Give black ad agen­cies a level play­ing pitch

Sunday Times - - Opinion - BONGANI GOSA

Iwas re­cently asked why black-owned ad agen­cies are so of­ten ex­cluded from re­quests for pro­pos­als (RFPs). It may add value to share some of th­ese rea­sons pub­licly, to help buy­ers un­der­stand the chal­lenges we face.

It is im­por­tant to con­sider the con­text: ac­cord­ing to the

2016 Nielsen AdEx sur­vey, to­tal ad­ver­tis­ing spend in SA was about R42bn. Less than

1% of this was spent on all the black-owned agen­cies com­bined. Black-owned agen­cies are com­pet­ing only for the smaller pro­jects and are not given op­por­tu­ni­ties to pitch for the big, well-pay­ing jobs.

The depart­ment of trade & in­dus­try re­cently had to in­tro­duce a mar­ket­ing, ad­ver­tis­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tion char­ter to com­pel the in­dus­try to trans­form, which is sad, con­sid­er­ing our “new” democ­racy is al­ready 24 years old. For ex­am­ple, a few months ago, JSE-listed MMI Hold­ings ap­pointed three new ad­ver­tis­ing agen­cies, none of which was black-owned. When we con­tacted them to raise our con­cerns they sim­ply dis­missed them, with no com­mit­ment to change their ways. Our con­ver­sa­tion with their group head of com­mu­ni­ca­tions is on record.

The most com­mon ex­cuse for slow trans­for­ma­tion is that black-owned agen­cies lack ca­pac­ity. How­ever, not even the likes of Ogilvy & Mather SA or FCB Africa would have suf­fi­cient ca­pac­ity to ser­vice an ac­count such as FNB, if they won it right now. To do so, they would have to im­me­di­ately hire more staff. The rea­son is that it makes no busi­ness or fi­nan­cial sense to sus­tain unutilised re­sources.

Pitch­ing for ten­ders and large pro­jects is also extremely costly. We are ex­pected to present cam­paign ideas with an aver­age of three con­cepts, with­out be­ing paid for them, just to be con­sid­ered. In many in­stances our ideas are used later, though we are not awarded the work, which can be per­ceived as ex­ploita­tion. No con­struc­tion com­pany will build a house for you be­fore you have agreed to pay for it. Best prac­tice de­ter­mines that agen­cies should be judged by their cre­den­tials and by cri­te­ria such as rel­e­vant ex­pe­ri­ence, case stud­ies and a project plan. Con­sid­er­ing our his­tory, re­quire­ments such as 20 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence and turnover of R50m are un­re­al­is­tic and un­ac­cept­able.

I quote the owner of an­other well-re­spected black-owned agency, who prefers to re­main anony­mous:

“One of the big­gest gate­keep­ers to the lack of trans­for­ma­tion is pitch con­sul­tants. They are the ones who de­ter­mine who gets in­vited to sub­mit pro­pos­als.

They use a scor­ing sheet …

Even if a client specif­i­cally re­quested a black-owned agency, it is of­ten blocked by pitch con­sul­tants’ scor­ing cal­cu­la­tions … Should a client in­sist on us­ing a black-owned agency, it might be per­ceived as not fol­low­ing due dili­gence.”

Most RFPs re­quire sub­stan­tial free cre­ative el­e­ments, which again come at a no­table cost. We have to utilise our re­sources at the ex­pense of other, pay­ing, jobs to stand a chance of win­ning an­other, higher-pay­ing job. It re­cently cost us about R150,000 to com­pile one pre­sen­ta­tion for a big pitch — in­clud­ing se­nior re­sources and three weeks of work — and then we did not get the job. We there­fore have to pitch se­lec­tively and sub­ject to avail­able re­sources. Big­ger agen­cies do not have such lim­i­ta­tions.

To cre­ate an award-win­ning cam­paign is ex­pen­sive and re­quires sub­stan­tial en­try fees. Typ­i­cally, smaller agen­cies would rather utilise their bud­gets on busi­ness de­vel­op­ment. Again, look­ing at the AdEx base­line of ad spend with black­owned agen­cies, it im­plies that only a hand­ful of black-owned agen­cies en­ter be­cause they get a dis­pro­por­tion­ate share of the avail­able work.

We ac­knowl­edge that black-owned agen­cies must see things from a client’s per­spec­tive. We can­not as­sume that we are au­to­mat­i­cally en­ti­tled to get busi­ness. We must have proven ca­pa­bil­ity and a solid track record.

We are not ask­ing com­pa­nies to give us work just be­cause we are black. We are sim­ply ask­ing for an equal chance — and ac­knowl­edge­ment that there are in­deed black-owned and op­er­ated agen­cies that are able to play in the same space as the big­ger agen­cies.

We are not ask­ing com­pa­nies to give us work just be­cause we are black

Gosa is the founder and cre­ative di­rec­tor of BWD Ad­ver­tis­ing

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