SME success a by-product of growth

When Pepe Marais and Gareth Leck founded Joe Public in March 1998 in Cape Town, they disrupted the local advertising industry with their innovative business model which was positioned as a Take-Away menu -aimed to demystify the business of advertising by making its service offering transparent to clients.

“We started the business without a cent to our names and grew it through innovation, not only in terms of our business model, but with our creative offering to our clients,” says Marais. “Our unique selling point was that our advertising services for print, TV and radio were categorised as rare, medium and well done and were displayed on a menu,” he explains.

In order to expand their concept, the duo sold their business to IPG, an international marketing network in 2001, and by 2006 had expanded Joe Public to a second office in Johannesburg. It was however not all smooth sailing – it was during 2006 that the business lost its biggest client, resulting in retrenchments due to loss of revenue. “At that stage, we realised that working under the corporate whip of an international giant was counter-productive to our culture and entrepreneurial spirit,” says Marais.

Following this realisation, after three years of negotiations, and amidst a global recession which had detrimental effects on the South African economy, the pair bought back their company and started to rebuild it from the ground up – with depleted cash reserves and a headcount of 30 staff.

“Just as we were getting on our feet again our biggest client slashed their marketing budget to 0%. Because we were trying to rebuild our business, we made the decision to work for free for the next seven months. During this period we also managed to win six new clients,” adds Leck.

To this day, Joe Public is ranked as one of the largest independent, 100% South African owned brand & communications group in the country, offering full services in advertising and communications through five integrated specialist companies: Joe Public (Above-the-line), Connect Joe Public (Digital), Engage Joe Public (Public Relations), Ignite Joe Public (Cross-platform) and Shift Joe Public (Brand Design).

Marais says that through their experience of starting a small business, securing a merger, buying back the company, and then going bankrupt and starting from scratch again, they have developed their management and leadership skills based on their resilient entrepreneurial characteristics.

“Once we regained ownership of our business, it forced us to do some soul searching which resulted in the realisation that the purpose of our business was growth – in terms of bolstering the growth of our clients through advertising, the personal growth of our staff and in turn contributing to the growth of our country,” explains Marais.
“In light of this, we also started our own non-profit organisation in 2008 called One School At A Time and have recently registered our own development academy, Joe Public School of Growth,” continues Marais. “We are passionate about assisting small business owners in growing their businesses and have run 18 workshops to help these individuals define the purpose of their businesses over the past few years.”

Joe Public prides themselves as a people driven organisation and although they are a high energy and competitive meritocracy, they strive to remain courageous, firm, passionate and compassionate at all times.

Pepe Marias and Gareth Leck are finalists in the 2017 Entrepreneur of the Year® competition sponsored by Sanlam and BUSINESS/PARTNERS. For more information on their business, please visit the Joe Public website: