Fatima Ouanssaidi (38) is a well-travelled TV producer, as well as co-owner and CEO of bespoke communications agency OnPoint PR, which was recently announced as the PR firm for Jo’burg’s Global Citizen Festival in December, featuring Beyoncé, Oprah Winfre
You were born in the UK to a Moroccan family. How did you originally find yourself in Jo’burg? I was born two years after my parents moved to London. When I finished school, I did a law degree at Bristol University. After obtaining my LLB, I did a Legal Practice Course in order to become a solicitor, but never actually worked as a lawyer. Instead, I joined the Communications Division of a nutraceutical company in London. After a few years there, I travelled for a year in Brazil, came back and started working for an NGO in Washington DC, USA. While there, I started experimenting with film productions with my friends. We did just our own personal projects, but it led to a job offer from an American entertainment company, Bounceback Media, to help produce a South African music show called O-Access. I thought: “Why not?” That’s what brought me to Jo’burg. We set up a mobile office here, but we were filming all over the world for Channel O. I travelled to Japan, Australia, Los Angeles – the works. I later worked on Nonhle Goes to Hollywood and Harambe.
Where did you see yourself living? I always aimed to live an international life, commuting between all the different continents in the world. Ultimately, though, I knew I wanted to live in Africa and I think SA was the first opportunity I got in terms of real base.
How did OnPoint begin? Vista Kalipa and I, as well as a third partner – who’s since left the business – set up OnPoint in 2010 because we saw an interesting gap in the market for a neat little agency that did PR and communications, but also brought in the content field. Vista and I can laugh about it now, but there was a time when we had to send each other airtime! When we started the agency, we had a little business plan, but no funding. We didn’t have an office either, nor an income for the first seven months. I was living off my savings and we were helping each other. We’d work on projects and people thought we were a big, formal operation, but it was literally just the three of us. We’d hold meetings at restaurants and hotels. Today we have a staff of 12 – with real offices!
How did you begin to get leverage as an agency? Firstly, we had faith that with our skills, our global outlook and our connections, we’d be successful. However, being the official PR firm for the 2012 local leg of the Manchester United World Tour was also huge for us, as it gave us a local and international platform.
Nedbank was our first financial services client. We pitched a small project and ended up with a four-year account, including the Nedbank Cup. We managed to tell a different brand story with that. Another essential part of our offering is that we have a team who comes up with radical, innovative ideas. We were also working in the influencer space before there was a word for it. Our client list currently includes Unilever, Makro, Poetry and American Express. We got the local communications contract with Global Citizen through a pitch: we’re the pitch kings and queens! What I love most about working with international teams is the exchange of best practices. It’s been a great experience.
How do you keep yourselves relevant? I think the industry’s going to continue to mutate. Right now, influencers are a media channel all on their own, but that will change. What’s interesting for OnPoint is that one of our specialities is strategic input – looking at a brand and coming up with a holistic communications strategy. We’re evolving as an agency along those lines too. But we’re still small, so we don’t do everything in its entirety. We partner with other agencies because it’s very important to foster a collaborative culture in this industry. Also, many brands are open to this kind of work and to really different, interesting ideas. Slowly we’re seeing big, traditional brands implement new thinking.
Are you and Vista equal partners? Yes. He’s a Director and I’m the CEO, as I’ve taken on more of a role in growing the business. I’ve moved away a little from being a practitioner to learning to run a business. I’ve been teaching myself human resources, tax regulations and even organisational structure, which is important because when you’re used to being just two or three people, you need to create proper structures as your team grows. I’m now thinking of doing an MBA. I recently created a Strategy Division in the business that’s researching trends and best practices; I’m really interested in seeing where it goes.
Where do you see OnPoint in a year’s time? It would be lovely if our reputation as innovators continued to grow and solidify. We’re starting the OnPoint PR Academy, through which we’d like to collaborate with a tertiary institution training students in PR and marketing. What’s being taught currently is very different from what’s practically happening. We’d like to try to change what students learn about the industry.
“We partner with other agencies because it’s very important to foster a collaborative culture in this industry.”