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South African agencies offer big international brands local flavour

Despite globalisation, every country has its quirks, lingo and languages that must be spoken in the right way to attract the right people. South Africa is no different.
South African agencies offer big international brands local flavour
© Dmitriy Shironosov via
“Our market, consumers and media have their own expectations and ideas when it comes to the ways in which brands engage with them across platform and social channel,” says Lizelle McDermott, MD, McD Squared.

“The South African market is vibrant and dynamic – it also is not stupid and there is a need for a deft touch rather than a global hammer. This is where the right local agency with the right talent is the perfect fit; it has the tools to bring big brands the local attention they deserve.

“South Africa is very different from the rest of the world. International agencies tend to forget this. Our media want local context and statistics and our consumers want communication that speaks to them in their language. Even though the large global agencies have significant experience across European markets, these are not the same as the South African ones. The people here have a different way of engaging.”

Journalists want local relevance

On the media frontier, journalists want content, which has relevance and a local context, not global content that is being shoehorned to fit and they are willing to go the extra mile to get it. Small, local agencies are more likely to be in tune with how South African journalists operate and the kind of content they need. They have cut their teeth on the vagaries of editorial whim and recognise the value of a local flavour, regardless of its international roots.

“Companies feel that they need to hire the big international guns to ensure their content and engagement are relevant, but this is not accurate. Local agencies know how to connect with the media in ways that get results and international agencies often do not know how to hit the right notes. A great example is social media – in South Africa, people use a very different language and do not relate to social in the same way as people who live in Europe do. Even compare South Africa to Nigeria and you can see how engagement styles are fundamentally different.”

A local company is also far less likely to make one of the most common mistakes made by brands entering the South African market – dumbing down the content. It is good to tone down dialogue on complex solutions but often the big guns shooting into Africa tend to make the content a little too simple.

“It is one thing to make a product or solution easy to understand, but quite another to make it so simple that you are insulting your market’s intelligence. Our consumers have access to quantities of online information and are perfectly capable of finding out what they need to know.”

Local agencies offer agility

Many international organisations are reluctant to put their brand development into the hands of the smaller business. It is a fair point - why bother? Surely, an international organisation with a footprint in every country is far more capable of taking your brand to the next level. Of course, they can do it and do it well but they are not going to give your brand as much attention, or help you dodge the common mistakes those without local expertise make.

“Local agencies are more agile, deliver more competitive pricing and they work harder to delight their clients. Unfortunately, sometimes our lower pricing structure can influence the value perception, which ends up in a frustrating Catch-22. The thing is, a smaller agency is far more able to take on a project at short notice and is more willing to collaborate with other agencies to ensure the best results.”

Small agencies also breed local talent, keeping the skills within the borders and allowing for growth of the local economy. In addition, one of the biggest advantages is that they have networks that allow them to source service providers and suppliers for their clients that would normally be overlooked by international agencies.

Strong networks

“If I get a client that needs a Facebook game developed, for example, I have an agency for that. If I need something printed, I have the company for that. It is all about networking and building relationships so that we can ensure that the client gets the right products at the best prices, sidestepping the bigger companies in favour of bolstering the smaller ones.”

However, companies looking to expand their brands into South Africa should ensure that the local talent they source has a few stamps of approval. Word of mouth, referrals, industry relationships and a strong track record of proven delivery – any business must tick these boxes before taking on a campaign.

“Look at what an agency has done, speak to their clients and note how long they have been in business. Smaller agencies often have extremely loyal clients who’ve remained with them for years thanks to the personalised service and tangible results. Small businesses also need to push themselves more and change the perception that we don’t deliver. We do, and we do it in a way that shows how well we know South Africans, the media and what engagement means to them,” concludes McDermott.

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