by Veli Ngubane (@TheNduna) This Youth Month, Lameez Mohd from Ogilvy PR Cape Town unpacks this changing world as we talk about covid-19, transformation, #BlackLivesMatter and the role of women in today’s landscape. This Cape Town-born and -raised powerhouse has global ambitions — talking to her, you understand that it’s just a matter of time until she achieves all she’s planned for her career.
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Veli Ngubane: Tell us more about yourself: where did you grow up and what did you want to be when you were growing up and how did you get into the industry?
Lameez Mohd: I am born and bred in Cape Town. I’ve lived in both the northern and southern suburbs. I went through school with no set career path in mind, but both my parents were in finance and it seemed like one of the more-obvious choices for me. However, through lots of research and the opportunity to job-shadow two PR and marketing professionals, it was clear that the PR profession was the perfect fit for me.
VN: The #BlackLivesMatter movement has increased the need by brands to tackle race issues and take a stance against racism. How do you think this affects brands in South Africa and how should they react to this global movement?
LM: In my opinion, brands, both locally and internationally, have been trying to claw and scratch their way into the BLM movement, ever fearful that if they fail to do so they might not be as relevant and “part of the conversation” as they hope to be. In this sudden urgency to get involved in the conversation, it is often unclear what some brands intensions are, and their responses can often come across as disingenuous.
I think that brands should react with definitive action because real impact comes when words are backed by real actions while simultaneously staying true to the brand’s essence. The challenge for the marketing and PR teams communicating on the brand’s behalf is to balance the natural corporate instinct to avoid risk, the basic rules of effective brand behaviour and genuinely remaining on the pulse of social issues. If this is done effectively, brands can avoid woke-washing and alienating their consumers by superficially aligning themselves with movements, such as the BLM movement, while continuing to practice these very issues behind the scenes through various inequalities.
Brands need to take a stance and be unapologetically anti-racist and, most crucially, brands need to commit to changes. They need to discuss what they plan to do differently in order to be more effective in the fight against racism. And we, as employees and consumers, need to use the corporate statements and conversations that emerge in these moments to push brands to do better. It is up to us to put pressure on brands to follow through on their commitments even when they think nobody is looking.
VN: We are in Youth Month — what does this mean to you as a young person and how this month should be celebrated?
LM: I am always amazed by how much power our youth have to impact tangible change and to make a difference in society. Seeing our youth taking ownership in their unique spaces challenges me to learn more and do more by observing them. It makes me so proud to be grouped with young individuals who have contributed to socioeconomic and political developments in this ever-evolving society through taking up space in their fields and having tough conversations. In my daily role, I strive to leave a positive impact on others by making a difference to my team and the profession through holding myself accountable every day and constantly imparting knowledge through mentoring the youth within Ogilvy SA.
VN: Another social issue that’s in the spotlight is that of the oppression and the systematic disempowerment of women: how can agencies contribute to changing this in the workplace?
LM: It is hard to deny that, for many women in advertising, it’s still a ‘Mad Men’ world. I believe that, at a fundamental level, these issues can only be addressed through representation. Fortunately, I work at an agency which other agencies can learn from when addressing these injustices. Ogilvy celebrates and acknowledges women in leadership roles across Ogilvy South Africa and that representation contributes greatly to the change that is needed.
VN: Tell us more about your future plans; what do the next five years look like?
LM: I am constantly trying to evolve and strive to leave my mark on the world. I see myself growing within the broader Ogilvy Group and impacting the business both locally and globally.
VN: What advice would you give a young female of colour entering the communications industry?
LM: Make your mark immediately through networking and a curious mind. Recognise that what you offer is unique and bring that element to work every day. Upskill. Learn everything you can and write everything down. It is also very important to build a strong work squad, internally and externally. Networking is all about expanding your contacts, and also gaining trustworthy colleagues who can represent you well. My biggest advice would be, if you feel that the company isn’t proactively working toward diversifying their leadership, or ignoring your professional development and wellbeing, it’s okay to move on. Don’t be afraid to find a table that has a seat for you.
VN: What would you say are the traits and skills that make you the best at what you do?
LM: I strive for the best quality outputs for my clients, which means that I push my entire team to strive for the same. I strongly believe in always keeping abreast of any developments in the industry, both locally and globally. This provides the upper hand in dealing with any client requests or changing industry norms. I believe in learning new skills and being easily adaptable, which directly impacts the work my team and I produce. I am resilient and calm in all situations, which allows me to make the best decisions for both the client and the business.
VN: What are some of the lessons you have learnt about the industry and yourself during these times of lockdown and covid-19?
LM: Be pro-active and crisis-ready. For too long, brands have thrived on a cycle of panic and reckless conduct. Most clients are likely facing increased challenges as well. Many are trying to navigate an uncertain, chaotic marketing landscape, where pushing a message may not be appropriate. For most, their customers are turning to them for guidance. It’s our job to support our clients, regardless of circumstance. Consider being flexible to allow for changes to clients’ schedule and seek out atypical ways to help them through this challenging period. Mental health matters — for many of us adapting to this new work environment, time seems to stretch without the usual social releases. It’s vital to keep a clear mind and stay connected with colleagues, not just from a professional standpoint, but also from a personal one. Adjust to a new normal — one key lesson that I’ve learnt is that the work doesn’t stop. I am finding that I am just as productive (if not more) while working remotely. It’s vital to recognise the situation for what it is: an uncertain time of crisis. Adapt your strategies and activities to meet client demands, as well as your personal work style and remember to maintain mental and physical health.
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?
LM: I don’t believe anything specific is missing; however, I’d like to see PR work being celebrated and awarded on the same level as all advertising work. I believe the future of our industry across South Africa and the rest of the continent needs to be more integrated. Utilise brands across countries and build strong stories uniting nations.
VN: Tell us something about yourself not generally known?
LM: As much as my chosen career path is PR, I’m a reserved person who does not enjoy the spotlight.
VN: What exciting projects are you working on at the moment?
LM: I hate that I can’t name drop but here’s a summary: various relaunches across a few Unilever brands in SA, Kenya and Nigeria; pro-active local Turkish Airlines campaign in SA in light of covid-19; [and a] variety [of] of integrated campaigns with existing clients.
VN: Brag a bit, tell us about your awards, brands you’ve worked on… don’t be shy, tell us.
LM: Here are a few of my most recent achievements from the past year:
- Most recently, I won the [Prism] Best PR Professional [Individual] award in SA
- Also very proud to have won a Silver Prism Award for a Turkish Airlines pro-active campaign, rescuing four abused circus lions from the Ukraine to SA
- Turkish Airlines has adopted my local SA influencer strategy across Europe, Middle East and Nigeria
- We successfully led the local laundry brand, Skip, to create a bold, visually led social media, influencer and PR campaign
- Rape Crisis — earlier this year I worked on the Rape Page newspaper print ad campaign — it’s also been announced as a One Show 2020 finalist
- I am one of Ogilvy’s selected mentors and mentored our now Miss Universe, Zozibini Tunzi [who interned as an undergraduate at Ogilvy Cape Town — ed-at-large]
Some of the brands I’ve worked on: Rape Crisis, Turkish Airlines, Smartwater, Appletiser, Skip, Comfort, Day2, Omo, Sunlight, Woolworths, Revlon, Yardley [and] Mitchum.
Veli 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 MarkLives.com column, “Young, Gifted & Killing It”, he profiles award-winning, kick-ass black creative talent in South Africa.
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