by Carey Finn (@carey_finn) “I would love brands in South Africa to start seeing — if they don’t already — township entrepreneurs as dynamic community leaders, which they are: self-funded, self-educated, driving the economy, employing people.” The perception of business owners in townships as any less entrepreneurial to their peers elsewhere is a bugbear for Sean Press, CEO of Contact Media & Communications, the publishers of quarterly trade title, Spotong (@spotongmagazine). It’s something he hopes to change as the magazine reaches more readers — which it’s on its way to doing.
Launched in 2012, Spotong positions itself as the only exclusive township trade publication in SA. Expanding its print run from 11 500 to 15 000 copies in November 2019, the free magazine has an estimated readership of between 50 000 and 70 000, according to Press. The majority of readers are in Gauteng but the magazine is starting to reach hands in the Eastern Cape, Durban and the Free State, and he hopes to further extend its footprint. The magazine size has also been expanded to what he calls a “tabizine”, a combination of a tabloid and magazine, to make room for more content.
These changes were driven by increased demand, says Press. Spotong is currently published with three endorsing partners: the Gauteng Liquor Forum (GLF), South African Liquor Traders Association (SALTA), and the National Tourism Hospitality Association (NTHA), with interest expressed by other business associations. He is currently in negotiations with a potential fourth partner. The endorsing partners represent a number of other bodies through which the magazine is distributed to members.
The partnerships are exclusive, and each of the three core associations receives a column through which they can communicate to their members, as well as the opportunity to showcase member success stories. He says that this content takes up about 6–8 pages of the 64-page magazine, which works on a 40:24 editorial and advertising split, page-wise.
The editorial focus is three-fold, says Press: educate, inform, empower. “We aim to educate readers on best business practice, responsible trade and so on, provide information around new business products and things like point of sale, how cocktails can improve revenue if you run a bar, health and safety, etc. Through education and information, that creates empowerment — and the empowerment stories are the success stories of traders.
“What a lot of South Africa doesn’t know is that there are hundreds of thousands of township traders,” he says. “A lot of people associate township trade with just taverns and shebeens, and maybe spaza shops. But there are thriving industries in the townships — from funeral parlours to hair salons and informal traders.”
The niche that Spotong fills, he explains, is in being a trade magazine very specifically aimed at township business entrepreneurs. “Other publications may speak to these business owners from a consumer point of view but not trade,” he says. Though these business owners might not bring in millions of rands, they service millions of consumers; by the sheer numbers, it’s a very exciting market, he says.
Spotong gives brands the opportunity to speak directly to these business owners, in a format and forum they appreciate, says Press. He comments that township businesses are keenly aware of the appeal they hold to corporates but successful engagement requires a level of trust not easily attained without groundwork and giving back. This is where Spotong is strong: the magazine has built up trust with its readers through engagement and consultation from its inception, something that he highlights as a key factor in its success: “When we launched, we got the community involved. We got the business associations involved. We strategised with them; we conceptualised with them. That’s why there’s this sense of ownership that they have in the magazine.”
As a result, Spotong’s stable of advertisers is diverse, with many regulars. Among these, Press names Masscash (division of Massmart), Philip Morris International, Japan Tobacco International, Tiger Brands and Pioneer Foods. “It’s across the board, anything from alcohol brands to food brands,” he says. “Anything that’s associated with the township trade market and, more specifically, the stokvel market. Most township traders, if not all, are members of stokvels.”
Press takes pains to define Spotong as more than just a magazine. “We build platforms,” he says, “and those platforms have many touch points — print, social, digital and events.” As part of this, Spotong hosts a Township Entrepreneur Summit once a year, with the November 2019 edition in Soweto having attracted over 1 000 township traders. All suppliers at the event are sourced from the community — a decision that contributes to the success of both the event itself, and that of the trade magazine brand, he says.
Going forward into 2020, the Spotong team will be working on “some quite exciting digital properties with strategic partners,” he says. Previously, an app was attempted, but it was perceived as requiring too much data to download and flopped as a result. The team is now working on a digital offering that rewards interaction, keeping details to a minimum for the time being. A digital version of Spotong is already available online.
Carey Finn (@carey_finn) is a writer and editor with a decade and a half of industry experience, having covered everything from ethical sushi in Japan to the technicalities of roofing, agriculture, medical stuff and more. She’s also taught English and journalism, and dabbled in various other communications ventures along the way, including risk reporting. As a contributing writer to MarkLives.com, her column, “Press Pass”, is a monthly feature spotlighting media leaders and their responses to the trends and tribulations in the industry.