by Siwe Thusi (@Siwe_Thusi) The word “brave” has come up lot in the professional conversation circles I’ve found myself in, trying to forcefully manias1 its way into my career. I think it’s even my rent-a-word for the year. And, so, just who is being ‘brave’ so early in 2019? And who should be brave?

Being brave — the startup agency

I recently had the opportunity to invest time helping out a group of talented creatives who’d decided to leave traditional big agency life and forge their own business path as a content creation agency.

Accountant brain

After years of leaving the pure accounting world, it was ironically refreshing to be able to flex-stretch my fingers before opening up a blank Excel spreadsheet to build a series of financial statements from scratch (the brilliant basics — general ledger; trial balance; income statement, cashflow statement and the gawd-of-all: the balance sheet2 ). So many Excel cells to fill in with formulas that will tell this new business’s success story using numbers. It was g-o-o-d.

But, outside of those cells, b-a-d came into play as I had to assume the position of bad cop. The excitement of starting a new creative company came with the excitement of creative rockstars-with-the-business-credit-card. This outweighed the excitement of running a business. The bad cop always had to rein in her creatives, because the second highest expense line item, food and entertainment, reined in the profit. Therefore, the mission was this: for the next reporting period, slash all food and entertainment budgets in half. Period.

Strategist brain

But the bad cop needs to think about this. In the world of creative agency… how far does that food and entertainment line item go to fuel the creative end-product?

In mid-Feb this year, an article about a food-wastage campaign came out. This was a clever awareness poster campaign for the Adfest 2019’s upcoming Young Lotus contest, highlighting the state of the food culture in agencies. Fun fact: South Africa has a R10bn food-wastage problem, on average, every year. I’d be interested to know what of that proportion belongs to all the SA ad agencies combined. That aside, for me it poses the question: How big of a motivator is food and entertainment for the creatives, post the era of the MadMen rockstars? Especially if most of it gets wasted.

The correlation of creativity and food is an interesting one. When bad-cop-me asked about the necessity of spending so much on food, the response from my startup client was: “If food is taken care of, then I can show up at work and be my best creative self.” Finding the balance, between food-that-won’t-be-wasted, hangry3 creatives and clients, and while still breaking even for a startup, is tough. But it’s a long game that must be played because the creative end-product demands it. And, as a startup, bravery is in playing the long game.

Should be brave — creative award shows

Four years into the adland game and, still, when a new panel of creative awards judges is announced, I rush to scroll pass distinguished names, hoping to hover my curser over “XYZ, Head of Strategy/Strategic Planner at ABC”. Still hoping…

Accountant brain

The A-brain sat this one out. Besides the cost that comes with years of experience or being a recent, standout creative newbie, I couldn’t really think of a price point attached to being picked for a jury. It’s a classic case of a qualitative/quantitive data mix.

Strategist brain

There’s not enough strategic planner presence on these juries… and I’m still yet to be convinced of the creative purist argument or stance of ‘strategic planners can’t judge creative work’. The argument becomes very interesting because it leads to the following contention: whether the judgement of creative work is learned and earned… or instinctual. Strategists rely on the facts, as well as on what feels right as a consumer. This is what moves the creative dial.

Interbrand London’s creative director, Sue Duan, once said: “Cannes’ judging criteria is 30% strategy, 30% application, 20% innovation, and 20% impact and results. However, the work needs to be appropriate to the category (too often you see work entered into multiple categories that is simply not appropriate to the entry). It also has to be compelling enough to stop you in your tracks. Work that has impact far beyond its initial intention or that creates a category shift is work that stands out.”

If strategy at 30% (and one would argue application as core to the strategist’s skillset) forms part of the judging criteria for one of the industry’s highest honours, then why aren’t we seeing more and more strategists being included in most creative juries? I guess the jury is still out on that one…

More inclusivity in our creative juries does take the bravery of trusting that everyone can judge creative awards.

Next time on An Accountant in Adland

My growing fascination currently is with the relationship between marketing and advertising. Where does marketing start and where does it end? One thing that has stuck out for me is an undertone of frustration that the pure marketing scope of work is subtly spilling onto the advertising agency’s plate. But, then again, ‘true scope of work’ lives in the detail of the pitch contracts that are signed by our head honchos. Or does it…?

“Super Bowl: If creativity is a muscle, shouldn’t we be working it more than once a year?” is a headline that also grabbed me in that last few weeks. And now that the Super Bowl budgets have been spent and the space for Super Bowl learnings is up, I have some words — a Cannes of words for Episode 3.

1 A South African dance
2 Disclaimer: IFRS (International Financial Reporting Standards) uses new terminology for these documents so, in a bid to use layman speak for this article, I’m a ’lil out of accounting fraternity order. Hashtag, brave.
3 A millennial term that combines hungry + angry.


Siwe ThusiSiwe Thusi (@Siwe_Thusi) is a qualified South African chartered-accountant-turned-creative-strategist at FCB Africa and a working photographer. Since mid-2015, she’s been in strategic planning, working on some of South Africa’s big brands in different categories and industries in the ATL space. She contributes the monthly column “An Accountant in Adland” — exploring where, when and how the two ‘disciplines’ overlap… and why they should! — to

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