by Veli Ngubane (@TheNduna) Jay Badza (@jaybadza47; IG: @jaybadza) represents the future of the communications industry: young, intelligent, brave and ambitious. From Dobsonville, Soweto, he is the founder of Orchard on 25, a Johannesburg-based boutique marketing and communication agency. We trace his career and entrepreneurial journey and, with much achieved, we get the feeling that it’s just the beginning.

Jay Badza seated with framed magazine cover on wall
Jay Badza. Supplied.

Veli Ngubane: Tell us more about yourself: where did you grow up and what did you want to be when you were growing up?
Jay Badza: Growing up, I was fascinated by the medium of television. I remember, in my late teenage years in Dobsonville, Soweto, I would take these long walks to just escape from my reality by creating this exciting fictious world I wanted to live in. This was inspired by consuming television programmes such as The Oprah Winfrey Show or Generations, where stereotypes were being shattered every single day. So, I naturally wanted to be a writer, producer and director.

VN: Please share your journey with us: where did all begin and tell us about how you got into entrepreneurship?
I got into the brand marketing communication space when I was accepted for an internship at Meropa Communications. I think I have the 2010 FIFA World Cup to thank for my career, because I was one of the lucky few who benefited from opportunities presented by the world cup between 2006 and 2010. It was an exciting time to work in marketing and brands were constantly looking at ways to leverage off this big event, and I was fortunate enough to be at the right place at the right time.

I then went on to work for some of the top agencies in the country, including Jenni Newman PR and DNA Brand Architects, which is where my entrepreneurial nature was shaped, and then four years ago I decided to take a leap of faith and started Orchard On 25.

VN: Tell us what you do and what does a typical day look like for you?
Orchard On 25 is a boutique brand marketing communications agency and we receive all types of briefs because we have built a reputation for solving problems for brands. A typical day under normal circumstances includes tackling all sorts of briefs and brand challenges, identifying opportunities for clients, looking for new business, inspiring and motivating the team, and a whole lot of business admin which the world never gets to see.

However, our industry — just like most globally, has been affected by the covid-19 [disease, caused by the novel coronavirus] and we have been spending a lot of our time reworking our communications strategies so they adhere to the new government guidelines or to ensure that they are relevant to the consumer, whose normal routine has been affected by the lockdown. We have also relied heavily on events and activations to reach the consumer but, at the moment, a lot of the work has had to move to digital platforms as a lot of consumers are increasingly spending more time on digital platforms.

VN: Tell us more about the future plans of your company, Orchard On 25; what do the next five years look like?
We are a bunch of young problem-solvers who are obsessed with taking brands to greater heights and our plan is to take the Orchard On 25 brand across the African continent and execute in different territories while opening up new markets for our clients. We have also been working on growing our digital offering and we hope that, [in] the next few years, we will be able to provide a full-service offering which includes digital, because that is where the industry has evolved to.

We have also learnt to adapt our plans with agility — as the world continues to evolve at such a fast rate, so has our offering. I mean, last year, it was unthinkable that the world would go into a partial shutdown due to the coronavirus but, today, we find ourselves in a situation which requires us to change our thinking in order to deliver strategies which are relevant [for] how the world is operating. So, we are also learning that you can’t plan too far ahead due to the constant change of the environment we operate in.

VN: What are the key things you’ve learnt in your business journey that you wish you had known when you started the business?
I was fortunate enough to have worked in another startup before Orchard On 25 and I got the opportunity to learn a lot about the world of business at my previous agency. However, nothing really prepares you for how tough and lonely business is. So, I wish I had learnt very early that I would have to have lots of conversations with myself because sometimes people don’t really understand some of the tricky things one has to do to navigate this world of business.

VN: What is your business and creative philosophy?
I think the one thing that drives the business and agency philosophy is that whatever work we put out should create thought-provoking conversations. As marketing professionals, we have the opportunity to influence consumers, so our work should drive them to engage with our brands and ultimately fall in love with them.

VN: What are some lessons you can share with female business owners and lessons you’ve learnt in your journey?
One of the biggest lessons I have learnt is that starting a business should never be an emotional decision; there has to be a lot of planning that goes into starting because it is going to get tough and one cannot create if they have bread-and-butter issues to deal with. So, those who are starting a business must be aware that they have to give so much of themselves to the vision and it will be tough and lonely, so please make sure that you plan and save for any eventualities that might arise.

I have also learnt about the importance of having a great reputation in your industry; a lot of our clients are referred by people who know our work, or they have worked with me in the past, so maintaining great relationships is very important in our small industry.

VN: Why do you think the communications industry is struggling to transform and what do you think should be done to fast-track transformation?
I think transformation needs to be driven from the bottom up; there are so many brand managers and marketing managers who sit in positions of power who do not use their power to create opportunities for women, young people or any other previously disadvantaged communities. Each and every one of us has some level of power we wield and, if we started by transforming the bottom, we [would] create such a great funnel which will influence the top. A lot of people just go to work and don’t realise that theirs is a much bigger responsibility than just writing a brief or critiquing work, because transformation is also about building capabilities for the small guys, so that they, too, can sit at the table.

VN: What advice would you give someone completing their high-school education this year and looking to follow a career in the PR or creative industry?
I would tell young people to go for it — the world has changed and is slowly becoming automated but creativity is one space machines are not going to replace human beings —it is an exciting time to be a creative, so go for it.

VN: What do you feel is missing in the PR industry today and what should the future look like in South Africa and the rest of the continent?
I think a lot of people do not understand that solutions can come from anywhere, so PR is often treated as the poor step-cousin of the marketing world and an afterthought on most briefs, and yet PR in today’s world is probably one of the most-influential arms of the marketing mix. So, our industry needs to stop thinking in traditional boxes and stop limiting the power of PR because we have the power to lead campaigns and increasingly change sentiments.

I also think that the time we find ourselves in require brands to evolve their strategies and build meaningful and powerful relationships with consumers by telling authentic and uplifting stories. Right now, during the covid-19 lockdown, a lot of brands have decided to shy away from communicating, and yet consumers are desperate for good news. Great brands should be able to use this period to build relationships with consumers, so that they are top of mind when our world goes back to normal. Completely disappearing makes them look like they only communicate when they want to sell but, right now, consumers are looking for reassurance and hope, and great brands like Castle Lager have seized this opportunity and they are receiving lots of love [Full disclosure: Badza does work on Castle Lager and has done work for Castle Milk Stout in the past].

Or [look at] how South African Tourism [has] created a brand campaign which [is] so insightful, appropriate and deliver[s] a powerful call-to-action around lockdown, and [has] sealed it off with a positive message on what we should be doing once we get covid-19 under control. Consumers [have] resonated with that message and it really [has] made each and every one of us appreciate the liberties and beauty we sometimes take for granted. This, for me, [is] one example of how brands show up and demonstrate to consumers that we are in this together.

VN: What legacy do you want to leave when you retire from the industry?
I am a people’s person, so I want my legacy to have been that of an entrepreneur who created the best place to work at. Founders are often very complicated individuals with a history of tyranny and abuse and, for me, success is creating a place of work which gives people dignity and a decent living.

VN: If you had a superpower, what would you want it to be?
To be honest, I feel like I am living my superpower life because, 15 years ago, it was not even possible for me to be where I am and, each time I switch off our office at the end of a long day, I am amazed at what we have managed to build in less than four years. However, if I wasn’t doing this, I would like to be paid to be an executive producer of the biggest award shows on the continent.

VN: Tell us something about yourself not generally known?
That I am loner — when you work in PR and marketing people always think you are this outgoing person but I actually prefer being alone at home, cooking or tucked away reading a book or watching TV. So, working from home during this lockdown period has given me the opportunity to do all the things I also enjoy privately while at the same time delivering great work for clients

VN: What exciting projects are you working on at the moment?
At the moment we have one of the most-exciting briefs from Johnnie Walker which involves making whiskey cool again — I love this brief, not because I am a whiskey lover but because it’s an opportunity to reshape and redefine a category. So, we have been rolling out some of the most-fun campaigns in the last year, introducing the brand to coolness and changing consumer perceptions.

We are also working on such a powerful and exciting campaign with Nestlé Nespray, where we are making mathematics fun again for learners. This campaign is about connecting with learners and instilling the habit of using maths to solve every day challenges.

VN: Brag a bit, tell us about your awards, brands you’ve worked on… don’t be shy, tell us!
I think I have quite a few pieces of work that I hold very dear to my heart:

  • A few years ago, I was awarded the Simon Cowell Award for creativity for a Vodacom campaign we executed for their Nxt Lvl Offering and that campaign really demonstrated how PR could be a big recruiter for signups onto the platform, and I was very proud of the execution
  • We also worked on the Castle Milk Stout Campaign called “Get It Back”[#GetItBack] and it was about [the] embracing of African identity in today’s world and what it means for the consumer living in modern South Africa. The Clan Praise Cans moved the product off the shelf and was nominated and won quite a lot of awards.
  • We also received the Blue Stone Global Award by the Ciroc Global Team for best practice and best campaigns with our Ciroc and Moschino collaboration
  • Recently, we got to launch Tanqueray’s Flor De Sevilla, which was also one campaign that has been on everyone’s lips since our execution.

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Veli NgubaneVeli 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.

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