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Group MD of Meta Media, Kagiso Musi's account of work-life in the time of Covid-19, part of a series of articles looking into how agencies and agency folk are responding to the crisis and viewing it through a creative lens.
“One thinks of beautiful slow wakeups and languid breakfasts (like one is on holiday) before starting the workday during lockdown, right? I wish!
“My days start out as cold mornings warmed by a sweet little (but loud) voice wanting to sing Baby Shark very early in the morning, followed by tea and Twitter and catching up on what noise the world is making on that day.
“Then its 30 minutes of planning out Nana’s day with the nanny and a bad attempt at some form of fitness training via DStv or online or since Level 4 lockdown, a social distance walk around the neighbourhood.
“Then it's a full day in front of the computer: Skype, Microsoft Teams and Zoom have us ‘locked to the screen’. I try finish earlyish around 4pm so I can have daytime play with the little one before 8pm. Check mails, finishing off anything outstanding and setting up the following day whilst holding thumbs for less virtual meetings.
“To be fair though, I do get a lot of work done in between the virtual.” – Group MD of Meta Media, Kagiso Musi's account of work-life in the time of Covid-19.
Kagiso Musi, group MD at Meta Media
What was your initial response to the crisis/lockdown and has your experience of it been different to what you expected?
Initial response was massive intrigue… I was obsessed with reading up anything and everything on Covid-19 and seeing the devastation it was causing in the world. But I honestly thought for once we wouldn’t be hit as hard.
I thought lockdown would be short and relatively easy but even though it was relatively easy to get into the groove of working from home ‘full time’, it has been challenging having to set boundaries for the family, in their space! I made a decision early on that I would not reprimand my two-year-old too much because I’m the one that has brought work into her home. Now, however, we have found our groove. She gets it and in fact gives me time to be in my ‘meetings’.
Comment on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the agency and media industry or economy as a whole.
The coronavirus will forever be known in my mind as the virus that helped many get to the place they were going to end up in anyway…that’s harsh but I mostly believe this.
The economy has been in a downward spiral for a while, the country has been in a precarious position for a long while, the industry has been failing in many ways and the glory of it dimming each day… So, here comes Covid-19 and all of a sudden people are brave to say they are in trouble, but now have an invisible enemy to blame!
Covid’s impact will be felt for years to come in SA because again, like many before it, it has managed to bring out the vast inequality of our country. The only difference now is that this virus knows no economic, racial or even social bounds and lives even in the most privileged of spaces.
Covid’s impact will also be felt in the industry for years to come because unfortunately, the industry has not shielded itself well enough. Agencies operate like they did 20 years ago. Agencies operate like we are still a ‘startup industry’, with the only difference being the hierarchies that have been built having encouraged a hogging of the lights and the brights. This is what kills our industry and why people don’t stay.
Another factor is that digitalisation is embraced in very flimsy terms versus a natural order of doing things. Covid has forced us to think and do differently and post-Covid will demand even more from us. We either open up for trade or don’t. Digital is but one medium especially in SA, but a medium which must be considered with the lens of mass SA and as a tool for progression – for our people in our agencies, the work we do and our outputs.
How we cost must also be held up to scrutiny. Clients are squeezing the industry to a point where increasingly agencies are literally breaking even, if they are lucky! What I mean by this is that resource structures are so lean - margins and overhead costs so thin, that agencies see little to no profit for the work that they do. The vast majority of the industry, unfortunately, lives from hand to mouth – there is very little financial and business operational sustainability that is built in.
Having recently completed her MBA, Kagiso Musi has been appointed managing director of newly formed media agency Meta Media, sister agency to The MediaShop, both housed within new holding company, Park Advertising...
How is the agency responding to the crisis and current lockdown?
With care and constant planning, reassessing and replanning.
We sent everyone home the day after patient one was named in SA. So in effect, we have been working from home (WFH) for longer than lockdown – almost two weeks before official lockdown. Prior to patient one – we had been meeting as a group on our WFH plan and by the time we chose to close the office, we had many of our plans in place – replaced desktops with laptops, data cards for those with no home internet, printers for some, training for remote working for those who needed it, collaboration tools installed on laptops and mobile devices, always-on IT services and an always-on psychologist.
