Young, Gifted & Killing It: Ayandamantombazane Mhlongo
by Veli Ngubane (@TheNduna) This month we chat to Soweto-born, Thohoyandou- and Hillbrow-raised marketing superwoman, Ayandamantombazane “Ayanda” Mhlongo (@KINGAya_) who shares her insights on youth culture and her career highlights.
Veli Ngubane: Tell us more about yourself: where did you grow up and what did you want to be when you were growing up?
Ayanda Mhlongo: Gosh, this is an interesting question. When I was young, I moved quite a lot until I was eight. I was born in Soweto and raised by my granny while my mom was in Venda pursuing her teaching career and my dad was overseas, I then moved to Venda with my mom and dad, and stayed in Thohoyandou. I enjoyed Venda; I was raised by a whole village. We then moved to Hillbrow when I was six and I stayed with my father while my mom was in Venda. I loved staying with my father — he truly is my best friend — we did everything together, he would walk me to school, make me breakfast and let me stay up a bit late to watch TV. While growing up, all I wanted to be was a teacher; I couldn’t imagine being anything else than what my mom was.
VN: Congratulations on your career move to integrated marketing manager of MTV Channels. Tell us what you’ve wanted to achieve in the first 100 days?
AM: My first 100 days [have been] key to building a solid foundation that’ll see me breaking ground at Viacom Africa. [I’ve wanted] to spend the first 100 days being led by the team that existed before me. I do believe that I can’t lead without having been led. I want to build a strategic plan that’ll not only have MTV as the no. 1 most-watched channel in Africa, but also the channel with the biggest digital community. I want to create digital experiences that are impactful and create an event property for this December that’ll make it shake!
VN: How do you define “culture” and how are brands getting it right and wrong in their attempts to connect with the youth market?
AM: Culture encompasses everything we are. It’s black, it’s our behaviour and attitude, it’s how we dress, it’s how we speak. Black culture is incredible. It’s ghetto, it’s hood, it’s fashionable. Black culture is a thriving vehicle that influences music, fashion, dance and language. Brands want to be included and seen as cool but don’t have teams that are inclusive and led by people within the culture. You cannot create content for a culture you are not part of or know nothing about.
VN: Tell us what you do and what does a typical day look like for you?
AM: Busy and super fun! I spend most of my days in meetings strategising and creating. Working for MTV and MTV Base is fun. It’s a high-pressure environment but I am so grateful because I work in an environment that allows me to create. As a creative, being allowed and given the space to create is something that I don’t take for granted. On good days I get to sit at my desk and reply to all my mails and, on the best day, I get to create, and manage, the coolest events around the country. I am a marketing geek and I am passionate about creating experiences that are impactful.
VN: Tell us more about your career thus far, from a female perspective in the advertising industry, and future plans — what does the next five years look like for you?
AM: My career journey thus far sounds like a marketing love story. With seven years’ experience in the digital sector, Google accreditations and a professional diploma in social media marketing and online reputation management, I am a certified digital and marketing guru. The next five years for me are all about being at the forefront of creating and broadcasting Africa[n] talent to the world. I believe that Africa is the creator and the future of everything authentic and cool, and being the forefront of that is exactly what I aspire to be.
VN: What are the key things you’ve learnt in your journey that you wish you knew when you started your career?
AM: Nice girls don’t get the corner office. You need to be assertive; you need to be vocal about your work, what you’re great at, and play to your strengths. You don’t need to have a leadership title to be considered a leader in your office. Whatever your position, find a leadership role you can excel in — whether it’s heading up a key initiative, solving problems and resolving conflict, or calm decision-making in a crisis. Don’t be afraid to ask for a promotion when you deserve it. Don’t stop learning, even through short courses. Choose yourself always over and over, and don’t lose sight of the main goal at hand, no matter how long it takes.
VN: How can the industry attract and retain more black-female talent in our industry?
AM: By creating environments that promote inclusivity. Women flourish in environments that allow them to just be. Allow women to lead; allow them to have an input. For years, black women have been the reason behind the success of many companies but have been put on the back burner because ‘men have to lead’. Black women are natural-born leaders, too. Try it!
VN: There are new approaches to marketing such as growth hacker marketing; where do you see it going, what are the future trends?
