Gill Randall, newly appointed CEO of Spark Media, tells Michael Bratt about her career journey, her interesting accomplishments and her need to constantly innovate.
Gill Randall has been working within the media industry for 33 years and, unlike most media professionals, she has been with the same company for her entire career. It all began for her completely by accident at the beginning of 1982. Before then she had studied teaching at Wits and JCE but in her own words “had absolutely no admin or secretarial skills”. She applied for a job at a recruitment company but at the same time saw an advertisement for an advertising sales person at Amalgamated Press, an independent local newspaper company based in the East Rand. She managed to scoop the latter position and three months after her appointment Caxton swooped in and bought Amalgamated Press. She has been with the media giant ever since.
So, Randall started her career as a junior half-day sales person on the local papers covering the East Rand. She was then promoted to group sales manager. A position in Caxton’s national advertising sales division in 1987 was next on the cards. Nine years later Randall was promoted to joint managing director of NAB (Newspaper Advertising Bureau), a position she held alongside joint managing director, John Bowles. “One of my fondest experiences was the opportunity to run NAB, and help grow the local newspaper category of the business into a mainstream media player,” she says.
She has also relished playing a part in growing the national advertising revenue base of Caxton local papers by tens of millions of rands over her career. Other notable accomplishments have included her election to the AMASA (Advertising Media Association of SA) committee and being voted Media Owner Legend of the year at the 2013 Most Awards.
Randall’s latest position sees her appointed as CEO of Spark Media, a new entity which was created through the recent July 2015 merger of NAB and Habari Media. She will be involved in several elements of the business including internal marketing for Spark, marketing services such as presentations and analyses, research and insights including Roots, the newly created Spark Creative Agency and staff training and development. She explains, “I will be responsible for the overall business strategy and future growth of the many platforms within the group and will ultimately answer to the Caxton board about the performance of the group.”
Randall goes on to explain that the philosophy of the new entity is to aim to sell advertising to clients based on the understanding of who their clients are, how they behave and how Spark can best advise them to reach as many as effectively as possible. The group plans on executing this philosophy by as she explains, “offering insights-driven solutions based on empirically proven marketing principles. We also now have the resources to produce creative executions, across platforms that tap into the science.”
Innovation and passion are key
When asked what her experience has been like as a woman in the media industry, Randall says, “The industry has always been skewed more towards women in general. I have never felt like being a women is a disadvantage and our industry is full of larger-than-life successful female role models in leadership roles.” She cites one of her most memorable experiences as having the opportunity to share her knowledge with marketing communications honours students at UJ when she guest lectured.
Her eagerness to pass on what she has learnt and from her experiences may stem from her past, where she had the opportunity to work closely with and learn from her mentor Noel Coburn, former MD of Caxton. Randall credits him with many of her opportunities saying, “He served as a springboard into so many things that were responsible for my growth and development in the marketing, media and communication industries.”
“A holistic view of the entire marketing field and an understanding of where media fits into the process. They need commitment and passion for the industry and the people in it and they must have a willingness to give back and get involved in industry bodies and initiatives,” Randall says when asked what characteristics a person must have in order to succeed in the media space.
She also places a lot of importance on maintaining your integrity, advising people to invest in long term partnerships rather than looking for a quick sell, even if it means that you admit that you are not the best media option in some cases. She also highlights the need for a level of transparency with regards to things such as discounts and added value and that investments need to be made in research to help clients with their communication strategies. She also touts innovation as a key tool in her strategy.
Bowles has said of Randall, “Randall is deeply passionate about the media industry and advertising but most importantly about buyer behaviour. She is one of the most loyal individuals I know.”
Play is also paramount
But, despite Randall’s many professional career achievements and accomplishments, there is another side to her, which many people may not know much about. It’s the person that flourishes away from work. The quote which she feels best epitomises how she chooses to live her life was said by author Simon Sinek and states, “We become leaders when we decide to help people grow, not just numbers.” Randall has certainly succeeded in doing this in the professional sphere. But, she has not by any means neglected the other areas of her life.
When not busy at work, Randall enjoys spending time with family, especially her daughters, granddaughters and a growing extended family. She has produced two prominent media industry daughters, Kirsten and Michelle, to pick up the baton from her. She also spends time socialising with friends, playing golf and travelling. Fun is extremely important to Randall. She reveals, “After a few glasses of red wine I think I sing like Madonna and am known to hijack the microphone. Also, my hair colour is natural!”
Luckily, she has also had the opportunity to mix her love for travel with her work as she says, “There were many agency and client trips with debauched, hedonistic fun but there are too many war stories to single out any specific one. I also had amazing team-building trips and the most unbelievable opportunities to see the world, learn and have incredible fun – all because of my amazing job.”
This story was first published in the August 2015 issue of The Media magazine.
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