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Meet Sylvester Chauke, Instagram Heroes Business Guest Judge for February

What do you do after working for South Africa’s top agencies and managing the marketing for major local brands? You start your own agency, of course. Enter DNA Brand Architects, founded by Johannesburg-born advertising maverick Sylvester Chauke nine years ago. DNA is anything but ordinary: having made history as the first black-owned agency to win Campaign of the Year at the PRISMs in 22 years, while currently leading Adweek’s global ranking for the Top 100 Fastest Growing Agencies. “We set out to build a space where Africans can thrive,” says Chauke of the vision for his consultancy. As the February guest judge in the business category for our Instagram Heroes awards series, we caught up with him to learn more about his incredible journey, how he’s charting a path in marketing and the power of Instagram as a platform for connection and creativity.

Where did you grow up? 

I grew up in a colourful and exciting community of Soweto, Johannesburg. I stayed in a number of locations in the area from Orlando East, Meadowlands, Snake Park and my family finally settled in Protea North.  As a melting pot of so many cultures, languages and vibes, Soweto shaped me in every way.

Tell us about your journey so far and what inspired you to start DNA Brand Architects. 

I currently lead Adweek’s Top 100 Fastest Growing Agencies in the world and one that is adding a new narrative of black excellence. In 2019, we made history as the first black agency to win Campaign of the Year at the PRISMs in 22 years! In the same year we won World’s Best PR Campaign by the ICCO, and in 2020 we were voted the Most Admired PR Agency in South Africa.

I fell in love with brand communication from the early age of 12 when I was exposed to a TV production shoot and from there on, I knew I wanted to be in “this world” – a world of creativity and problem solving. After matric, I decided to study Marketing Communication at the University of Johannesburg and since then, I have never looked back. I would say that the industry chose me because I stumbled upon it by chance (so I thought).

From university it was straight into ad-land, working at some of the biggest and best advertising agencies in the land from FCB to Ogilvy and DDB. I then left agency life to pursue an exciting step change as National Marketing Manager for Nando’s, which was a thrill and where I sunk my teeth way deep in creativity and communication. From Nando’s I went on to head Marketing and Comms at MTV Networks Africa working on some of the most exciting projects on the continent.

It was after MTV that the entrepreneurial bug bit me hard. I bungee-jumped to start DNA Brand Architects and now nine years in, it feels like yesterday when I woke up stressed and thinking “what the hell did I do?”. Haha.

What sets DNA apart from other marketing agencies in the country? 

Everything about DNA Brand Architects is different. We set out to build a space where Africans can thrive, especially in a country that has marginalised black people for decades. We represent a new generation of Africans that are BOLD and UNAFRAID – where we can showcase what we as Africans can do to build businesses that not only deliver great work but do so with excellence. It has not been easy but is an ideal which we fight to deliver on a daily basis. Judging by our track record so far, it seems we are on to something.

What do you strive for as a leader in this sphere? 

To chart a path and see people follow it. Making ideas and seeing them adopted and amplified across multiple brands, companies and people. Inspiring a new generation of young leaders who will gain valuable knowledge from me and will use it to advance themselves. Leading a business that vibrates so much further than where we could ever imagine. Working with some of the most exciting businesses and leaders on the continent. Being able to elevate and support my family and everyone I lead. Waking up with a purpose and feeling like I am exactly where I should be.

Are you working on any interesting or exciting projects at the moment? 

During such a dark period in the world and in our country with Covid-19 and the aftermath of lockdowns, I am so very grateful to have a team that has work to do. We always find ways into exciting projects, from work we are doing with Apple Music, Tiger Brands, MTV base, BET, Telkom, Bathu, Barloworld etc – we have a great base to choose from. What I am particularly excited about is across all the brands, how do we overcome the aftermath of Covid-19 and the “new normal” to support brands and businesses to maintain and grow. It has been a massive learning for us all.

What do you enjoy most about Instagram as a platform?

Instagram allows me to travel far and wide. The visual nature of Instagram allows me to experience inspiration, motivation, laughter and entertainment. The platform requires some level of curation in my eyes so I gravitate towards visually appealing and engaging content on the platform. As an entrepreneur, the medium has also allowed me to share and engage with audiences worldwide from my role as an agency leader, an art lover, a theatre geek, an author and everything in between…. This is the best platform for creativity and connection.

How would you define an Instagram Hero?

Someone who weaves the fundamental of commerciality with the creativity to engage. Someone who showcases that they have the customer at the center of their engagement with the platform. They respect the audience and understand the nuances to selling with flair, using features at their disposal. I love it when things look crafted and well thought out.

What will you be looking for as the February guest judge for the Instagram Heroes awards series?

I am looking forward to seeing those that “Stand Against Bland”- using creativity to sell their story. That simple.

Follow @dnabrandarchitects on Instagram.

Are you an Instagram Hero?

If you’re a creator or business owner in Sub-Saharan Africa using IG to grow your practice or build your brand, you qualify to enter our monthly Instagram Heroes awards series. The Creator category includes art, design and craft, as well as creatives and makers across all fields. The Business category is for local entrepreneurs, agencies, start-ups and well-established enterprises. Submit your work here.

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