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.

Give before you expect to receive

In business the general view is that there is no such thing as a “free lunch”. This implies that, if a consumer within your target market receives something free from a business, there is always an expected quid pro quo. 

If this is the conventional wisdom, the question remains as to how a business may provide value, without the potential future client experiencing it as “bribery” to buy something from the business? 

Below are a few examples of value-adding that, if they are not followed up by a request to buy, may make a positive impression of your business on the client. 
  • Illustrate your knowledge of a specific solution by demonstrating that you understand the target client’s need/challenge. Write short articles, and/or take part in radio/TV interviews where you, as the expert, give objective advice on the problem posed and also supply suitable solutions. Journalists and other media owners are always looking for subjects that people are struggling with, as well as experts that are able to address these subjects. Think, for example, of “green” solutions, the pursuit of healthier lifestyles, weight loss, how to save in challenging economic circumstances, how to start an own business, how to survive with children in their teenage years, and so forth.
  • Clients often do not understand their actual needs and buy services and products that seem to offer a solution to their need/challenge. Instead of simply providing a quotation on service requests, why not go that step further and determine what the most optimal solution for addressing the client’s need, would be. This might sometimes result in your business not being able to provide the optimal solution – then provide a referral.
  • Give free samples of your product to potential clients. They may then use the product and experience the results themselves, instead of just trusting your sales input and the endorsement of existing clients.
  • Become involved in matters that are of consequence to your target market. Your involvement should, however, be sincere, or you should not even consider it.
  • In many cases people have questions and just want to use an expert as a sounding board. I think of the advice counter at a nursery that people may contact telephonically or in person if they require advice on which chemical substance they need to treat a sick plant or shrub, or which shrubs flourish in shade. Not all businesses are necessarily suited to this type of solution, but it remains something to consider. This is another way of demonstrating your expertise.
If you succeed in establishing this added value, it may hold the following benefits for your business:
  • Your expertise instils respect in your target market. This subsequently creates trust in your target market that you are the right person to solve their needs/challenges.
  • Your credibility grows – people believe your advice and accept your guidance.
  • You become part of your target market’s “solution” – they see you as a “partner” in their lives.
  • It creates a perception of accessibility with your target market.
  • Applied correctly, it creates positive word of mouth for your business.

Winston Churchill was probably correct when he said the following, “We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give."

Find a way of sharing your unique expertise with your target market FREE OF CHARGE – in all probability your business will reap the benefits thereof in growing sales.

To support business owners with the important task of business planning, Sanlam gives you free access to the book Your Annual Business Game Plan for Success, which provides an easy and straightforward framework needed to draft a well-crafted game plan that will create the positive change and growth necessary for business success.

Go to www.sanlamgameplan.co.za to download your free copy.

Marketing tips for 2014

Marketing tips that may be implemented immediately: Evaluate the success of your current marketing actions

Article written by Jannie Rossouw, Head: Sanlam Business Market

In order to properly address this question, we should take a moment to consider the definition of marketing.

Simply put, this is everything we do to communicate our business (in respect of our product or service offers) to existing and new clients within our selected target market.

Evaluation is a continuous process of testing to determine how well our selected marketing mix (the elements we selected) performs against the targets that were set and the market trends within our specific industry.

Please complete the evaluation matrix below and award a point of 1 (inadequate performance) to 5 (meets all the selected targets) to evaluate the performance of you selected marketing mix. Choose “N/A” if you do not make use of the specific element(s). However, ask yourself, “Why not?”

Marketing elementPoint
(mark selected answer with “x”)
Note – this is not a complete list, but includes the most important elementsN/A12345
Brand identity
Newspaper advertisements
Public promotions/articles
Direct marketing/mail/e-mail
Sales letter
Network functions/opportunities
Website marketing (banners)
Referrals/recommendations by satisfied clients
Sales person/staff
Special offers


Use the results in order to decide on which elements to use more or less of.

Below are some more tips on how to determine your marketing success.

  • Ask clients where they heard of your business. Weigh the feedback against the above evaluation matrix.
  • Select specific marketing elements through which you want to market selected offers. Record the successes.
  • Test various headings for advertisements and e-mail campaigns. Determine which headings work best and use these in the future.
  • Publish useful articles and offer free reports. Use these to collect clients’ contact information. The number of responses is a good indicator of the subjects that interest your target market. Use these more.
  • Use business opportunities to act as speaker and to thereby establish yourself as an expert on your product or service within your target market. This is one way to widen your business network and to create enquiries about, or interest in your product/service.
  • When you take on brand name positioning projects (e.g. participation in a trade show) it is important that you determine your evaluation criteria before and after the show.
  • There are surely many other ways of testing the success of your marketing mix. See this as a start to objective measurement. Establish the practice of measurement in your business.

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