One of the biggest issues facing South Africa’s digital media industry, particularly in the marketing sector, is a “massive” shortage of skills.
Andre Steenekamp, CEO of 25AM (the entity that grew out of Acceleration Media after Amorphous New Media, a subsidiary of the Times Media Group, bought a 50%-stake in the business, and Lagardère Active Radio International (LARI) still owns the other 50% of the company) says the fast-expanding and constantly evolving industry is gobbling up talent as fast as it emerges, without fostering the requisite experience.
“Juniors with as little as six to 12 months experience are getting higher salaries, which aren’t really deserved. A ‘junior’ used to be someone with two to three years on the job. I’m happy to take on unskilled people and train them for 12 months. Pay it back. Sharpen them up. But it’s a constant challenge keeping them as other companies will headhunt them the minute they have some training,” he says.
He’s not alone. Traditional media agencies also bemoan the skills shortage but initiatives such as the Advertising Media Foundation’s Masters Development Programme are helping to upskill on-the-job candidates by funding further education and helping them fast track their careers.
Steenekamp believes the old fashioned apprenticeship model could work in the industry but the low pay is off putting to Generation Y, who have a sense of entitlement and want it all NOW, whether they’re skilled or not. “Apprenticeships should be viewed as schooling. It’s not slave labour, it’s on the job education just like other trades. Job experience and the development of skills over the period of a couple of years. You’re not paid when you go to university!” he says.
At the same time, the media agency business isn’t marketing itself to school leavers and not enough youngsters are coming through the ranks of media training schools who understand the digital marketing business, Steenekamp says.
25AM, a rather unusual name, came about towards the end of last year after the TMG acquisition. The name change signals the company’s evolution from a digital media agency into a customer engagement focused digital consultancy. Of course, functions such as media planning and buying remain, as does search engine marketing.
“Amorphous New Media was a creative agency. Acceleration Media had a good view of the customer. There was also confusion in the market about Acceleration Media and Acceleration so the TMG acquisition was the idea opportunity to clear the confusion and rebrand,” Steenekamp says.
“The ‘AM’ is a nod to our history, the Acceleration Media past. It’s our legacy. It’s the data, skills and experience we bring with us. We looked at our new shareholder, TMG (SA), and the old shareholder, Lagardère (France) and tried to find a way to bring them together. The meridian 25° east of Greenwich is a line of longitude that does just that,” Steenekamp explains. “It was a ‘eureka’ moment!”
Steenekamp says they were initially concerned they might lose clients especially as the deal took a long time (14 months) which caused some to become a little “shaky”. But Steenekamp set off on a roadshow to solidify existing relationships, and ultimately, 25AM lost three small contracts.
He says online reputation management (ORM) is their biggest growth area, and the company has just landed the Standard Bank account, which is “fairly sizeable”. “Consumers have a voice now and they use their voices on social media. Companies cannot afford to ignore those voices. Most companies have only just got to grips with listening to social media and now they have to deal with what they hear. Our Radian6 technology feeds directly into social media platforms. So we know if someone has tweeted about a bad experience and can respond directly.
“Brands have to have a conversation with consumers now. People will complain more than they compliment if you don’t respond. We train and empower staff at companies to make decisions on how to deal with complaints, design workflows to assist them to escalate the complaint to a supervisor, if necessary. It can also help drive strategy right down to testing sentiment about a product. Those learnings can be taken to creative to help them. It’s real info,” he says.
Steenekamp says 25AM sits on years of client data that is largely untapped. The company needed to “prove AM part” of the business: customer engagement. So, being careful not to give away secret client data, they developed a customer engagement report called ‘Beyond the Click-Through’ to look at customer usage across various sectors, from financial services to health and beauty. The objective was to explore the customer journey, and use that understanding to develop efficient digital strategies and planning.
The research discovered the consumer journey is not straight; and it has many steps, not always in straight line. It has multiple touchpoints, and moves way beyond the click-through.For example, in search campaigns 70% of search converts on the first step as people know what they’re looking for, but converting another 20% will take another three steps, and is assisted by other media channels. In media campaigns, 30% convert on the first step, and a further 60% more convert in another 10 steps. Conversions are not always immediate, and ore often assisted by other campaign exposures.
The journey also crosses devices, with 40% of search responses taking place on smartphones and tablet. Desktops are used during in working hours, second screens in the early mornings and evenings, so it’s vital to have a multi-screen strategy, Steenekamp says.
Of course, all the technological advances in the world are useless without the bandwidth needed for South Africans to truly embrace the online world. The rise of video advertising, for example, depends on consumers being able to download without breaking the bank.
“South Africans are hungrier than advanced countries such as the US. The uptake and use of technology is what South Africans want,” says Steenekamp. “Smatphone penetration is huge. But we think twice before we download on phones. Hopefully Icasa will address this soon.”