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Manufacturing Indaba 2018

Stop using varsity degrees as barricades to advertising, media

A couple of days ago here on, one of South Africa's leading admen, Mike Abel, reflected on all the TV commercials that were entered into this year's Loerie Awards and said that nothing stood out for him. He yearned for the days of yore, when this country produced outstanding television advertising.
And for the past few years, many leading lights in the media industry have been bemoaning declining standards of journalism.

Cockups galore

Just why is it that our advertising has generally become so dull and unimaginative? And why do editors have to perpetually print apologies for one cockup after another, where journalists have simply not checked their facts?

Like horses and carriages, ships and sails, SA's advertising and media industries are interlinked and so entirely dependent on each other that, when one hiccups, the other immediately goes into a debilitating decline.

All sorts of elements and issues join them at the hip.

Rats and mice

Right now, both are experiencing the toughest times in decades. Not only has the advertising pie started stagnating into some sort of seemingly incurable commercial coma again, but the number of rats and mice eating away at its edges has grown into plague proportions as new media types pop up faster than Bakkies Botha in a lineout .

Something else they have in common is the rather frightening reality that their fortunes lie largely in the hands of creative people. Left-brainers who dream up advertisements or produce the masses of content needed to keep the country's newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations trundling along.

The brain drain over decades has seen legions of these talented people leave the country and relatively little is being done to fill the void with real talent [although we have been seeing some returns as the economic situation worsens around the world - managing ed].

Real talent is there

Oh, there are advertising schools and media training facilities all over the place but, quite frankly, none of them seem to have the will to develop the latent skills that SA must surely have in abundance.

In most cases, only seriously moneyed kids can afford tuition. Newspapers and ad schools are not crazy about taking on cub reporters and wannabe creatives who haven't got a university degree. Why should they? After all, supply outstrips demand by a mile.

It's still a cop-out though.

Because, when it comes to the creative elements of advertising and journalism, skills can be taught but real talent is born. Oh, I know the challenge of unearthing raw talent is easier said than done. But it just darn well has to be done.

Uneducated greats

Just look back at some of the really great editors and, even more so, the great advertising legends, this country has produced. The majority of them didn't have university degrees and a devil of a lot of them didn't even have a matric.

Now, I'm not suggesting that tertiary education isn't important, but we're not going to get anywhere by using university degrees as barricades.

The thing is, we're not going to unearth anything extraordinary if we're only prepared to consider rich kids and formal educations. It might cost a lot, but whatever the price, the investment will be worthwhile, because unless we are prepared to start seriously developing the latent talent in this country, our media will continue its slide into mediocrity and our advertising will end up pale and pathetic.

