Last June, Absa announced its separation from its UK parent, Barclays PLC, and its decision to restructure its continental holdings, Barclays Africa Group, to use its South African brand name.
That same month, South Africa’s third-largest bank, worth R169.8 billion, initiated the rebranding process by calling in over 20 media agencies to pitch for the lucrative account.
“It was very in-depth,“ acknowledges Celia Collins, MD of Carat, the media agency that, in February, was finally awarded the account.
“The first round was split into three areas: Strategy and Planning; Digital and Buying, and Africa – to allow many more smaller agencies to participate, so you could either go for all of the disciplines, or just one part of the discipline. Absa reserved the right to consolidate or split it up,” explains Collins.
Any pitching process is intense; this one, with so much at stake, proved nervy, lengthy and expensive. “It was an ongoing process and there was lots of work to be done; we had about 20-30 people working on it. Once they’d narrowed it down to three or four agencies, and consolidated the pitch, we had four different submission dates for pre-work, especially on pricing/fee, statutory requirements and approval on baseline contracts,” recalls Collins.
The company was then given two pitch dates in October, each a three-to-four hour Q&A presentation which was, “really, all about Africa: our Africa offices, how we handle work and collaborate,” says Collins. Carat had brought five African officers down for the pitch. A month later, they were called back to go over contracts line by line, with the understanding that it was still not a given.
A tough pitch
“It was a very thorough pitch, but one of the most positive elements was that they listened to what we had to say. They weren’t out to take a media agency down; they really were willing to listen. I haven’t seen that often, they were very meticulous, and I had the understanding that we would go over it until every single person – and there were about 15 or 16 people around the table – had understood and agreed on everything.”
It’s what makes winning the account all the more exciting, she posits: “We’re looking forward to a good partnership. It will be challenging, but fair. They understand that change needs to happen and they’re open to it. It’s more of a partnership; they understand that yes, we want to disrupt, but we are also partners, so we will challenge them on the rigor of going into market.”
Collins has no qualms about the reasons for Carat’s selection and its ability to take South Africa’s third-largest bank into the future on the entire continent. The award-winning agency consistently hits top global rankings, and is a market leader in digital and diversified media solutions.
“Our group has been future-proofing for 2020 and digital disruption – and that’s how we got the pitch. We are the disruptors in the industry – we made sure we got the specialists; our affiliates in Africa go through rigorous onboard process and auditing. We let them go if not – we either buy them out, or start a new agency in an African country. In the past year or so we started up quite a few new agencies, and have a strong presence in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Cameroon, Zambia and Mozambique – and we’re looking to buy four more this year.”
Research a major advantage
Collins credits the company’s investment into research as a major advantage. “We position ourselves in other African countries in much the same way as in South Africa; we invest in research in Africa as well and our consumer scope survey (CCS) focuses on Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, with three or four more countries coming on board to ensure we are on the forefront of insight and digital innovation. We are a specialist agency and that comprises open expertise.
“We went around the world to see best trends within digital to set your KPIs on – so what is given as a norm around the world: how many seconds, what percentage of screen downloads to count as an impression is a minimum basic. But we said to Absa, ‘Let’s create our own idea of what’s fair: how you create DMP platforms (database media platfroms that can be worked off – how data is stored, etc.”
The digital divide, she contends, is one challenge that most agencies still grapple with. “I think one of the biggest elements which a lot of agencies grappling with is that digital is another medium – a lot of people have full agencies which they don’t pull together, they operate separately. With us, everything sits together, and is interconnected – so communication matches what you see online and on TV.”
Disruption, transparency and brand safety, says Collins, are the top three trends the industry needs to focus on – and will determine any agency’s success and longevity: “How do you measure digital is vital; we are 100% transparent – we don’t hide money within digital to make more money.”
The Absa contract went into effect from 1 March, with a two-month handover period in each country, and Carat, a subsidiary of Denstu Aegis Network, officially takes over the buying side from 1 May.
Lucinda Jordaan is an independent writer, researcher and editor with extensive experience in all media, covering various fields from academia and finance to education and lifestyle.Her articles have appeared in several award-winning publications, locally and internationally, and she has contributed to various books and online sites, including The Media Online.