Written July 5 2018 By Rutendo Matinyarare
It’s 12:38 midnight and I’m going through my whatsapps and inboxes of concerned friends and family who are trying to establish what is wrong with me. More importantly people want to understand what I meant by the expression: “I’m in the trenches”.
The bottomline is I am fine. I’m not sick, I’m not in a bout of depression, I’m just under the weight of an economic down-turn that has a lot to do with ever growing economic exclusion. Something I have been bemoaning for the past 4yrs in my social media blogs.
As a black Zimbabwean based in South Africa, I happen to be in a very white controlled industry: advertising, branding and marketing. The market is cut throat but to compound it, it’s racist, exclusive, full of nepotism, corrupt and work is hardly given on merit but on race, relationship, ethnicity and secret society allegiance.
However, before I proceed, I must make this disclaimer up-front: A number of Zimbabwean marketers and I are grateful to have the opportunity to ply our practice in a vibrant, albeit white dominated economy like South Africa.
This is partly due to the fact that our own third government and business community back home are simply too primitive and unappreciative of the importance of investing in marketing, communications and brand management even though they desperately need those services.
It’s no wonder Zimbabwe has been stagnant and lacking innovation in economic terms for the better part of two decades. We just don’t invest in the catalyst of business: the science of marketing.
The South African market on the other hand is far more sophisticated than the Zimbabwean market, comprising of a +$40bil marketing industry with a number of major patrons of marketing services like gvt, state owned enterprises, private sector and not-for-profit organizations.
South Africans understand the power of marketing and so as a result white South African businesses are literally recolonizing the continent’s markets with superior value propositions.
Having established ourselves in South Africa, some friends and I saw some gaps in the market and we set up an agency in 2007.
In that time we have been able to serve several of the sectors’ big players but never had the privilege of doing any business for gvt, which is a huge marketing spender. The only time we got to do gvt business was when a wholly owned South African agency outsourced us to be their technical back office on a gvt contract .
This is obviously because we were foreigners [black foreigners to be exact] and even when I broke-away from my Zimbabwean partners and got a local South African partner to take up a 51% share in my business. The partner was not adequately connected (or white enough) to the people who matter to get us into lucrative government contracts.
With no real access to the public sector, we have had to sharpen our skills and focus on private sector business.
In targeting the private sector, very few sizable black companies exist in the space, and the few that do don’t invest in marketing and branding. And when they do, they are likely to pay low rates or give their business to friends and family, irrespective of competency.
This left us with the only option of targeting white local, global businesses and their not-for-profit organizations.
With these guys their market is formidable, with enough work to sustain over 200 mid-size agencies, however, their system is hostile.
In general white companies of all sizes try not to use black agencies, no matter how talented the black agencies are. Unless their white agency has let them down, failed to meet a deadline and they need a desperate-to-prove-itself-black agency that can salvage the job on the double.
So in the white corporate space you will get ad-hoc work but you are unlikely to built loyalty or get lucrative monthly retainer contracts on the back of good work. This is because they are not interested in growing black business. To them its tantamount to building black economic, political and military competition.
On the back-drop of the mandatory national service most whites went through during apartheid, their up-bringing and group economics philosophy, whites do not make the mistake of misplacing their economic support on other races.
I have been in white companies where we did such a good job and in response the exco promoted the person who was giving us business, put in a new [white] person, never to get a call or business from that company again.
The reason for the exclusion is simple, self preservation. Firstly, whites fear black people with money because with money blacks can compete with them in hiring the best skills, buying technology, contesting their unjustly gained monopoly legally, capturing the legislature, setting up capital drivers like banks & insurance companies and more importantly they will be able to join the arms race of buying sophisticated weapons for the last resort.
Secondly, marketing, advertising and media are cognition mapping disciplines which whites use as a weapon to control the minds of the public to maintain their superiority and monopoly. For these reasons they will fight tooth and nail to keep black people out of this space or stop them from making money to buy their way into this space. It’s a survival thing.
Furthermore, such industries where resources bill for time or intellectual capital are cash-cows and profitable mints with lucrative hourly rates and returns. These are areas whites protect very jealously to prevent blacks accumulating.
The Black Executive
Another problem in the white corporate system is the few black executives in that space are some of the biggest hinderances to black agency growth. Firstly, because a number of these black executives in the white corporate marketing space, run their own or are linked to black agencies to which the little work farmed out to black agencies for BEE points, goes.
These black executives become monumental gate-keepers who see black agencies, particularly competent ones, as competition for token BEE work and they will spare no expense to starve such agencies of work, to kill competent competition. All in the while they will only send requests for pitches to white agencies, nurturing white agencies into cartels and monopolies as they also receive favors for pushing business the way of the big white agencies.
This is one of the major reasons why you see that South Africa today has so few independent black agencies in a sea of huge monopolistic US, French and British global agencies, which ironically control huge SA gvt contracts. Alongside are a smorgasbord of local boutique white agencies formed by white executives coming out of the big global monopolies. These are then sprinkled with a few connected black politicians as BEE partners and the industry is deemed complete and transformed. These are the agencies that get all the business with the stamp of being black empowered, despite the questionable credentials.
As for the government, our politicians [locally and else where on the continent] have just not understood the importance of building passionate black agencies that will become their first line of defense in the psychological war for the minds of our people that whites keep indoctrinating against nation and Africans government everyday.
They would rather invest in white agencies knowing well that these agencies are part of the white monopoly that is working against them. Or they will invest in black agencies of their relatives who lack the passion and military component of communication and marketing to defend the state from internal infiltration.
On the other hand, in the few established black governments and companies I have come across on the continent, the problem is one. They usually seek an agency only when they are in a crisis, usually negative publicity induced by white media. More often than not, they will seek a black agency when the white agency that they had on retainer for years has failed to solve the reputation crisis because the white agency is essentially billing them for time and not trying to solve their problems.
Eventually, out of desperation they get a black agency, which due to the need to prove a point, solves the negative publicity quickly, establishing a visible brand and brand equity as a defense mechanism against future attacks.
The moment the crisis is solved and the competency of the black agency has made the task look simple. Unappreciative black directors in the company begin to question the continued engagement of the black agency on a retainer. They now see the retainer being spent on the black agency as money being wasted on strangers. Something they never thought when they were sustaining a white agency that was part of the white propaganda machine that was attacking them.
Although they were defenseless sitting ducks to a circling white media during the crisis and they needed the skill of a black agency to redeem them. Now that the crisis is solved, they begin to undermine and perceive what the black agency has achieved as being easy. With that they begin to conspire the exit of the black agency that they are wasting money on so that they can get a girlfriend, wife or family member to take over PR and keep the money in the family.
There is nothing like rewarding good work, being loyal or building competent black agencies for the future with most black business people. PR and marketing is always a position they want to preserve for their wives, families and friends to keep the cash in house. This is partly why, when the VBS saga happened, they had no talented black agencies to manage the crisis for them when white media vultures came to devour VBS and its directors.
Below, the blue stand is by my agency and the other one is by a white agency that has been around for 100yrs. The stands are both for a leading international global company. One stand has been paid for and we were now being asked to help improve it. While the other [ours] hasn’t been paid for four months. People involved in decision making: Europe office and black female exec.
These my friends are the examples of the trenches, where as a black agency of people who are not politically or socially connected in Africa, we are ever struggling for loyalty. How do you assert and establish myself in such an industry that is anti-black excellence?
By Rutendo Bereza Matinyarare of Frontline Strat Marketing.