Value over price
Quality – and guts – pay off
UNLIKE MANY ENTREPRENEURS, Ayanda Mbanga didn’t always expect to be working for herself. “Entrepreneurship is something I’ve grown into and I’m thoroughly loving it,” she says. That may be the single most important lesson – organic growth, that is – Mbanga has learnt since starting Ayanda Mbanga Communications, widely regarded as one of South Africa’s fastest growing players in the recruitment advertising industry.
But with the media industry evolving at such a high speed, advertising agencies have developed a reputation for a high turnover of staff and clients. Client retention often depends on the ability to negotiate the best deal for everyone involved. “Not as easy as it looks,” as Mbanga likes to put it.
However, she’s quick to add “it can be done”. Indeed, while it’s true most entrepreneurs battle under the pressure of managing staff and staying motivated, Mbanga seems to have what it takes. “Pressure to lead by example makes me a better person,” she says. “If I become a slacker, everyone around me slacks. I’d like everyone who has worked at Ayanda Mbanga Communications to remember it as the best place to have worked in their career.”
She may just get her wish. Last year was a golden one for Mbanga and her team, having won the 2007 Sunday Times Grand Prix award for recruitment advertising. “Those are the Loeries of recruitment advertising,” she says proudly.
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Whatever your perspective on entrepreneurship, a risk is a risk and Mbanga’s venture into entrepreneurship took a lot of guts and grit. After qualifying with honours in journalism at Rhodes University, Mbanga joined leading advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi as a copywriter. Two years later she’d worked her way up to MD of its recruitment advertising arm and was looking for a challenge.
As it turned out, Saatchi & Saatchi saw the need to introduce an empowerment aspect to their business and looked overseas to find somebody to head the new venture. At that point Mbanga saw an opportunity in the market and took it. “There was a gap in terms of black-owned businesses in the recruitment advertising industry. This was in 1998 and black economic empowerment was still a relatively new concept. People loved the idea of supporting small black-owned businesses – especially those with women at the forefront.”
Mbanga bought a 30% stake in the business and then, armed with a couple of Saatchi clients and a lot of enthusiasm, stepped out into the world of entrepreneurship. In 1998 Ayanda Mbanga Communications was launched with four staff. Ten years later it has offices in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg, employs 34 staff and turns over in excess of R100m/year.
Now Mbanga is in line for another award, having been nominated as a finalist in the Nedbank- sponsored 2008 Businesswoman of the Year Awards next month.
She’s certainly earned her stripes in the industry, even though she wishes she’d cultivated an ability to negotiate favourable terms with suppliers or convince a tricky client to take a chance on the business before striking out on her own. Ultimately, that will decide whether your business stands or falls, she says.
Fortunately, she’s a quick learner and Ayanda Mbanga Communications is on solid ground. Its client base includes Edgars, Engen, Shoprite and Heineken. She concedes that retaining clients such as these demands an ability to negotiate with the role players and meet everyone’s needs. But her perspective is wide enough to include a cardinal rule of thumb: running a business is a constant learning curve – particularly in the highly competitive recruitment advertising industry.
Looking ahead, Mbanga says if she wants to retain her blue chip clients she will need to constantly seek ways to show the value that her business adds. She says: “Currently, there are in excess of 30 recruitment advertising companies in SA. We’re ranked in the top four of these but client retention is becoming an increasing problem due to price wars.”
Mbanga attributes much of the problem to the fact that the industry focuses more on price and less on quality of service. Her strategy? “The plan going forward is to show our clients how we can add value to their business and then actually do so.”
Constant learning curve. Ayanda Mbanga