Local advertising gurus claim top entrepreneurial award

Local advertising gurus, Pepe Marais and Gareth Leck of Joe Public United, were named the Medium Business Entrepreneurs of the Year® at the award ceremony for the 2018 Entrepreneur of the Year® competition sponsored by Sanlam and BUSINESS/PARTNERS held in Johannesburg this morning.

After having entered the competition in 2017 and making it through to the finalist stage, Marais and Leck remained eager to work on their business and re-enter this year with the hopes of winning a category. Their perseverance paid off as their hard work earned them the 2018 Medium Business category title.

Founded 20 years ago with zero capital, Marais and Leck managed to disrupt the local advertising industry by offering haute-cuisine advertising services for print, TV and radio at takeaway prices with various services displayed on a menu. Since then, the business has seen its fair share of ups and downs, but the entrepreneurs’ dedication to building a better business has seen them build a successful business, which is today ranked highly among the country’s top advertising agencies.

The business’ challenges have included selling the business, expanding into an offshore market, retracting back into the local market, losing half of their client base, buying the business back, and starting again from scratch. They have since rebuilt Joe Public into the largest independent, South African-owned advertising group in the country, offering full services in advertising and communications through five integrated specialist companies.

Marais and Leck’s dedicated approach has seen the agency grow from strength to strength, winning numerous awards for their business and clients – the most recent of which was the coveted Agency of the Year award at the 2018 Loeries Awards.

The team prides themselves on their “purposeful approach” to an industry that is often compared to the likes of used car salesmen. They pride themselves on keeping the bottom line at the bottom – and prioritising the purpose, growth, development and well-being of their people (both staff and clients).  

In light of this, Joe Public started their own non-profit organisation in 2008 called One School at A Time and have recently launched their own SETA-accredited academy, Joe Public School of Growth. “Over the past decade, we have systematically been making inroads with our two partnership schools in Soweto and Diepsloot. We are most proud of Forte High in Dobsonville, Soweto – a struggling high school that has become one of the top three township schools in Gauteng.

“Pepe and Gareth are determined individuals who embody the tenacious attitude typical of successful entrepreneurs. After missing out on the prize last year, they went back and worked on aspects of their business that they identified as needing attention. Their win is evidence of this hard work and passion,” said the competition judges.

For more information on their business, please visit the Joe Public website: joepublic.co.za.

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: joepublic.co.za.