by Herman Manson (@marklives)  Andrea Mitchell is one of the original stalwarts of South Africa’s internet economy having been involved in the online advertising and publishing industry since shortly after the commercial web launched in South Africa.

When Mitchell picked up and moved down to Cape Town in the mid-1990’s, kids in tow, she landed a job at Media Direction as a media planner. Knowing not very much of media planning, and this, according to her at least, is putting it kindly, she spent quite a bit of time surfing the Net. It was 1996 and South Africa was still connecting via dial-up. The commercial internet was only a couple of years old and nobody really knew where it was gonna go.

Caught out at work, and with a boss intrigued about the possibilities online publishing held for media planners, Mitchell launched into the world of online media planning, just as the profession was born.

She moved to Media Africa, one of the first South African consumer publishing online content pure-plays, ran by Arthur Goldstuck, Cathy Stadler and a much younger version of me, where she worked on Gadget, media.toolbox (a forerunner to MarkLives), iStrategy and a range of titles published by that company.

After Internet Media, her first business focussed on selling online advertising, had closed down, she became the Media Director at Acceleration, a position she left after two years  to launch an independent strategy house, which then promptly got co-opted into 34 degrees South, a new agency she co-founded with Andy Sutcliffe.

Eighteen months in the partnership dissolved amicably when the team realised their business was ahead of the market, with little integration between the digital and below-the-line clients. Sutcliffe would continue with the BTL clients at 34 (which has since expanded its digital division) while Mitchell took her digital clients to a new business called Digivox.

The name and company got registered while she was taking a break in Natal. She also finalised the logo design before she even got back from her holiday. When Mitchell makes up her mind she doesn’t sit around waiting.

Of course, that is required of most entrepreneurs, and something they have to let go of once their business passes a certain growth point, as Mitchell freely acknowledges. At Digivox she is focussing on running the business and giving her staff the space they need to do the job. Not easy, she admits, but not negotiable either.

Digivox the start-up got a desk in the offices of Total Media, a PR firm, and Mitchell moved in on Jan 2, 2008. March last year saw the agency and its team of ten moved into its own offices at Black River Park. The agency offers services in display and search advertising, social media, and design and development.

Holding onto skill is a major issue for any smaller agency, especially when Mitchell’s trainees are in considerable demand, and when Mitchell doesn’t hold any interest in playing in the size leagues.  Mitchell is keen to focus on more education and training to help address the shortage of skills in the industry.

She would much rather run a smaller outfit that builds its reputation on excellence. The company has had five offers to purchase, the first barely six months into her starting it, but she has declined every last one, preferring the flexibility and quick decision making processes anybody with an entrepreneurial spirit craves.

Mitchell is proud of the Bookmarks the agency has won – especially the Gold they took in the search category. She expects billings to double in the next year.

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