When Etiket set up its training initiative, Sum of 21, it realised funding would be a challenge. But it came up with a very creative way to solve this.
Now in its fourth year, Sum of 21 taps into BEE grants for its funding.
“We created the infrastructure in such a way, that Sum of 21 becomes the ideal recipient of BEE grants, focusing on all four of the major BEE channels (skills development, socio-economic development, enterprise development, and supplier development),” explains Janhendrik Oosthuizen (left), group CEO of Etiket and Sum of 21.
Companies that commit BEE funding to the initiative receive creative hours in return, as a thank you for their contributions.
“This funding model changes the playing field with regards to giving companies more bang for their buck with regards to marketing budgets that are cut to the bone, they don’t have enough to go around. This is a way to leverage that, getting more marketing collateral without putting additional pressure on your marketing budgets,” Oosthuizen adds.
Skills development and transformation
The initiative’s aim is two twofold; firstly to address skills development. “In the creative industry, skills are a problem. We just don’t have enough skills. We said ‘it’s time to stop fighting with the bigger agencies over the few fish in the pond, and let’s create more fish to fill the pond’,” comments Oosthuizen.
Secondly, it’s all about transformation. “The creative industry is horrible when it comes to transformation. We are very very far behind compared to other industries. So Sum of 21 is there to assist with a broader transformational agenda in the industry,” says Oosthuizen.
Sum of 21’s origins
Two to three years ago, Etiket went through a bit of a transformation to specifically get itself in line with the BEE codes. The agency came to the conclusion that they needed to adopt a very aggressive transformation strategy and agenda, and out of that Sum of 21 was born.
The training runs for a year, after which participants receive a further qualification, a National Certificate in Advertising.
Another differentiating element of the initiative, aside from the funding model, is that Sum of 21 has become a completely separate, real world agency, not just an internship programme that is part of Etiket. The participants work on real briefs, rather than training scenarios with no real world implications.
“When it comes to an agency or any corporate environment, one must be careful to think that you’re going to take an internship or learnership programme and just slot it in to your normal operations, it doesn’t work … These youngsters are so green, you need so many seniors to look after them, and guide them and coach them,” Oosthuizen emphasises.
With Sum of 21, there is a dedicated team of seniors who just work with the youngsters, and don’t also work for Etiket. This allows them to dedicate all their time to training and upskilling the youngsters, and they have been specially selected for their mentoring abilities, something which not every person has.
A reluctance to BEE
Touching on how Sum of 21 has commoditised BEE spend, Oosthuizen elaborates. “What we see with most of our corporate clients is, they’re very open and everyone buys into the spirit of BEE and what needs to be achieved and everyone wants to make a difference, but BEE spend still stays one hell of a grudge transaction.
“People feel they’re writing cheques and money goes into a deep hole and there’s very little traction and measurement of where it’s going. Does it make a difference? No one can say.”
He stresses that by spending BEE money with Sum of 21, companies can see exactly where and how their money is spent, how it benefits youngsters and the industry, and the return on investment they receive.
“Putting a return on investment behind BEE spend is a complete paradigm shift … It takes the grudge out of BEE, because they can spend and now start to get something back, and it’s not a selfish getting back as it makes a big difference to people’s lives,” Oosthuizen adds.
Sum of 21 already has several big benefactors on board, and there are a few more currently in negotiation, which will hopefully come on board before the end of the year. Sum of 21 also does normal commercial work, which offers work at much reduced rates as it’s a training environment.
Oosthuizen also states that the media industry is “filled with a lot of talk about BEE, but not a lot of do”.
“We’ve got so many industry bodies and high and mighty players that talk this talk about transformation, and what everyone has done, but then nothing happens. We’re caught up in this talking talking talking,” he elaborates.
A lack of print learning at university
Touching on the elements lacking from the participants after they arrive from university, Tiaan Ras, Sum of 21’s principal says, “We are quite fortunate that we can give them quite a bit of print, because interestingly they don’t work a lot with print at university any more. They learn a lot of electronic and digital media, but we really have to work hard with them in the beginning for print.”
The aim is to give them a whole agency experience, across above-the-line and below-the-line work, and a lot of digital work.
Steady growth over the years
In the first year of operation Sum of 21 had four to sevenlearners, growing to 20 last year, of which 18 completed the entire year. There’s currently 50 in Sum of 21, showing the substantial growth over the past year. Currently 16 permanent employees make up Sum of 21. The aim is to have 100 learners in Sum of 21 next year, growing to 200 by the end of 2019.
Here are some examples of work that Sum of 21 has done:
Etiket is also working on getting SETA training accreditation so that another avenue opens up for accepting applicants.
Etiket, a through the line agency, has been around for 11 years. It has a variety of clients in a variety of industries.