This year’s winner of the media agency innovator honour at the recent MOST awards is very young but is making such positive waves in the industry that people are learning his name fast, writes Peta Krost Maunder in a story first published in The Media magazine.
Ryan Williams – Nota Bene’s executive group managing director – is just 33 and appears to be quietly taking the industry by storm.
“I would rate him as one of the top five strategic media brains in this country,” says former colleague and advertising media consultant Wicus Swanepoel. “He is incredibly clever. If he works on a pitch, you have an 80 percent chance of winning the account. He has amazing insight into consumer behavior that translates into incredible strategies.”
He adds Williams has the ability, through his passion for what he does, to inspire others to do better and write better strategies.
Michelle Meyjes, CEO of the MEC Group which is Nota Bene’s parent company, says: “Ryan is a true mensch and a highly talented professional in all aspects of the business in media strategy, implementation and trading. He’s also got true grit and is someone you can always rely on to deliver consistently and with great passion.”
So is it any surprise that this guy was made MD of one of the hottest agencies in town years before his 30th birthday? Well, considering that Williams says he stumbled on this career path “purely by fluke”, perhaps it is.
While he has a BA in Psychology and English, which he completed through Unisa, he had become the owner of a few video stores and was a “classical guitarist by trade,” he says.
When his partner in the video store business emigrated, Williams says he started getting bored with the business. “A friend of mine, who worked at Ogilvy, suggested I try my hand at advertising because I like writing. One of my store clients overhead the conversation and she wanted to know which part of advertising interested me and offered to help,” he says. “I didn’t know there were different aspects to an ad agency…”
Not long after that, he was at The Agency working on the Telkom account. He moved to OMD where he worked on the Chrysler account and then it was onto Nota Bene where he has been for the last 10 years.
At Nota Bene he’s worked on several high-powered accounts, including: Unilever, Virgin Mobile, Famous Brands, Nedbank, Vodacom and Brandhouse.
How does he do it? Williams jokes: “Bullshit is my third major language, after English and Afrikaans. I’m not a very PC person.”
As for what he believes he does best, he says: “I like doing fun work and spending time thinking about problems.”
He lectures at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and at the AAA School of Advertising. He is very involved with Advertising Media Association of South Africa (AMASA), having been on their committee for the last two years.
“I have strong views on education,” he says.” I don’t believe we are building enough talent in the industry and not enough is being done to make our industry seem sexy. People generally don’t wake up and go, “Ahhh media, yeah, I think I’ll do that. A lot of people, like myself, fall into the industry purely by chance. So, we need to be making it more enticing.”
Both Swanepoel and Meyjes agreed that clients were mad about Williams because of his depth of knowledge, passion and skill. “He is also incredibly funny, which is something that is really needed in this industry,” says Swanepoel.
Meyjes says: “He has led an extremely talented group of individuals over a number of years as managing director of Nota Bene.” But he remains under the radar, she says, because “like a true professional, he prefers for his people to be recognised and to take the high ground”.
Outside of his work, he loves reading his extensive collection of books, enjoys music, going to theatres, galleries and movies. “I’m a bit of a social tart,” he says. “It’s fun going out with my friends and getting completely shitfaced, just because we can. And then being upset the next day because we did and promising to never drink again. But then I believe in the philosophy: ‘Live fast, die young and leave a good looking corpse’.”
And just in case you were wondering what happened to his career as a classical guitarist, he says: “Although I still play roughly three to four hours of guitar a week, I no longer perform in public.”