Van der Haar on change, creativity & transformation
by Jessica Evans (@JessRobinEvans) “I’ve learned that the more things change, the more they stay the same,” says Odette van der Haar, former CEO at J Walter Thompson South Africa* and newly appointed managing director at Publicis Africa. “Transformation in the industry remains a challenge as some embrace it and some do not. Clients still abuse agencies during pitches. And, in a recession when brands should be investing in advertising and marketing of their products, they cut back.”
Her in-depth involvement in the advertising industry has awarded her some authority when it comes to industry trends. For 10 years, she led a dedicated transformation effort, both legally and socially, at the Association for Communication and Advertising (ACA) of South Africa, where she oversaw the drafting of the Marketing, Advertising, and Communication (MAC) Charter, saw it written into law, and gave promising young people opportunities through the APEX Awards Bursary Initiative.
While she has moved away from the ACA in assuming leadership first at JWT in 2018 and now at Publicis in 2019, she says that more transformation is needed. It’s clear this is important to her, and her disappointment is almost tangible when she says transformation remains a challenge.
Van der Haar plans on continuing her support for new entrants into the industry in her new role at Publicis. “I will aim to plug into the initiatives of the ACA by representing the agency on the ACA board and committees. We will invest in talent [and] drive transformation of the agency to not only meet the minimum requirements of the MAC Charter but exceed them as far as possible,” she says.
The ad industry is more than just business deals and campaigns to her; it’s a space for creativity and business to flourish together and where vast social change can happen. “Creativity remains the most-important ingredient for business success — by this I do not mean creating pretty pictures; I mean having a creative approach to doing business in order to deliver creative solutions to complex business problems. It is in being creative during these tough economic times where the best and biggest opportunities will be identified, leveraged and change the game for agencies and clients alike,” she says. Put simply, “creativity + agility = longevity”.
Seizing opportunities is a running theme for van der Haar. “The only constant in this life is change,” she says, “and the landscape of advertising and communications is changing so rapidly that we have no choice but to keep morphing our businesses.”
In a time where many businesses are opting out of advertising, she says your business moves will have big implications for your future. Her advice is for brands to invest in their marketing, adding that “consumers continue to opt for those brands where the balance of mental awareness and physical availability has been attained through clever and sustained marketing investment. Many brands will not survive this economic recession and consumers are favouring brands with purpose, ie brands that represent something meaningful. If marketing moguls and brand barons don’t grasp this, products, brands, companies (including ad agencies) will disappear or be left so far behind that they cannot catch up in the future.”
Looking back, this is the advice she would give her younger self is: “Education, education, education. Never stop learning. Never stop being curious, hunger for knowledge and get as many qualifications and certifications as possible. This will keep you relevant, knowledgeable, marketable and it will definitely stimulate your creative and strategic thinking so that you are always able to come up with creative solutions to business problems.”
*Now merged with Wunderman South Africa to form Wunderman Thompson South Africa.
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Jessica Evans (@JessRobinEvans) is a young writer fresh out of Rhodes University’s school of journalism and media studies. She is interested in branding, health, lifestyle, environmental journalism, technology and science communication. She spends her spare time running a science blog called bite-sizedsci.com where she aims to make everyday science more accessible. She is a contributing writer to MarkLives.com.