#AgencyFocus: Agency challenges industry to share profits
by Carey Finn (@carey_finn) Fort, which punts itself as a creative, content and production network, prides itself in doing things differently — and challenging others to rethink the way they operate, too. “We’re not a traditional agency,” says Shukri Toefy, its CEO and co-founder. “I know everyone says that, but we really aren’t.”
Philosophy in action
Toefy, who in 2006 founded Fort with Amr Singh when they were both students at the University of Cape Town, is passionate about promoting transformation in the South African advertising and communications industry, taking the approach that local is lekker, legit — and necessary. The company’s #CreateMovement campaign, launched early last year, is one way in which they have put this philosophy in action so far; the initiative seeks to “start a conversation around decolonising the African creative economy”.
“We’re trying to draw awareness to inequitable ownership patterns in the industry, and to the illusion of choice that exists,” says Toefy, who will be taking his message to the G20 Global Solutions Summit in Berlin, 28–29 May 2018.
Fort is very serious about creating a more-equitable financial and development landscape in South Africa and Africa, not simply because it has a horse in the race, as Toefy puts it, but because it’s necessary for creative economies to benefit communities more broadly. “What we’re saying is, make sure that your employees are stakeholders in the company and, if you are foreign-owned, that you’re also developing other companies and making sure that there’s local ownership,” he says.
This is something that has been put in place at Fort, with the rollout of a shared-prosperity model in February last year. “We created an employee share scheme in which 10% of profits go to our employees,” he explains. “That’s been a massive internal shift for us, and is an example that we would like to set for other creative companies and people in the advertising industry, and also, generally speaking, for other companies across South Africa and the rest of the continent.”
A further 1% of profits goes to the company’s Hold the Fort community development training fund. “It’s not a matter of making money and then doing good; it’s a matter of recognising that both the community and the people who bring it to life are stakeholders and need to share in those profits,” says Toefy.
On a financial note, he describes Fort’s performance over the past year as stable: “We kept our revenue at the same level; it wasn’t what we had projected, because we had wanted to do better than 2016, but we were able to be agile enough to get through what was a tough year for many agencies.”
The company expanded its presence into other parts of Africa last year, enjoying a boost in brand prominence. After trying a model of owning offices in Nairobi and Lagos, it decided to shift to a network approach, working with partners instead.
Highlights from Fort’s extensive portfolio of projects over the past 12 months include a content series for Uber in sub-Saharan Africa, work on the Axe deodorant brand in conjunction with digital agency Gorilla, and the launch of an animated web series for Domino’s Pizza new tracker. The company counts tech brand Opera among its major clients, working with it across Africa, as well as Western Europe and the US. “We came up with campaigns [for Opera] that really captured the colours and textures of Africa,” says Toefy. “We do Africa well.”
This strength saw Fort scoop a 2017 Loeries Bronze for its Viacom/MTV Base Africa Channel Rebrand campaign, which made use of fabrics from different regions of Africa in the channel idents and motion graphics. The same project snagged a Silver Pendoring.
No stranger to awards, the company celebrated another win when Singh took home a Director’s Craft Gold at PromaxBDA Africa in November 2017, for his work on a DStv Africa brand film.
In the pipeline
Going forward, there are exciting things in the pipeline, says Toefy, though he can’t disclose details just yet. He suggests keeping an eye on what he terms the “pseudo-entertainment branded content space”.
While he expects the upcoming year to be one of increased stability, he adds, he’s also trying to fundamentally change the way Fort makes money. “I’m going to be trying to move us away from being a purely service-based company that provides creative content and production services to a company that actually owns the IP and the asset and the underlying property around what we do, and then getting brand partners, rather than brand clients.”
This ties in with the overarching vision that sees Fort moving towards an ever-more inequitable model of business, decentralising power and empowering local creatives.
- After Sir Martin, a time for reflection — Shukri Toefy
- Young, Gifted & Killing It: Amr Singh — Veli Ngubane
- Fort expands into Nairobi; plans for Lagos in place — Herman Manson
Carey Finn (@carey_finn) is a writer and editor with a decade and a half of industry experience, having covered everything from ethical sushi in Japan to the technicalities of roofing, agriculture, medical stuff and more. She’s also taught English and journalism, and dabbled in various other communications ventures along the way, including risk reporting. As a contributing writer to MarkLives.com, her new column “#AgencyFocus” is an ongoing weekly series updating the market on agency performance, including business performance, innovation, initiatives, the work, awards and people.
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