Public relations and marketing companies, media services and advertising agencies are powerful vehicles for communicating messages to society. These industries are however, to this day, male-dominated. As the call for diversity commands industry conversation, we profile some of country’s top advertisers and get the low down on what it’s like being a womxn in advertising.
We glean insight and advice from the three co-founders of Think Creative Africa, a Johannesburg-based black female owned agency, executive business director Thithi Nthetha, graphic designer Ciara Moore, copywriter Lauren Bow and managing director Matsego Motsogi.
These creative individuals are making an impact on their industries and display a dynamic intersection of commercial and creative motivations, which they unpack in our interview sessions below.
Title: Executive business director at FCB Johannesburg
Educational background: BA in Information Design, the University of Pretoria
What are your earliest creative memories? Me sketching dresses during the school holidays and imagining myself as a famous fashion designer in New York. I haven’t gotten the famous fashion designer part down but I think that I have managed to find a way throughout my career to provide myself with an outlet to express my love for fashion. What are some of the misconceptions people have about the industry? That it needs to be all stress and late nights. We glamourise these things, which is why it has become the norm. I think if people respected time more; their own and the client’s time, we’d go home earlier and stress less. What is it like being a womxn in the industry? It’s like being a woman in any industry – it is challenging. You are constantly having to fight to be heard and not just seen. You constantly feel like you need to remind people that you deserve to be here. Everyday is not just about doing your job but doing the job of getting people to just let you do your job.
“I don’t think any untransformed industry can be a force for good. Until the boardrooms, corner offices and clients that sit across from us are more representative.” — Thithi
Title: Senior copywriter at Publicis Machine
Educational background: BA Honours English, Wits University
What sort of copywriter are you? You can’t write about something if you don’t know anything about it. I start off with lots of questions and research. I’m a word-vomit then edit-down sort of writer. Long, poetic copy is my thing, and more recently, sassy, rhythmic copy has become my thing too. What is it like being a womxn in the industry? Mostly cool, minus the mansplaining, being put on tampon, nappies and beauty brands, being called “girly”, “babe” and “sweets” and being threatened to get “skull fucked” once by a previous boss. True story. Times are changing. Feminism is on the rise, and so is ‘femvertising’ – that’s a marketing speak doozy, my apologies. To the ’90s boys’ club – your days are numbered, so are your Converse-blazer combos. I look forward to seeing how the industry evolves and I can’t wait to see more womxn in creative leadership positions, who haven’t had to sacrifice having a family to do so.
“The #ToughDecisions campaign for Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) is to date, the copy I’m most proud of. We won a D&AD pencil for it which was rad, but the fact that the campaign actually worked and got MSF much needed donations, which they used to fight that big, scary Ebola outbreak in 2014 – was, as lame as it sounds, the biggest reward. I didn’t mind sacrificing evenings, weekends and holidays for that – it was meaningful work.” — Lauren
Co-founders of Think Creative Africa
What are some of the misconceptions people have about the industry? That this is an easy career path. We see that a lot with new entrants into the industry. There is a misconception that we are constantly shooting and attending lavish industry parties or that we have short working hours. In reality, this is a tough industry that requires a lot of personal sacrifice, commitment and stamina. Its also a very competitive space. You have to constantly up skill and make sure that your skill set is responsive to the changing advertising landscape.
“It’s when you start interacting with senior management that you realise that you are one of the few females in the room. There is a high drop-off rate when you reach those positions as the industry does not cater for motherhood due to the time demanding nature of the job. The lack of representation from a leadership perspective sends the message to female employees that eventually they are going to reach a ceiling in the industry. That is what we are trying to change at Think Creative Africa. We want to ensure that the female voice is represented in the industry at all levels, from a creative point of view and on the business side.” – Hermola
So tell us, why advertising? Through advertising you get to lead many lives. You could be in a foreign country shooting an ad one day and then the next day in studio with your favourite actor or musician recording a radio spot. In what ways do you believe the advertising industry is a force for good? Advertising can empower, educate, connect people and raise awareness for worthy courses. I still hear people saying they don’t drink and drive because of that ‘Papa wag vir jou’ ad.
What’s advertising’s proudest moment? Part of the magic of advertising is scale and reach. With campaigns we are able to reach millions of people at once and using that platform to not only grow our clients’ businesses but also to effect social change. This is one way that I believe the ad game is truly realising its full potential.
Title: Freelance Graphic Designer.
Educational background: BTech in Graphic Design, the University of Johannesburg.
“As a freelancer I am constantly looking for the next place to work. I stalk cool companies or even people, scrolling through everything they’ve ever uploaded. After that, I send an email with my portfolio attached begging for the opportunity to work for them. This one time I practically asked for a job while dancing on a table at Great Dane. The make or break for working anywhere is your portfolio. It has to be better than good for you to get anywhere you want to. If you want to work with the best, you have to be one of the better ones.” – Ciara
Title: Managing Director of 99c Johannesburg
Educational background: Higher Diploma in Integrated Marketing Communications and a BA in Health and Community Psychology
What impact do you think advertising has on the country? We live in such a negatively charged world that rides on stereotypes which in turn divide us. The sooner we realise our strength as an industry and the opportunity we have to impact and influence culture, the better for us. Just some top-line stats: we reach over 35-million South Africans via TV and radio. I could go into other mediums, but this goes to show the type of reach we have as an industry. And if we were to reflect on society in relevant but positive ways, surely we can make a difference?
“Being a woman in industry has had its challenges but having the support of other women has helped me realise that we have a voice and I specifically, have a voice and that we’re all in this together. I was fortunate to have a fair share of great advertising women early on in my career who guided me through my journey and I will not discount a few men who are also instrumental about telling balanced stories through the advertising medium and have therefore made an effort to see young women come up the ranks, and make things happen. I remain positive about the industry and where it is heading.” – Masego