Black Agencies Show Clout

Annual brand communications spend in SA is in the region of R58bn, and Bana claims black-owned agencies get just over R1bn of that — about 2%. That needs to change and the playing field needs levelling, says the association.

Groovin Nchabeleng, Bana chair and co-founder of the Blueprint Group, emphasises that the body is not in competition with the recognised industry representative body, the Association for Communication & Advertising, but a collaborative partner.

The intention, Nchabeleng says, is to better understand why black-owned agencies are being excluded and how to increase their share of the account pie, and to start conversations with marketing heads and media buyers.

On a broader level, Nchabeleng and Bana CEO Boitumelo Mohube, founder of Mohube Media, tell the FM that despite the broad-based BEE marketing, advertising and communication sector code coming into effect in 2016, the industry is still not transforming quickly enough.

In its preamble the code says: “For such a small industry, its power to influence South Africans is disproportionate to its size, hence the need to make it a truly SA industry is imperative.”

Bana says high-profile black-owned agencies like Avatar and The Odd Number have joined the organisation along with others, including Altitude Communications & Events, BWD Advertising, Ngano Media, Ethnolab and eNitiate Integrated Solutions. Bana has also been joined by several freelance media practitioners.

Ad industry watchers will say that a similar body was established about 20 years ago and might question how this new entity differs.

Nchabeleng says that when the previous organisation was formed there were about four recognised independent black-owned agencies, and the remit at the time was more to mentor young executives and creatives and to be an emerging voice in the industry. That paradigm has now changed, he says, and business opportunity has become a driving imperative.

Mohube says Bana will also prioritise education and mentoring, as well as the  raising of the profile of black women-owned operations, which are often seen only as events specialists. She says black-owned agencies tend to be given either overflow work from more established agencies, or parastatal or government department accounts. She believes procurement departments, where agency hiring decisions are often made, are not friendly to, or supportive of, smaller agencies. Dialogue in this respect, she says, has now become a matter of urgency.

Nchabeleng says multinational brands do local agency recruitment abroad, sometimes with little understanding of local customers, market conditions and nuances.

“Our organisation can help change and influence that dynamic and [shift] a perception that bigger brands feel more comfortable with bigger agencies,” says Nchabeleng. He adds that prejudicing smaller black-owned agencies has a secondary effect on the attracting of top-level black talent who want to work on bigger and better-known brands but are denied the chance.

“Advertising is a mirror of our society, and the industry needs to reflect the communities we operate in,” he says.

Bongani Gosa, vice-chair of Bana, says a key objective will also be to help clients leverage their marketing, advertising and communications spend to support a transformation agenda, by “utilising the top resources available via this trusted forum of black-owned agencies”.

Bigger and more established ad agencies are watching this development with interest. One CEO tells the FM: “I would question whether we have been slow with transformation. I do not know of a single agency which is not committed to change; I suppose it’s a matter of perception.”

Another agency boss says he is worried that two industry representative associations could be seen as having competing industry agendas, which might be confusing.  He also says agencies are usually invited to pitch for business based on time in the market, reputation and awards won. Smaller and newer agencies, he says, might be excluded on this basis.

This piece originally appeared in the Financial Mail.