We have also, even though as 'professional services' could open in Level 4, elected not to open and continue WFH until it feels safer to get our people back into the office. This decision was made with the lens of the safety of our people and their families as well as business continuity, in mind. WFH has worked well for us and productivity has in fact shot up.
Comment on the challenges and opportunities.
I think one of the challenges is that most of us miss the tactile engagement and ‘water-cooler’ moments we have in-office because the unintended consequence of lockdown is that the front-of-the-monitor workday doesn’t seem to end. The other is that for many of our people lockdown is, in fact, a very stressful occurrence – from a spatial perspective and emotionally too.
From a client perspective, the marketing team’s budgets are being reduced and panic is driving what work is done. Many clients have reduced spending and some outright stopped spending and this naturally has an adverse effect on the brands themselves and our bottom line. Recovery takes a lot longer.
The opportunities, on the other hand, are vast. Our teams have been attending training which in normal life they just couldn’t get to (and most of it is free at the moment). Many, like most of SA, have become overnight cooking sensations and importantly many have connected with themselves and their families, and I think this a great recipe for growth. I think it is a great time to either build resilience or test that which you think you have.
The opportunity for the industry is fast-tracking to the new world order and infusing digital as a natural order of doing things. Creative industries have the potential to thrive in such cases because of the opportunity to actually be creative presents itself… It is said the arts and creative industries will most likely survive as our work is not easily replaceable by automation and AI. If this is the case, how do we monetise this in a way that does not strangle the industry and helps all those who work in it and the communities in which they exist in thrive?
Speaking of opportunities, the world has really turned to creativity during this time. Why do you think this is the case and what does this mean for the industry, agencies and their clients/brands?
Well we know the role of creativity in modern society is really about opening up avenues for innovation, talking to our core, helping us connect to ideas and spaces in a meaningful way and perhaps help change perception for the better – I don’t believe the industry does work that does these things anymore. Our creativity is one-dimensional – it’s for show, slogans and awards – it’s been a long while since I’ve seen work that is socially meaningful and really impacts clients’ bottom line. This is where the rubber will hit the road for all of us.
We need to dig deeper and start coming up with solutions. Not hashtags, not slogans but real solutions, allowing our work to help solve problems the world is encountering because that’s why most of our clients are in business. Not so? I think the industry misses a beat when the work we do is only self-serving and doesn’t go deep enough.
It also goes back to the industry being reticent to do work with government or consider things beyond what they see in front of them. People are clouded by the ‘Sandton narrative’ where public service accounts are concerned. This leaves our industry out of the real conversation and stuck in open letter land. The industry lacks the sensibility to see transformation as a transformative project to solving all sorts of issues and not only ticking boxes. Our survival will be based on the survival of the country, and that is where the rubber actually hits the road.
How are you navigating ‘physical distancing’ while keeping your team close-knit and aligned and your clients happy?
Everyone is WFH and fully equipped to do so. Our media managers and client leads are in daily e-meets and deliverables sessions. It’s incredible how people have come together more now than when they sit in the agency next to each other.
There has never been a more important time than now to connect with absolute regularity and deliver impeccably. It reduces stress for us and our clients.
We continue our Town Hall sessions, hosted by different members of the team and still virtually break bread together. We were doing this long before Covid-19 to pull our Cape Town and Johannesburg teams closer together. It works pretty well. And of course, the WhatsApp group is always lit!
Has this global crisis changed your view of the future of advertising/marketing in any way?
Yes, it has made me even more excited about what the future holds for creative industries. I really think we can offer solutions in a more impactful and meaningful way for our clients, whilst winning awards and creating pay-off lines. I also think it is important that clients need to see themselves as part of the creative industry because these solutions only happen when clients buy them. Right now marketers see themselves as marketeers (or bankers or the industry in which they work…). The value chain of an idea coming to life includes clients and only when they are a part of the creative circle and process will the ideas germinate in a meaningful way.
Any trends you’ve seen emerge as a result of the crisis?
Yeah, plenty, and the most important one is not really an emergence per se and it will make many of our industry strategists roll their eyes…
My trend number one is to put a South African filter on all your global trends, and after that put an African filter on ‘em (because you know, Africa is not a country). I recently heard a lovely quote from Irvin Moroke, which summarises what I’m saying: 'We are not all in the same boat, we are all in the same storm.'
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