Knowledge Library

Time for Change….

Brand Marketing

Choosing the Right Partner for Your Brand!

Isilumko Activate Director – Brendan Powell

We learn most of what we know about love or choosing a partner from the trial and error of our formative adolescent years, with a few lessons from the example set (or lack thereof) by those around us.  In reality our biggest formative input is probably the playground telegraph with all its exaggerations and bragging rights and impressive un-factual information.  I suppose that’s the journey of growing up. 

In a business context, what continues to astound me is how brands apply much of the same playground logic when selecting and appointing suppliers and business partners, with much “oohing and aahing” over mostly external fluff, so often void of substance and any long term value.

Brands however don’t have the luxury of adolescent learning and are expected to deliver, perform, meet targets and grow equities from the outset.  To do so they need expert support and must leverage off partners and suppliers who can create, design, implement and amplify key strategic and brand elements. Brands need suppliers who are essentially partners invested in their success; partners who can further their ambition and reputation in the market.  Without the luxury of trial and error and to avoid a bad breakup, brands must make a good choice at the outset.

Organisations are often judged or held in high esteem by the accounts they win, but in actual fact a better way is to evaluate the strength of the teams servicing them - and how long the agency retains its accounts.  Changing suppliers is disruptive and results in additional work for brand teams.  The sooner a great partner is on-boarded the sooner the brand will make progress. So choose the right supplier, or change quickly to the right one. It will save heartache and hassle, be better for the brand in the long run and critical to the end result.

When assessing a supplier and to ensure a good match – consider and review:

1. The strength of the teams

Strong teams with empowered staff who are emotionally invested in the company, will retain accounts far longer and you won’t see big brands moving from agency to agency.  Staff need a sense of ownership to achieve greatness. People are not disposable and the sooner organisations realise this, the sooner they will attract and retain staff that align with its corporate philosophies and values.

2. Are the values lived out by the teams?
Values role off the tongue far more easily than they are internalised and make great content for spin doctor’s - aka sales people.  But the real proof is in the pudding and after all brands don’t want theory they need delivery. It’s wise to remember that people judge themselves on their intentions - but others judge us on our actions.  So look closely. Do the teams live out the values that the organisation has hung on its walls? Make a few reference calls, visit their office and absorb the environment. Listen to what isn’t said; after all you are entering into what should be a long term partnership so court as you would a potential suitor.  If an elaborate gift, rather than superior delivery, is going to buy special favour, confirm that the company you are dealing with speaks the same language, and operates by the same code of honour you do - or you may just be disappointed by their integrity or lack thereof.
3. There is no substitute for experience
When all is said and done, experience is a great asset to have on your side - especially when things get tough and the pressure is on. Those with the experience and track record will have a toolbox of knowledge, which often is the difference between stress and success. Experience provides depth, and you want that on your side when problem solving is required.
4. How they treat their people
How an agency treats its most valued asset, its people, is ultimately an indicator of how they will treat clients. It might be sugar coated for the first few interactions, while they hold it together, but when the pressure is on, the cracks will begin to show – the truth will out. Whatever is inside will come out and your brand, your account, will be on the receiving end. So make sure you choose as a partner for your brand that isn’t hiding who they really are and is good inside, to the core. At the end of the day - that’s what you want to benefit from.
5. Stability
You want a partner who can journey with your brand; not a temporary stop gap or one night stand, comprising a single good idea but no ability to sustain and delver in the long term.  A high staff or client turnover is often a sure sign that there could be some serious issues at play; the proverbial elephant in the room. Invite that agency and you get the elephant for free. So investigate how the “least” important person in the business is treated and how they feel about their company. Make sure the agency you are considering keeps clients, and doesn’t churn through them. After all, you don’t want to be an accolade in their portfolio or the leverage they need for their next big conquest.
6. Culture VS Talent
Talent impresses but culture resonates. It’s really not rocket science. If you bring phenomenal talent into an unhealthy culture, it won’t flourish - instead it will rot.  If you treat people well, create an environment for growth and want the best for them - they will flourish.  Organisations need to build a culture that develops people and in so doing, attract and retain the very best available talent. Companies that get this right are the kind of partner you want to appoint to look after your account.

