaign that achieves impact or a beautiful piece of communication.
At times, it even seems that agencies are putting in way more effort and lobbying to get impactful integrated communications projects going. We’re building an ambitious digital business in the country and are finding that we have to educate a lot until we break through. The industry itself is not blameless in this client/agency realm; a lot of us are still very much comfortable in selling full-on traditional campaigns as that’s what we know best — which also happens to be what the client trusts. In some cases, clients (validly) don’t trust that agencies have the expertise or capacity to execute digital communications projects; we’re having to challenge our own clients and constantly upgrade our own digital teams’ skillset as sometimes our personnel is not yet comfortable with initiating, owning and seeing projects through. Other times, there simply isn’t the budget to execute as the initiatives we’re trying to drive aren’t yet part of the larger organisations’ business strategy. The consequence is that traditional continues to dominate the campaign conversation, leaving digital pegged to the backroom.
I’ve recently taken a keen interest in driving conversations around the subject of transformation in the Botswana context but have first had to set the scene for those that might want to know. To quote myself, “I’ve had to ask myself questions about what it means to transform in this current time. How do organisations deal with inadvertent change?” These questions keep coming up as we now face up bravely to the fact that key decisions have to be made — and we as agencies mandate ourselves as the gatekeepers, the ones who has to make them.
Obakeng Kokwe (@obiedigital) is chief technology partner at The Dialogue Group, a digital and creative agency in Botswana. He leads all creative, digital and innovation activities at Sturgeon, The Dialogue Group’s digital media agency, and is currently rebooting the vision and operations for the digital discipline across all accounts and new business at Sturgeon.
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