After Sir Martin, a time for reflection
by Shukri Toefy (@shukritoefy) The recent resignation of WPP CEO, Sir Martin Sorrell, gives us an opportunity to reflect on the state of advertising and communications in South Africa and globally. There are many lessons we may learn from Sir Martin Sorrell as an entrepreneur, and many things that I personally admire and take forward in the three decades he led WPP to global dominance.
Lessons and legacy
At the time, as a former accountant, Sorrell offered a linear-thinking approach to a non-linear industry and brought reforms, standard operating procedures and best practices that will hold the industry in good stead for decades to come. The talismanic leader’s rise to the top of the global advertising and communications industry is a lesson of great visionary leadership. This is almost universally uncontested, yet I’d like to take the opportunity to share a different take on his legacy.
The resignation gives us pause to reflect on the potential for change in a South African context. It’s no secret that this industry is dominated by a handful of monopoly players that are foreign-owned. These companies cast long shadows across creative, digital, production and media. In fact, any company not part of this monopoly is commonly referred to as “independent”.
“Independent of what?”
It begs the question, “independent of what?”
Independent of foreign hegemony? If that’s the case, then perhaps we need to see this resignation as an opportunity to rid ourselves of a form of economic neo-colonialism. In truth, this is as an opportunity to confront ownership models within our industry.
Business leaders in emerging markets should carefully consider their value chains, particularly how they engage marketing communications companies. In SA, the vast majority of spend in this multibillion rand industry surreptitiously flows offshore. Not surprisingly, it finds its way to one of these foreign-owned companies, of which WPP is only one. The four main global companies are WPP, Omnicom, Publicis and IPG.
Now is the time
For an “independently owned” creative business looking to leverage its success through a well-timed sale, the options have been limited to the four companies mentioned above. Now is the time for us as a South African business community to think more deeply about how to create more viable and sustainable options for investment and exit strategies in the industry. We need to foster greater support, participation and representation in the greater creative economy.
Before we even begin to discuss the complexity of economic empowerment, social and economic redress, BBBEE or industry charters, let’s begin the discussion of what it means to be a South African company.
We need to understand the value and impact of building shared-prosperity models in which the employees share in the profits, rather than purely being profit-driven — especially for only a small group of foreign interests.
Opportunity for change
There’s a slave mentality that underlines this industry. It has dominated it for over three decades and we need to stop and change. It’s time to create awareness and share viable solutions for local ownership within the creative economy — a sector that will continue to dominate and play an important role as we move through the fourth industrial revolution.
This is an opportunity for change; a chance to reflect. The time to act in creating a more-inclusive model for the South African advertising industry is now.
“Motive” is a by-invitation-only column on MarkLives.com. Contributors are picked by the editors but generally don’t form part of our regular columnist lineup, unless the topic is off-column.
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