An accountant in adland: Season 1 episode 1
by Siwe Thusi (@Siwe_Thusi) My mind is literally the definition of right-brained and left-brained — a stressful mind that is always playing hop-scotch or umagusha between these two hemispheres, at any given time. Oh, and it also doesn’t help that I am a Gemini. Whether you believe in star signs or not, this concept of “two’s” plays out in my life… perhaps more so than in that of others, given I’m a corporate who found her way into a creative sphere.
War of the brains
Okay, okay, enough with the metaphoric dramatism as an icebreaker. My brain is not at war. It’s not a burden… it really isn’t. My brain is just… kept on its toes (excuse the number of body part references but stay with me). It allows me the ability to periscope any given situation: to look at things for what they are (#FactsOnly) and what they can be, as an accountant, and then, where relevant, to also allow for palettes of grey pantones in between as a creative strategist. In. Every. Situation.
What a time to be alive!
So, in a nutshell, this is what I hope to achieve on this platform: I want to share how my left brain reacts to a situation, as well as what my right brain thinks and does. My doing so, I hope, will enable me to learn more about myself as an accountant in advertising plus help me navigate how I can use this mindful umagusha to do a better job for the agency’s clients. And, just maybe, you can take away a few insights as well.
Travels into Africa
Firstly, dear South Africans: It’s into the rest of Africa. It’s wild that we still speak as if South Africa isn’t part of Africa.
A few months ago and more recently, I wrote about my trips to Uganda and Zambia. Both countries were incredible and a sensory explosion in their own rights. The sights, smells, numbers and sounds. And my brain was in bliss…
As an accountant, one of the first things to do in a new country is the currency orientation.
There I was with my iAfrica.com/Business-news security blanket, frantically trying to look up indices and the currencies to the Kwachas and the Ugandan shilling. The Ugandan shilling numbers are so long, eg, on 22 October 2018, R1 = 261,88 Ugandan shilling. So, on the trip, if I had R10 000 in my account, I would have had 2 261 800 Ugandan shillings.
My accountant brain didn’t need Pythagoras to realise that these numbers could make one hungry to spend. “‘Yummy…Okay Siwe, ska phapha’*. It’s basic maths and ratio conversions. Stay in your financial lane.”
The strategist was awakened every time we landed. People are always the first point of contact when travelling… not a forex index. My eyes allowed me to observe all the differences around me which I could bank for later, to wrestle cultural insights from.
Language was also a big consideration. The make-or-break of engagement begins from that first icebreaker. The rules of engagement are set largely from language. And we all know that accountants are not really part of the ‘get-to-know-you’ crew. So, I was glad that I had icebreaking — my other super[brain]power — with me during my trips so that I could “Ogambakyi” and “Shani” away.
Koolin’ In the City
I welcomed spring in this year by attending a rooftop hip-hop event, hosted by my new hip-hop muso friends.
It was people-and-engagement time again and but, lucky for me, I’m the accountant that is not stuif around people. What did make me ‘spaz’ out a bit were the prices at the bar.
“What markups are they using at this bar that a bottle of Gordon’s Gin costs R350?” You’d be surprised at how successful this line is as a hubbly-circle conversation starter. People know what markup is. Generally, at parties, this line ultimately leads to other financial woes being dropped one drumbeat after another. Often, most conversation introductions with these strangers at these gatherings are followed by “Oh you’re an accountant? So…I was thinking of how I can get SARS to give me a refund…”
When all I just really wanted to do was strategise how I’m going to get that price at the bar down. And, you know, engage. “I’m actually also a strategist…” and after that usually the floodgates of jargon from a homie-preneur who is just “doing-my-own-thing” are opened. Spewing an array of generic verbiage such as: LEVERAGE. OPTIMISE. INSIGHT. TAP-INTO-BEHAVIOUR. It’s great that people know the jargon. But it’s concerning that this jargon gets passed around like a hubbly pipe. An interesting observation, nonetheless.
Client VI training conference
Recently, one of my clients had a workshop for all partner agencies to get alignment on the current visual identity (VI).
The conference room was spectacular: boutique hotel-styled. The room was laced with incense that had a slight nuance to the aroma of money (well, logically because it took money for this day to have happened). What started to interest me…was noticing how there’s a shift in terms of investing in experiences created by this client, for its own people. Staff welfare and staff training must sit as really well-fed numbers on the client’s group income statement. <gasp> Also, how much does it cost a big gun of a brand to invest in a new VI in South Africa? After many credible enquiries, the answer to this question still remains very elusive, because the answer is based on a sliding scale and there are so many variables to consider. So, I looked to a Forbes article: “Ask branding agencies for quotes and you will get prices ranging anywhere from $1,000 to $50,000 and up, and sometimes this includes only the design.” So, as a South African conversation, the answer looks like anywhere from R14 000 and up. (barring our petrol-price gymnastics.)
A strange thing happens to me when I have to attend talks or workshops like this VI training session. I’m a geek for these things! In my mind, these TED talk-esque events are opportunities to fall in love and dissect the intricacies of the brand I write strategy for. Why a gesture or a symbol is used in a certain way, what we are communicating and all the things that go way beyond a messaging matrix and a strategic platform.
So, with all that said, I invite you to be in a situationship with me. Journey with me through the inner ramblings of my brain hemispheres, when looking at different situations, from the most obscure to the most (hopefully) enlightening — situations like having a startup creative agency as an accounting client or the judging of creative awards…
But that’s a Cannes of words for episode 2…
*Translation: to be forward or to get too excited.
Siwe Thusi (@Siwe_Thusi) is a qualified South African chartered-accountant-turned-creative-strategist at FCB Africa and a working photographer. She has three years’ experience in strategic planning on some of South Africa’s big brands in different categories and industries in the ATL space.
“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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