Q5: Winning as working moms, with Alisha Ramasar [interview]
by Carey Finn (@carey_finn) Alisha Ramasar (@mrs_alisha), co-director of Joburg-based brand and marketing consultancy, Hello A-list, speaks about running a company focused on empowering the youth while raising children herself. Both she and co-founder Almaza da Costa are #mombosses, and their agency positioning is “a special-empowered-women-ocd-kinda-brand-love”.
Founded in 2016 as A-list Communications, it rebranded to Hello Alist in 2019 as it moved more into full-service offerings and not just communications.
Q5: Tell us about the roots of Hello A-list — where did it begin? And what’s the OCD part of the tag line?
Alisha Ramasar: Hello A-list was a dream realised when Almaza and I decided that we’d had enough of inefficiencies and red tape against exorbitant fees that didn’t justify the quality of work being produced, nor the quantity being executed. We both have significant retail marketing experience, and I had many years in agency strategy prior, so when we sat down one day and I asked Almaza why we couldn’t do it ourselves; it was the defining moment in this story.
We agreed to take a leap of faith. After all sorts of life lessons achieved at the wise and wonderful age of 30, we had a pretty clear grounding in the reality that life is too short not to try. So, we risked our reliable income, some pretty fancy marketing titles and, without thinking about it for more than five minutes, decided to launch an agency and quit our stable jobs. We had the name in the bag before we knew exactly what we were going to do.
We launched A-list and resigned from our corporate roles within two months. The first year was rough: we, like most entrepreneurs, had a phenomenal learning curve. But, as the saying goes, when you are about to hit rock-bottom, something miraculous happens — and that’s exactly what happened to us. After working on a very ad-hoc basis, pushing through with cold-calling, trying to promote ourselves with almost no case studies to show, we were asked to come back to the corporate we left and pitch as the agency for at least 10 loved global brands. We pitched against other agencies and we won. That was really the beginning of Hello A-list.
The OCD in our brand DNA is really innate, and we embrace it as a very special and unique offering that both Almaza and I have. It [allows] us to be agile enough to offer clients exactly what they need — the first time, and with love. Sure, the fact that we are two females, pushing through in a world where ad agencies are still dominated by male leaders — yes, sometimes it’s challenging. But, as mothers and women, we have something special to offer brands that we believe is getting lost as time goes on, and as agency-client relationships are tested with the question: “Why do we have an agency?”
We make branding human by offering brands the love they deserve. It’s less about the money, less about the fancy names — it’s about getting the job done, and getting it done with love.
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Q5: Name the top three highlights for the agency to date?
AR: 1) Definitely winning our first big pitch. That was when we won the speciality business for Edcon, which included all the international fashion brands from Topshop, River Island, Dune London, Dr Martens, Calvin Klein, Lipsy, TM Lewin and many others, through to CNA, Edgars Active and Cellular.
2) Winning our first Bronze Cannes International Lion award.
3) Without a doubt, a constant highlight is having the most amazing teams working at A-list. We have honestly been blessed with the best. Regardless if they have left and moved on or stuck through, once you are part of A-list, you are part of our family. They all know they can always come to us.
Q5: Tell us about the work you do with young graduates?
AR: Our office is very close to Boston Media House. So, one day, when we were looking for an intern, we literally stopped the car and walked in and asked for someone who could help us — and that was one of the best decisions we ever made. The school is phenomenal, and we have consistently been amazed at the level of determined, smart, courageous young people we have to dominate the future of advertising. However, the challenge for [many] of these students is that they either can’t afford to complete their studies, or they aren’t being given a chance to gain experience. We have on multiple occasions hired on the spot. That’s how amazing they are!
We since have structured our business to be focused on upskilling students and growing young talent in the industry. Once they have experienced a three-month internship, we then move them to an account-assistant role in a space that together we have identified as their passion zone. From event[s] to public relations, social media, graphic design and videography — we give everyone a chance to see each side of our business offering and work with them to train and motivate their strengths above all.
Q5: What is your covid-19 response strategy?
AR: It’s tough at the moment for everyone. Brands are stopping all marketing outputs. They are downsizing teams. It’s not an easy time. However, our view on the situation is to push through, be dynamic in your offering and look for ways to fill the gap. One thing we have done is convert our website to an ecommerce platform for basic agency outputs. This is a time when marketing teams need to rally together and get the job done — sometimes without the luxury of a retainer agency on hand. That’s where we come in with smart deliverables and quick execution.
Q5: Finally, what’s something that working parents in this industry wish everyone else knew?
AR: You know, it’s one thing being a working parent; tt’s another being a working mom in this industry. We often get called into evening presentations and meetings that [go on] way past regular office hours — often a lot longer than they need to in the first place. All of which will knowingly end up with the infamous “drinks”, which doesn’t make sense when you’re a mom in this industry. Especially a mom who needs to get home, prepare dinner, get the kids sorted, bath time, bed time and still prep for the next day’s activities at work and for everyone at home. Not much else to do except apologise and excuse yourself early, right?
As glamorous as it may look from the outside, it’s an extremely cutthroat industry with a lot of amazing talent [who] just don’t get the chance to shine when they are overshadowed by “the big guys”. It’s a daily hustle of being something to everyone, and being everything to everyone.
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Carey Finn (@carey_finn) is a writer and editor with over 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 regular column “Q5” hones in on strategic insights, analysis and data through punchy interviews with inspiring professionals in diverse fields.
This MarkLives #CoronavirusSA special section contains coverage of how the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and its resultant disease, covid-19, is affecting the advertising, marketing and related industries in South Africa and other parts of Africa, and how we are responding. Updates may be sent to us via our contact form or the email address published on our Contact Us page. Opinion pieces/guest columns must be exclusive.