by MarkLives (@marklives) The marketing and advertising industries are transforming. So why are so many black professionals disgruntled with the rate of progress? And is the quality of most of the work specifically directed at a black audiences still sub-par? We emailed a panel of key industry executives for their take. This week it’s the turn of Monalisa Sibongile Zwambila of Riverbed.

Monalisa Sibongile Zwambila

Monalisa Sibongile ZwambilaMonalisa Sibongile Zwambila (@monalisa_zwam) is the founder and CEO of Riverbed, a full-service black-female-owned and -managed creative agency. She is passionate about the role the agency plays in transforming the sector and enjoys speaking on industry-related matters and leadership. Monalisa is completing her MBA through Henley Business School. Riverbed was a 2016 AdFocus Small Agency of the Year finalist, as well as joint One to Watch in 2017 in Jozi in our MarkLives Agency Leaders’ Most Admired poll for 2016

As we move into our 23rd year of independence, the realisation of the slow rate of transformation across all sectors of our economy has brought with it a need for a more-radical approach to achieve transformation targets. The truth is that little has changed since 1994, and ownership of the economy continues to remain in white hands. Sadly, the same remains true in the advertising sector, where transformation has been sluggish at best.

MAC Charter

What has jolted the industry into action has been the recent gazetting of the BBBEE sector code for the South African marketing, advertising and communications industry by trade and industry minister, Rob Davies. The new codes prioritise ownership with a target of 45% black ownership by 31 March 2018. In an industry that is not short of black talent, this, on the face of it, should be an easy goal to achieve, but the sector is dominated by multinationals and white-owned independent agencies that, to date, have continued to get the lions’ share of marketing spend despite little or no black ownership to speak of.

Despite this, albeit slowly, the complexion of the industry is beginning to change with agencies such as Avatar — winner of the 2016 AdFocus Medium-sized Agency of the Year award — which bear testament to what is possible when black agencies are given opportunities to flourish. But there are only a handful of medium-sized black agencies and, with Riverbed being one of the few, we have elected to drive transformation through a policy that seeks to find, nurture and exploit black talent, not for the BBBEE creds but for the benefit of the brands we work on.

We believe that the more opportunities given to black agencies to win big accounts, the greater the creative diversity and quality of work delivered. It is common knowledge that, at the heart of any campaign is understanding the consumer, and with the black middle-class market now at 6m people, there is a compelling reason that black agencies should be given the opportunity to deliver persuasive campaigns that influence and impact this market. If this argument holds true, it begs the question why change in this sector continues to be driven by BBBEE imperatives and not by brands insistent on using black agencies to better understand and connect with the consumer.

Broadcasters get it

Broadcasters, however, seem to get this, and have paved the way by creating local programming to meet consumer needs. The success of programmes such as Date My Family and Our Perfect Wedding are indicative of the power of communicating with consumers in a relevant and meaningful way.

So, if we are disgruntled at the rate of progress in our industry, what do we do to change it? We need to proactively begin to get corporates to understand the value of working with black agencies, not to benefit their scorecard but to benefit their brands. Without buy-in on the demand side, we will continue to perpetuate the same norms and same beliefs that have kept the industry slow to transform.

The MAC Charter acknowledges this in its commitment to inclusivity and diversity, and states that “the sector reflects and shapes the norms of our society. As such it must be committed to reflecting the values and aspirations of all South Africans”. If, as an industry, we can all commit to drive change for the sake of our customers, we will help build a transformed sector that is better-equipped to understand and serve our evolving landscape.

See also


MarkLives logoLaunched in 2016, “The Big Q” is a regular column on MarkLives in which we ask key industry execs for their thoughts on relevant issues facing the ad industry. If you’d like to be part of our pool of potential panellists, please contact editor Herman Manson via email (2mark at marklives dot com) or Twitter (@marklives). Suggestions for questions are also welcomed.

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