Let’s face it; on–the-ground, client-facing staff in the activations industry are essentially Generation Y (Millennials). Their approach to work is different.  This creates a barrier to trust with management. Their need for flexibility and an alignment of lifestyle with work, coupled with wanting to enjoy a real sense of purpose and meaning from their work, brings with it unique challenges. Empowerment, mentoring and guidance, as well as ongoing, on-the-job feedback from management, are the fundamental pillars to managing and motivating this generation. Older workers within an agency may deem this younger group to be needy or high maintenance; younger workers may feel in the dark or unappreciated. The solution is at both ends.

A baseline of respect, dignity and integrity are values that cut across all generations, and indeed constitute the basis for optimising agency performance. It’s also an accepted fact that “best in class “employees are attracted to companies with a robust, value-driven culture.  Ongoing mentoring and coaching and recognising that different generations can learn from each other is crucial. Younger employees can shed light on demographics, pop culture and technology trends. Older workers can lend their vast industry knowledge and experience. It can start with something as simple as coffee or a walk!

Careful, insightful integration of the two can surely only be of benefit to clients. A strong team, with empowered, motivated players, who themselves feel valued, will surely go the extra mile to service accounts and assume ownership and responsibility for campaign successes.  The notion that the activations industry is plagued by a high staff turnover and disloyal employees is easily remedied.

To quote Obama: “Love people and expect the best and they will excel.”  The order of this sentence is important – otherwise employees are merely modern day slaves and if you don’t look after your staff you cannot expect them to look after the brands your company services. It’s a two way street.

An understanding of what motivates and inspires staff and a strong company ethos is at the core of client retention and business development – particularly in the activations space where Isilumko Activate operates.  There are also clearly no benefits to working with a partner who doesn’t value its staff, but a strong case for those who do. You wouldn’t date someone who disrespects their mother or beats and abuses their partner – so why appoint a supplier who doesn’t consider their people an asset.

In closing, appointing a partner to become the custodian of your brand is something that requires careful consideration. For a match made in heaven – consider more than appearances and dig deeper to get a real sense of who the company is and what is stands for.

Isilumko Activate is an activations agency with a presence across the African continent, and a focus on facilitating creative, integrated one-to-one interactions between brands and consumers.

About Isilumko Activate

Isilumko Activate (powered by Studentwise) is a company focused on facilitating creative, integrated one-on-one interactions between a brand and the consumer. With impressive credentials built up over almost 22 years in the in the industry, this level 2 BBBEE accredited company has a rock-solid reputation that attracts and retains staff that are as passionate about activations as the company’s original founder members. For details visit:

About Brendan Powell
Brendan Powell is a Director at Isilumko Activate and has been with the company since 2008. With extensive managerial experience, Powell leads from the front and is known for his natural ability to motivate large teams of people to consistently reach goals and implement an organisational vision. He has a deep-seated passion for people and has a strong desire to see them flourish. Powell believes that “effortless magic” happens when the right person is placed in the right position. He is widely regarded and acknowledged as an expert on the subject of experiential activations.

Drafted and distributed by SIMONSAYS communications and to contact for further information:   
Thandi Nkabinde
011 465-9815
078 000 8398

Share The Knowledge
Building Brands in a World we can’t Control

Brand Marketing

It used to be that people only had a few TV channels to watch and radio stations to listen to. Routines were planned around what time their favourite programmes were aired.

Share The Knowledge
The real-time future of visual brand storytelling has arrived

Brand Marketing

The revolution of the future may continue to be televised, but more and more consumers will be watching it unfold on their mobile devices rather than on their TVs.

Share The Knowledge
Understanding a brand and connecting it digitally

Brand Marketing

Brands have been around as long as there have been things to sell. The term ‘brand’ originated from the stamp carved onto a product to certify its purity, authenticity and origin.

Share The Knowledge
Are Brands that don’t stand for anything redundant?

Brand Marketing

One of the major trends shaping consumer behaviour today is that, while the desire for status hasn’t gone away and we still seek social currency, we now seek it through experiences, stories, and moments we can share.

Share The Knowledge
How to deal with a brand crisis caused by poor customer service

Brand Marketing

Brand crises are a harsh reality for all organisations. Dealing with them is not becoming any easier. Instead they have become complex tasks that require constant supervision.

Share The Knowledge