About Chris Moerdyk: @chrismoerdyk

Apart from being a corporate marketing analyst, advisor and media commentator, Chris Moerdyk is a former chairman of Bizcommunity. He was head of strategic planning and public affairs for BMW South Africa and spent 16 years in the creative and client service departments of ad agencies, ending up as resident director of Lindsay Smithers-FCB in KwaZulu-Natal. Email Chris on and follow him on Twitter at @chrismoerdyk.
Xolisa Mapatwana
I couldn't have said this better. What media companies should be looking at is developing skills through offering short internships not just to kids that are studying towards that particular qualification, but rather to those that show talent and enough interest as well. We are all about educating our country, but in reality higher education is only affordable to a minority of the country's population. We also need to understand that those that pursue careers in the media seldom have funding available, so maybe a 'hands-on-approach' in terms of teaching is the best.
Posted on 5 Oct 2011 14:42
mario diplock
Chris, old chap, you're on the money again.Not only is a degree or diploma a barrier but you forget that some CDs are pretty insecure so instead of hiring hot talent that will threaten them, they hire mediocre creatives and feel comfortable.The other thing is nepotism, the CD will hire his friends who are hopeless at other jobs at the expense of talent.All the best ad agencies, La Communidad for example believe in raw, street-wise talent. Our own Graham Warsop never saw the inside of an ad school or agency until he was nearly 30 years old.The solution is for agency management to be much closer to the hiring process, because the word of the CD just ain't cutting it anymore.The level of work is there for everyone to see.Escott, you sound very sincere about your boy, mail me at and see how we could help
Posted on 5 Oct 2011 14:46
Banele Rewo
I gave up a long time saying this and complaining about it... I have resorted to doing something about it Is The following is an except from the prejects communication" "The aim of the project is to collate creative talent that is often ignored, misunderstood or ineffectively utilised. why? Opportunities of entry in most creative industries are very narrow and exacerbated by a strict requirement, university qualifications or structured experience. This leaves the majority group of South Africans “formally” excluded from the process and activities within these industries even though they display extreme talent."
Posted on 5 Oct 2011 15:10
Thabo Makete
For the first time in years someone has come out and said what needed to be said and everybody shied away from it. Real talent lies not in an academic education. The creative fields are for raw talents which are simply polished. I remember back in the day when the AAA used to have adverts in the mainstream media to offer scholarships to creative students and the entry criterion was the submission of an arts portfolio and an aptitude test. This barrier through the acquisition of a university degree to all sorts of jobs in the country stands in the way of real creation of job opportunities and skills development. For instance newspapers are filled with lots of government and private sector jobs all needing a university degree and some years of experience though the job specs and the salary clearly indicate that a person with matric can actually perform in the function. We need to develop skills through on the job training based on identification of potential and use the SETAs to develop these skills and educate people.
Posted on 5 Oct 2011 15:31
Seleso Moledi
Spot on Chris, but unfortunately the problem is seeded much deeper.I say back to God's given basic truths,what makes a beautiful garden? a skillful Creator projecting variety Chris,birds,flowers, trees, bees,lawns etc, with a clear purpose.I have yet to find "a beautiful garden" with only "one tree" nothing else,i believe it would be refered to simlpy as"a tree" not "a garden" but gees this is mainstream this days."the cheese burger culture" breakfast, lunch and dinner uninspiring. Managers have lost the plot when it comes to hiring skill or developing skill, it's all about does your Dad play golf with "the Shanes" or did you go to the same school as "Joe Shane". This barricades havebecome the norm and sadly in the end no one wins.The way foward is to truely groom proper managers who can spot talent from different backgrounds and who understand purpose,not "the Shanes man". We lack colour because deep within lights are out.
Posted on 5 Oct 2011 16:28
Lesego Oletilwe Rapeu
I am going through the same thing, currently I'm looking for an internship in Journalism and I must say its really tough. I really love journalism because I believe that journalist have the power to impact lifes of many in a positive way, but because finding an internship is so hard I sometimes want to leave it and do something else
Posted on 5 Oct 2011 17:46
sixolile luyanda gcingca
I think part of the problem is the fact that we as the youth have turned to social networking and gaming for past time entertainment rather then reading and allowing our imaginations run away with us.
Posted on 5 Oct 2011 18:28
mandy croucamp
100% on the mark! In my day there were no degrees to be had in advertising. You had to have talent and a superb portfolio.As a midlifer:) it is astounding to see degrees as a barrier to entry despite proven experience. In the USA admen and women have life long careers in advertising.
Posted on 6 Oct 2011 09:52
Karin Panaino Petersen
Yes, yes and yes! And I hope that every professional who has responded positively to this post, will take on a trainee tomorrow. Remember the girl (Natasha de Jager) who took photographs of the teacher beatings earlier this year and made them public? That was guts and pure journalistic instinct and someone in the industry should have snapped her up. We are slack. As for advertising - have a young guy on hand who is MADE for client service in an ad agency - and he is going to be lost to the industry through academic challenges. My degree helped me very little in the ad world - it was all about instinct and workplace training by the greats.
Posted on 6 Oct 2011 09:56
Anthea Variend
Fantastic article Chris. I've all but given up on attending the Vega School. I'd love to further my education, but with course fees as high as they are at the moment, it looks like I'd have to take out a hefty loan before that can happen. Even short courses are R5k +. For people in the middle of their career who have got considerable financial commitments, continuing education seems like a pipe dream.
Posted on 7 Oct 2011 10:39
Derick Poremba-Brumer
I was in a coma for 7-months in my matric year (1986). I've since achieved 6 University qualifications in the Psychological/ Humanistic field. Perhaps inspirational speehes from me is what is needed to revitalise the ad-industry?
Posted on 10 Oct 2011 17:38
Scott Williams
I touched on this question ages ago and there was no response to even this question:@ Banele - I would like to hear more about whta you've done.Please elaborate for my benefit.
Posted on 10 Oct 2011 20:29
Martin Hesse
From where I stand as a newspaper subeditor, I don't agree that the dearth of good journalists is because employers are looking only for people with degrees. In fact, I think there are far fewer degreed journalists than a generation ago, most getting by nowadays with a lower qualification. I think the real reason journalists are not up to scratch is a prevailing attitude among younger people, which is: once you've landed a job, do the bare minimum to stay in it. A contributing factor is the astonishingly low level of general knowledge. Maybe young journalists should be doing a bit of reading on the side!
Posted on 12 Oct 2011 16:27