AM: Growth hacker marketing is exciting. As a person [who] specialises in digital marketing, I believe that growth hacker marketing is not a substitute for digital marketing. In fact, growth hacking and digital marketing are intrinsically linked. The shared mentality behind both is an emphasis on experimentation, creativity and measurement in order to accomplish goals. One of the most-exciting future trends are unexpected but strategic brand partnerships. Business partnerships and collaborations are one amongst the best growth hacking techniques as they create a lot of noise.
VN: Why do you think the communications industry is struggling to transform and what do you think should be done to fast-track transformation?
AM: The first step to transformation is to not generalise. By seeing all individuals as unique, one can learn to list, understand, and accept different people in the workplace. Increasing collaboration within different teams in the workplace leads to better employee engagement and higher employee productivity.
VN: What advice would you give someone completing their high-school education this year and looking to follow a creative industry?
AM: Don’t stop learning. Learning doesn’t have to be going to school every day; learn from your environment, learn from your peers, job-shadow a person in the industry you want to work in. Work experience is key in this industry. In order to thrive in this industry, you need to be up to date with the latest trends, have knowledge on your industry and be able to provide key insights from your environment.
VN: What are your career highlights thus far?
AM: I have quite a few! I was the social media coordinator for BMW MINI at the tender age of 20! To have brands believe in a crazy 20-year-old is amazing! I was the digital lead for the world’s biggest mine company, Goldfields, and helped them migrate into a digital environment through social media. Created and launched the digital platforms for Porsche South Africa. I was the head of the digital department at an agency that specialised in industrial brands. I created a social media policy for one of SA’s biggest engineering firms. I received two PRISM nominations within my first year managing technical and Industrial brands. My current most-exciting career highlight is being the integrated marketing manager for the coolest music channels in Africa, MTV and MTV Base.
VN: What do you feel is missing in our industry today and what should the future look like in South Africa and the rest of the continent?
AM: Black-owned agencies that are thriving in the advertising Industry. We need to see waves and waves of brilliant black creatives [who] are branching out to form their own agencies] that can service big brands and provide an interesting perspective and a different energy to the current advertising campaigns.
VN: What legacy do you want to leave when you retire from the industry?
AM: I want to always be known as the one person that did cool shit over and over again. Everything I do must always have an element of ‘cool’ and have purpose. I want to leave a mark as one of the leaders in the Industry that opened the door for amazing black creatives and gave them a seat at the table. I want to empower and inspire people.
VN: If you had a super power, what would you want it to be?
AM: Power mimicry because what’s better than having one superpower? Having all of them! I’d like to be able to play tennis like Serena, write amazing and gripping series like Shonda Rhymes, walk like Naomi Campbell, win at all costs like Annaliese Keating, twerk like Megan The Stallion, have as much grace as Michelle Obama, be as fearless as Mama Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. You know what I mean?!
VN: Tell us something about yourself not generally known?
AM: I am quite shy and I get really nervous when I have to speak in public. I stutter — no one ever believes me because I’ve learnt to cover it up well — but I actually stutter!
VN: Brag a bit: tell us about your awards, brands you’ve worked on… don’t be shy, tell us.
AM: Paragon Architects, Porsche, Fournos Bakery, DStv iRock, TRACE TV, Goldfields Mine, BMW, MINI, SABC 2, Muvhango, woah… I’ve lost count!
VN: Please would you supply two or three pieces of work you have been involved in?
TRACE Amapiano Campaign:
Dickies influencer collabo: www.instagram.com/dickiesafrica
I came up with a digital takeover concept for Pratley SA (a client at my previous agency).
Veli Ngubane (@TheNduna) entered the world of advertising with a passion after completing his BSocSci (law, politics and economics) at UCT and a post-graduate marketing diploma at Red & Yellow, where he’s currently advisory board chairman. He also sits on the IAB’s Transformation & Education Council, is a DMA board member and Loeries, APEX, Pendoring, Bookmarks and AdFocus. He is the group MD of AVATAR and co-founder of M&N Brands, which is building an African network of agencies to rival the global giants. In his monthly column “Young, Gifted & Killing It”, he profiles award-winning, kick-ass black creative talent in South Africa.