#Immersion: John Mwanza, Dentsu Aegis Network Zambia
by Moonga Mkandawire. Just over a year ago, Mojo New Media in Zambia signed an affiliation agreement with Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN). In this interview, we chat to John Mwanza, Mojo New Media managing director, about the give and take involved in the affiliation and eventual merger, the opportunities and resources it’s brought, the Zambian digital TV market, and more.
Moonga Mkandawire: First, congratulations on the Dentsu Aegis Network affiliation agreement for Mojo New Media. What does being an affiliate agency for the Zambian market mean practically on a day-to-day basis?
John Mwanza: Mojo New Media was initially an affiliate from early 2016 but we merged in late 2017 and, as such, we are a wholly owned entity, trading as Dentsu Aegis Network Zambia (DANZ). I am the MD of the operation in Zambia, as well as a 25% shareholder. We have seen enormous growth since the merger and the team’s hard work and passion to meet and surpass our clients’ expectation is a major contributor to that. Mojo was purely driven by innovation and creativity and this, coupled with DAN’s strength in media, created a strong foundation for our current operation.
On a day-to-day basis, we spend a lot of time analysing market and media trends. We realise that we can’t successfully engage with the market if we don’t understand the people, their daily lives, their struggles, hopes, dreams and aspirations. This is our daily workout and this is what we bring to the table, along with creative ideas and innovative media strategies.
MM: When did the idea to work together come about and how did it progress to becoming an official agreement?
JM: From its inception, I always wanted Mojo New Media to branch out into international markets. When the opportunity to partner with DAN presented itself, we had two other opportunities with international agencies to consider. The question I had to ask myself is what I wanted the future of the agency to look like. I needed support in my areas of weakness and media was one of them. We had done well with the creative and production, we [had] a state-of-the-art music and television production studio in house, but we were not able to provide the full scope of services. This was due to challenges we had with media buying, planning and strategy. We simply weren’t very strong in this area and, with delayed payments by local clients, it became very tricky to run an operation without accumulating massive debt with media houses.
Through the affiliation, we [have been] able to access a wealth of training tools, in country support, as well as access to top clients. The affiliation process was fairly painless to be honest, but the merger did require a lot of back and forth. It was a game of give and take. I had to sacrifice my name (Mojo) in order to get to where I needed to be. This was perhaps the toughest thing of all. I had built Mojo from scratch on an old broken laptop and so I was very attached to the brand. I had to go through a process of letting go.
MM: How much room will your merger with DAN give you to grow your content business? We will see more music or perhaps films in the future?
JM: DAN has a company called Storylab; [it has] done some amazing things in the UK and we will definitely be continuing with production. There is a huge opportunity with sponsored and branded content in the market and we plan to take full advantage of this. The relationship with DAN has already given us the opportunity to grow and transform the kind of content we put out. The resources that we have at our disposal by being part of the network have given us the ability to successfully serve a number of top-end clients in Zambia.
MM: Digital migration has seen the introduction of several new TV stations in Zambia. What impact has this had for advertisers and do you think the Zambian market can sustain 41 TV stations in the long run?
JM: Absolutely. I am glad that, for once, we seem to be ahead of other key markets in Africa in terms of the digital migration. With new players introducing digital television to the masses via low-cost subscriptions, we suddenly have a bigger audience. Digital transmission is a two-way communication model so now we can track viewership and market uptake in a way that was impossible previously. This means more-accurate data, thanks to more-efficient feedback mechanisms, and, as a result, better campaign alignments and better strategies. As an advertising agency, it gives us an opportunity to create more content for the local and international market.
The exciting thing about digital migration is that it is bound to increase brand engagement, which in turn creates stronger competition among brands and this means an elevation in the quality and approach to production. The 41 stations present choice and, with the greater choice, engaging content becomes a must in order to remain relevant. In my opinion, the Zambian market is capable of sustaining more than 41 stations; the more niche these stations become, the easier it gets to target very specific audiences.
MM: The consultancies, according to Ad Age’s Agency Report 2018, make up five of the Top 10 largest agency companies globally and in a very short space of time. Do you see the Zambian consultancies entering the advertising and marketing services space and competing effectively?
JM: We are at a slight disadvantage, given our population and social economic set up. Countries like Nigeria with huge populations have been able to make significant strides and achieve recognition on an international level, given the massive consumer base. The work we do in Zambia is always going to be affected by the market size and consumer power; this determines budget allocations as well as reach.
For example, radio remains king in Zambia due to the fact that we still have very low television and internet penetration. Mass-market product brands have to seek out alternative ways to engage with consumer markets that live of less than US$10 and are in such far flung areas that mainstream media can’t reach. But still, while these restrictions can’t change overnight, it creates an opportunity for us to find alternative ways that work. So, if judged purely on an innovation and creativity platform, we can certainly compete on a global level.
Moonga Mkandawire is a writer, editor and analyst. Born in Kitwe, Zambia, he moved to South Africa in 2001 and, with a background in both actuarial science and music, he founded SPARK Gatherings, a communication platform which serves up fresh perspectives on the intersection of urban development, real estate and the creative industries. He contributes the new column, #Immersion, which explores African market dynamics through executive profiles, to MarkLives.
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