Youth Month Special Section

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#YouthMatters: Izak van der Walt, integrated business unit manager at HaveYouHeard

In addition to his empathetic nature, ability to think out the box and compulsion for details, Izak van der Walt is one of those in-demand integrated storyteller specialists. He is particularly passionate about and has a strong background in consumer insights, and through-the-line campaign execution.
#YouthMatters: Izak van der Walt, integrated business unit manager at HaveYouHeard

Can you tell us what your role as integrated business unit manager entails?

As an integrated business unit manager at HaveYouheard, I have the responsibility for the overall effective and efficient project planning, strategic alignment, implementation, execution and management of all projects and campaigns. I identify, lead and build trusted client relationships by offering service excellence and delivering cutting edge project management practices aligned to the vision and values at the agency.

What sparked your interest in getting into advertising?

At school, I found myself designing the school's website as a side project and as a result, I ran the marketing portfolio in my senior years. After that, aiming for a career in communication, in 2005 I decided to learn another language and moved to Argentina for a year to learn Spanish.

How did you get into the industry?

My year in Argentina led to my first-ever job – the communications lead for the Argentinian Team in the 2010 Soccer World Cup. This gave me the experience of managing different moving pieces and an understanding of how clear the message has to be if it is to be understood by everyone.

In 2011, I wanted to understand the South African landscape better and started at an insights firm called KLA, where I worked on multiple research projects for South African Breweries.

What excites you the most about the world of advertising?

I enjoy seeing the insight shape the storytelling aspect of advertising.

I believe you're a great storyteller. What approach should brands take when it comes to storytelling?

Most stories tell a tale of the hero going on a journey to overcome challenges. And most people use stories to make sense of the world. As we live in a very cluttered environment filled with many brands trying to tell their stories, the brands that position their consumer's story will thrive when trying to add value.

What other talents do you have?

Other than speaking Spanish, I have been cursed by using metaphors in most meetings to make sense of things.

What is the one project you have worked on that you are incredibly proud of?

A few years ago, HaveYouHeard was tasked with putting forward a new approach for Old Mutual’s sponsorship. Part of the proposed solution was to pivot from sponsoring marathons to engaging with new-age audiences via music as a passion point.

Our team developed AMPD Studios by Old Mutual, a free co-working culture hub equipped with recording studios in Newtown, Johannesburg. The sponsorship offers aspiring musicians and creatives the opportunity to use the space at no cost to grow their careers. I'm particularly proud of how my team managed to scale the sponsorship for digital audiences during the pandemic.

What are the victories that you’ve had since starting out?

For the majority of my career, I've been in account management, but the traditional client service role just doesn’t cut it at HaveYouHeard. Here, client service people have to throw their hat in the ring to lead the strategic process. Here’s one of my metaphors – client service used to be the waiter running back and forth between the kitchen (the creatives and strategists) and the diners (the clients). At HaveYouHeard as an integration specialist, I am more like a conductor, able to get the best out of the whole orchestra.

If you could travel back in time, what advice would you give yourself?

As a perfectionist, it's important to take a step back and enjoy the chaos. These times can be challenging, but they also offer important insights and a-ha moments for one's growth. Also, there is no perfect project :-)

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Difficult to say with the current pandemic, but I see myself leading global teams and brands from Sunny South Africa.

As we celebrate Youth Month, do you have any words of encouragement for the youth?

Yes. The younger version of myself was always concerned about choosing the right path. The truth is that there isn’t always a perfect route, and that building experience and making the most out of the situation is the better route. At the end of the day, we’re a sum of our parts and we lean our experiences to guide our next steps.

My cheesy metaphor would be: if you’re at the gym don’t worry too much about which machines/weights to start with, just start on any section, even it’s the gym mat, you’ll still walk out with new muscles.

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