Postcard from South Africa

South Africa presents massive opportunities as well as challenges, says Elian Wiener, founder and CEO of Epic Communications.

Africa – the final frontier. With Sub-Saharan Africa experiencing economic growth of more than five per cent per annum, a rising middle class and a population that is set to be the densest in the world by 2040, the continent presents massive opportunities for businesses and brands across the board.

As a result, companies throughout the globe are scrambling to build a presence in countries across the region.    

This has not gone unnoticed by the large global advertising groups, which have realised the strategic importance of following their current and potential clients into the continent. There has been a co-ordinated and purposeful rollout and expansion strategy by these groups into Africa that has seen them snapping up independent advertising, PR and digital agencies.

A lot of this activity has taken place in South Africa, which with its developed infrastructure, strong financial and legal systems and deep skills base, is seen by many as the Gateway to Africa. The result is that increasingly, the large advertising groups will be able to offer fully integrated marketing to clients in South Africa and the rest of the continent, providing real challenges to independent specialist agencies.     

Many of the recent acquisitions have involved local agencies with a strong digital slant. This is consistent with the rapidly changing way people commun-icate and consume information in the country. The swing to digital is as much under way at the tip of Africa as it is in the rest of the world – but with a twist.  

There are now more mobile phones than people in South Africa – an increasing number of which are smartphones – making digital a critical marketing channel. There has been a dramatic shift among leading PR agencies in South Africa to the provision of integrated comms across channels.

For example, at Epic Communications, the percentage of clients in our portfolio to which we provide integrated comms services (comprising traditional media, direct and social media channels) has jumped from five per cent to 35 per cent in less than two years. Those agencies that have evolved accordingly have thrived, while those that have resisted have fallen swiftly.  

The swing to digital is as much under way at the tip of Africa as it is in the rest of the world – but with a twist

This is not to say, however, that traditional PR skills are a thing of the past. The country still features a robust traditional media landscape. The total number of newspapers sold has actually increased by 30 per cent over the past five years, while there are almost 15.4 million radio sets in South Africa, with more than 30 million listeners tuning into a range of programming from ultra-hip urban music to community news and information in the deep rural areas.

Another element pivotal to agency success in this environment is content generation capability across the plethora of channels that now exist. Customers are also seeking measurable returns on investment in PR and comms and it is an unequivocal requirement for agencies to enhance and improve specific industry expertise.

Finally, in the current tough economic environment, PR practitioners are contributing and even leading the development of client marketing strategies.

While most people around the world still think of Africa as the ‘dark continent’, there are an increasing number of savvy business leaders who are beginning to understand the vast opportunities that the region presents. The last frontier – it’s an exciting place to be right now.

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