An epic success

Winner of the 2011 Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year® and the Innovation Award

Founded in 2009 and already ranked the 7th largest public relations and communications company in South Africa, it’s comes as no surprise that founder and managing director of Epic Communications, Elian Wiener, walked off with two coveted titles at the 2011 Entrepreneur of the Year Awards: Emerging Emerging of the Year® and The Innovation Award. Here’s how it all began…

Elian WienarIn less than three years, Epic Communications went from a zero client base to currently more than 25 retainer clients – the vast majority of which are blue chip companies such as Old Mutual, Aon, DuPont, Nedgroup Investments, and WesBank. “When I started Epic Communications, I knew it was crucial to attract high quality staff if I was going to have any chance of securing any major clients; all of whom are traditionally reluctant to outsource to a one man show,” says Elian, who managed to grow the business to one that now employs more than 20 staff in both Johannesburg and Cape Town. “The vast majority of public relations agencies in South Africa focus on the consumer sector i.e. restaurants, celebrities, FMCG, etc, while very few have the technical ability to be able to provide communications services to companies looking to showcase their intellectual capital and position themselves as thought leaders to their respective target audiences.”

But Elian, who had all the skills and experience necessary to fill this gap – thanks to his position as head of external communications at Old Mutual – approached the market with a well-constructed business case and plenty of belief. A man on a mission, he then went on to seek out a few key personnel – all of whom are still with the company and have benefited in many ways, including financially.

The difference?

Apart from offering its clients strategic communications and public relations services, Epic Communications is also involved in a number of other initiatives, including a joint venture to produce INVESTA, one of South Africa’s leading publications for the investment industry, as well as the launch of its investment seminars – attracting over 150 investment professionals and featuring some of the leading figures in the industry. And if that’s not impressive enough, the company also runs Epic Journalism Training Seminars that are aimed at improving the technical skills of local business journalists.

“From a public relations perspective, our key advantage is that we ensure we have an in-depth understanding of our clients businesses and the industries in which they operate,” explains Elian. This, he reiterates, is crucial to being able to identify opportunities to communicate their key messages and engage with their target audiences. “In most cases, we are generating virtually all the content on behalf of our clients, from press releases to newsletters to social media posts and responses. We are also extremely focused on delivering communications that are geared towards assisting our clients achieve their business objectives and put measurables in place to gauge our performance on these criteria.” And, of course, the company’s strong media relationships and journalists also play in its favour.

But Epic Communications is unlike the average company that operates on a specific set of guidelines and rules. It is constantly evolving to adapt to the ever-changing times, and one of these changes includes the addition of the Epic Social Media Division in late 2010, which currently runs a number of social media and online reputation management campaigns for clients. “I set myself a target of consistently generating four to five new innovations and ideas per month. Of these, I target 75% to be implemented successfully within a three month time period. Some may be small operational ideas, such as better ways of reporting to clients, while others may be extremely big picture ideas such as new business units,” Elian explains. It is clear why the EOY judges saw him deserving of the Innovation Award.

Being married to an entrepreneur

“Owning your own business requires a huge amount of focus and commitment, so my wife (who recently launched her own business) and I, accept that there is not a lot of room for socialising or partying, although we do try to get out from time to time.” Elian, who has a degree in marketing and finance as well as an Honours degree in Corporate Finance and Investments from WITS University, is married to – as he describes her – “a very energetic wife” and they share an equally energetic two-year-old daughter. Despite the sacrifices that the couple has to make for their respective businesses, they also realise the importance of taking regular breaks. “We try to go on holiday at least twice a year. This year we spent a week in northern Italy in June, which was really fantastic,” he adds.

Before taking the leap toward entrepreneurship, Elian believes that it’s important to ask oneself three very important questions:

  • Is there a gap in the market for the product or service I want to provide?
  • Do I have the necessary skills or ability to build or attract the skills that are required to deliver my service or product?
  • Am I passionate about the industry I want to operate in.

If you can answer yes to all these questions, he concludes, then the rest of the challenges can be overcome.