by Herman Manson (@MarkLives) Conversation LAB, the 55-person, full-service digital marketing agency with roots in Durban and London, has appointed Uyanda Manana as its new managing director. This follows a deal that also sees black shareholders take a majority (51%) stake, effective 1 August 2020.

Truly transformative

The new business structure marries black ownership and management/leadership in one, allowing it to be truly transformative, says Kevin Power, Conversation LAB group MD. Apart from Manana, other new shareholders will include Siya Ntamela, Kitty Mkhize, Kevindren Govender and Zama Mthalane.

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The appointment will see Manana manage the agency out of Johannesburg, where it is looking to set up a permanent office in Soweto. It also folds BE, a small black-owned agency managed by Manana and which counts Unilever and the University of KwaZulu-Natal among its client list, and in which Conversation LAB Holdings has been a shareholder, into Conversation LAB.

Conversation Lab opened in August 2012, while BE launched three years ago. According to Power, the deal is driven out of a belief that transformation and diversity is good for the company and its clients, as well as being the right thing to do.

Black female talent

Manana graduated from the AAA School of Advertising and interned at L’Oréal before leaving for London for eight years, where she ended up at Publicis London. She came home to work on MTN for The Jupiter Drawing Room and joined Hariz ME in Dubai, where she managed the F1 account, before stints at M&C Saatchi Abel, FCB Africa and JC Decaux before joining Conversation LAB, where she led the Godrej South Africa haircare account while also managing BE. In her new role, she’ll be driving relationships, processes, new business, new talent and culture. She’s looking for black female strategy and creative talent to take up shares in the business and to help flesh out a new leadership team.

Power says he wants the agency to be seen as progressive rather than simply a BEE 1 business, of which there are many but they tend to be network owned agencies with what he considers to be little real perceived* interest in transformation and transformative leadership.

Transformation, says Manana, should focus on access to opportunity — opening doors to black talent, giving them access to the table and the opportunity to shine. “This is an exciting and tremendous opportunity for me as a black woman,” she says. “I get to lead an incredibly talented team of people across Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg in shaping our industry into something more reflective of our multicultural society. Diversity and cultural transformation is not only about access to opportunity; it’s about acceptance too. It fosters an environment that gives people the security and room to express and accept their uniqueness. It opens up paths to creativity, making our work and processes that much richer and more human.”


She says she intends to bring more large clients onboard. The current client list includes Godrej, ADvTECH (educational brands including Crawford Schools, Vega, Varsity College and more), Environ and aQuellé.

The aim of the decision to open its Jozi office in Soweto is to give “young black people real access and exposure to an industry that has been out of reach for too long, and gives us access to the kind of raw talent we’re looking for,” says Manana. It also positions the agency in the heart of “the communities we represent and talk to”.

* Story update: 2020/08/03. Statement amended as requested by the interviewee after publication.

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Herman Manson 2017Herman Manson (@marklives) is the founder and editor of

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