Bongani Gosa on CNBC Africa

Bongani Gosa on CNBC Africa

Disruption In The Advertising Space

Man: Strong, black, and bitter sweet. BWD is ruffling feathers in the advertising space by highlighting the lack of transformation in the sector. Founded in 2006 by Bongani Gosa, the company is attracting blue chip clients and already paying it forward through the Each One Teach One Foundation. Gugulethu Cele sat down with Bongani to discuss how disruption can be a change agent.

Gugulethu Cele: Talking about the theme of disruptive and disruption, you yourself are a young black man, moved into the advertising agency, and established an institution at a time when it wasn’t exactly easy to do so as a black individual. That’s clearly a step into a disruptive system shaking up things in the advertising industry.

Bongani: No, definitely, I can say it’s a bit of a disruptive thing that we did. Although it took us about 11 years to get to where we are, because we started initially in 2006 mainly as a web design company, then evolved into a digital agency, then ultimately to where we are now, where we are a 360 degrees agency.

Gugulethu Cele: But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the journey’s been easy. Just recently you were head above board that some of your competitors took you to the Advertising Standards Authority for…where you expressed, you know, that your entity’s 100% black owned.

Bongani: Yeah, the billboard, I suppose just also…the…when we created the billboard, the idea was to get people talking because [inaudible 00:01:40] says that good advertising starts a conversation. So our billboard says we’re 100% black owned and something up, [inaudible 00:01:48] at 100% was pretty much intended for that, to just start a conversation in the industry, get people talking. And then, also, just ignite that consciousness, black consciousness within black people that is there, yeah.

Gugulethu Cele: That obviously speaks to the theme regarding transformation, as well as disruptive thinking and disruptive advertising. But talk to us about the marketing environment where you can’t just put up a billboard anymore but there needs to be a disruptive element to the communication of your message and how you achieve that.

Bongani: As far as we achieve that, it’s just mainly using a bit of research and a bit of creative thinking. And then, like I’m saying, our approach is to just start a conversation when we do our marketing, so that that way then our marketing lives slightly longer than what we can pay for.

Gugulethu Cele: Is it easy, though? Is that kind of disruptive thinking available in the market?

Bongani: I would be lying if I say it’s easy, because it requires a lot of thinking and it takes a bit of time to come up with a good concept that just works. Yeah, so it’s not easy at all.

Interviewer: Something else that’s quite disruptive, especially in your fraternity and your background, is your step into entrepreneurship. And of course, that’s quite difficult to do, especially when you don’t have a solid support structure around you. How have you managed to navigate the environment, bearing in mind that you also have some co-founders who work with you at BWD?

Bongani: The entrepreneurship part has been a little bit of, I suppose like any other entrepreneur would say, it is a bit of a challenge, because what I did is that I started around when I was 16 years old. I was just mainly selling, so during school holidays I would sell cow dung to the…

Gugulethu Cele: Oh so you used to that culture of being an entrepreneur?

Bongani: I started a little bit early. So 16 years I started selling cow dung in the community, it’s like manure type of thing. So that’s where I learned my sales skills, and then went to school, started IT. After IT, started the digital agency. So then I took those sales skills, implemented them when I was selling, like the digital services that we’re doing.

And then pretty much got to where we are now, which is about 11 years later, but I’ve always felt that should I have had, even though I’ve started, say at 16 years old, should I have had a mentor earlier into my career I would have grown faster and quicker. Because then the mentor would have pretty much fast tracked my growth.

So I suppose that’s why I started the initiative called Each One Teach One, where what we pretty much do is that we find people that need mentorship and then we match them up with mentors. Sometimes I’m the mentor myself. But if someone is in the construction industry for human’s sake I can’t really give that person useful advice, then I would match them up with someone that’s in the construction industry so that they grow faster.

Gugulethu Cele: You mentioned something so critical there regarding mentorship, because sometimes it takes a nudge in the right direction and some guidance for people to actually fast track their development. But what does it also teaches us about our networks? So often we hear that your network is your net worth. Has that proven to be true in your entrepreneurial journey?

