Sizakele Marutlulle describes herself as “a social scientist by training, a marketer by design and strategist at core”. A former COO of SA Tourism, she received an MA Communication Sociology Degree in 2007 from the University of the Witwatersrand on the topic of “politics of representation in present-day advertising in South Africa”. TheMediaOnline caught up with her to find out a bit more about this “idea catalyst” who was recently appointed CEO of Grey Advertising in South Africa.
How do you think your style differs to previous CEOs?
I can’t comment on what others do or did previously, I can only speak from my own style. My job is to lead and inspire my team at Grey whilst protecting them from all that is unnecessary in the task of creating shape-shifting solutions.
What are your key strengths in this difficult business, in these difficult times?
I believe in conversations – in complete sentences – so we encourage open dialogue to share challenges, ask for help and offer support. I emphasise responsibility and accountability underpinned by a curiosity that keeps people growing. I believe in the duality of all things – to balance experience and speed, effectiveness and fame, curiosity and depth, magic and money, requests and commitments. Living up to these realities keeps the team challenged, driven and inspired.
What was your biggest success that taught you a life / career lesson?
Leading a small challenger agency called HerdBouys into the big league without losing our key strength of ‘respecting and understanding the consumer’ (this taught me focus, leadership especially of the self); running my own brand consultancy with a specific niche on consumers who are black (this taught me discipline), going back to school to do my MA whilst working (taught me prioritisation and most importantly the joy of keeping processes to myself).
What was your biggest failure that taught you an important life / career lesson?
Entering into business relations with people you like but don’t know well enough (the success of a business partnership is shared values not common lifestyles, etc).
What is your vision for the company, short-term and long-term?
Our vision at Grey Advertising is to become the go-to partner for progressive brands that want for shape-shifting solutions – we will use our diverse backgrounds and vast experiences, curiosity and madness for ideas to create solutions that elevate and separate our client’s brands from the rest and propel their brands onwards.
What developments in the past year are going to impact long-term on the advertising industry?
The recession’s stranglehold has not ceased, impending legislation w.r.t alcohol advertising, govt’s view of media freedom, shrinking marketing budgets, juniorfication of talent on both agency and client sides, lack of diversity (which is beyond just racial transformation).
Where do you see the most significant growth taking place in the company in the next year or so?
Most growth will be in our people; we will enrich our pool of best-of-breed and our client relationships will deepen as we continue to anticipate their needs and respond to consumer trends.
What internal communications plans do you have to gain the confidence and trust of your staff?
Internal communication is more than email – I lead by walking about – so I engage face to face almost weekly, and monthly ignition meetings keep us energised and challenged as we challenge ourselves to do better work, and work smarter and think differently.
What has been the reaction from clients to your appointment?
It is natural with any change for people to be cautious but I have experienced a positive reception and warm welcome. The test of any relationship is of course one’s ability to live up to what is required and agreed upon (more than what is expected).
What, to you, are the three biggest issues in advertising today, and have you a strategy to deal with them?
– Talent migration (the industry has not created a positive environment for young minds to thrive) (solution: stay curios, be consumer facing, and engage outside the comfort zones);
– Marketing seen as a cost not investment (solution: deliver work that works);
– Racial diversity (solution: hire more diverse people because magic comes from an inclusive culture).
Why is SA still lagging behind the world in terms on advertising online?
Online advertising is just one of many channels to reach consumers, so I don’t think SA necessarily lags behind – as much as it is about SA marketers sometimes being risk-averse and agencies and media shops being traditional in outlook. We need more brave brands and progressive agencies who will explore unchartered waters and deliver shape-shifting solutions which alter not just brand reality but the communication landscape as well.
Where do you stand on augmented reality?
Augmented reality is another way to explore the world and experience brands – so it is a welcome platform which ‘sits outside the box’.
What are three things in your fridge you can’t be without?
Veuve Clicquot , soya milk and tofu.
What is your motto?
In a world that does its best to turn you into something you are not, the hardest battle is to remain true to yourself. Never stop fighting. ee cummings