Bongani: It has to some extent, but I suppose it’s pretty much the entrepreneurs thinking or approach. So you need to put yourself out there, you need to go to these networking events. If you have, like, a rich uncle you must visit them more often. No, it’s honestly that simple. Because hopefully then you’ll meet someone that can help you, stuff like that. So your network is pretty much still very important to your growth as an entrepreneur.

Gugulethu Cele: Coming back to today’s business context in South Africa, where we’re faced with all these macro-economic challenges, political uncertainty, how best do you see young entrepreneurs developing that mindset of disruption in the sector that they look to and step into? What do they need to do right in order to be true disruptors like you have been?

Bongani: I’d say that the process pretty much starts with us entrepreneurs that have been there. We need to preach that message of entrepreneurship. We need to preach that message of changing the status quo, preach that message of disruption so that they see it as normal. Because the issues that…because of our economic situation, where we come from as black people, we usually in a rush to catch up.

So entrepreneurship is not necessarily the quickest way to catch up, quickest way to go to school, get a nice degree, get a nice job and then be comfortable. But if we preach entrepreneurship as also an alternative then we will get more and more entrepreneurs coming in.

Gugulethu Cele: At the same time [inaudible 00:06:28], we all wanna achieve those levels of success. There’s also an element of discipline that needs to come in there.

Bongani: No, no, discipline is definitely key, because without discipline you can’t really achieve anything, to also succeed as an entrepreneur or to achieve whatever objectives that you need to, that you want to achieve. You need to be disciplined enough to work on your craft.

So if you’re a designer, you need to spend “x” amount of time per day just making sure that you’re refining how you design. If you’re a copywriter…exactly. So you need some kind of discipline for you to succeed. Without discipline, you can’t be an expert. So or it will take you twice or three or five times longer to become excellent at whatever you want to do.

Gugulethu Cele: To tie this back to our initial conversation about being a leading, black owned advertising agency with a very bold statement that you’ve made regarding your billboard in advertising for your own entity. It almost seems that, though, there’s a tight rope, right, being disciplined, but at the same time being bold enough to get your message across and being keen and willing to take any of the criticism, positive or negative, that might come about with it.

Bongani: Discipline, I suppose it’s something that I’ve practiced over the years, or I suppose maybe I do it even unaware that I’m doing it because I’ve been doing it for, like, 11 years now. So, but I can say that to get to where we are now discipline has been very important with regards to pretty much what we do and how we do things, yeah.

Gugulethu Cele: Very necessary.

Bongani: Yeah, because we must also remember that the industry is not as welcoming to black owned, black run agencies. So we’ve also took it upon ourselves to kind of educate our clients about our issues as black owned, black run agencies so that they know our struggles.

Because remember white agencies and black agencies have totally different problems. The MAC charter, which is the marketing advertising and the communications charter, which was done last year, it pretty much addresses the complications of white agencies, but black agencies are left out. So I suppose…

Gugulethu Cele: How so? What are some of the typical challenges there?

Bongani: It would be transformation maybe. So transformation will be stuff like ownership of the agency. We don’t have, as black agents, we don’t have ownership problems because we’re already 100% black, and staff training, maybe training black staff and stuff like that. We already have, the bulk of our stuff is already black.

So the challenges that are listed in the MAC charter don’t necessarily talk to us, they talk to white owned agents. So I suppose it’s then up to us as black owned agencies to educate our clients and say, “Hey, we’re here.”

Interviewer: Exactly. To do that, we’ve already surpassed some of those challenges.

Bongani: A hundred percent.

Gugulethu Cele: Very briefly, though, stealing an extra minute, I want to get your view as to how you look to disrupt going further, as Bongani, in your personal capacity, as well as of the founder of BWD. Especially in such a changing landscape, where from a marketing and advertising perspective, it’s no longer just about billboards and magazines, but social media, as well, and using influences. How do you look towards disrupt and continue on the path that you’re on going forward?

Bongani: I suppose it’s pretty much our slogan. So our approach to disruption is pretty much, “We grow when you grow.” So we help our clients grow, in the process we help us to grow. So that’s pretty much our approach to how we approach disruptions with regards to either digital advertising, PR, and pretty much anything that we do. We just think of how can we help our client grow faster, quicker, and at the lowest possible amount of budgets, yeah. So that’s our approach to disruption.