From starting a business with R2 000 four years ago to seeing the company become the first black-owned marketing agency to win the AdFocus award for best medium-sized agency, Ngubane shares his success story.
The journey for Ngubane and his business partner, Zibusiso Mkhwanazi, began in 2012 with the dream of building a formidable marketing agency that’s not only recognised in SA, but across the continent.
But entering an industry that Ngubane describes as “pretty closed” and at a time when big corporates were scaling back on marketing budgets, the pair knew that the only way they were going to crack it was by becoming a challenger agency.
AVATAR’s unique selling proposition was its focus on digital as the core component of everything they do.
“When we started it was the worst idea because it was during a recession and budgets were getting cut in terms of marketing, so it was challenging, but it actually made the business more competitive because we had to find new ways to find marketing budgets,” Ngubane says.
“Being a challenger agency – that’s how we’ve positioned ourselves – we fight harder, we pitch harder and we work harder to make sure that we give brands something that’s very different to what they can get out there in the market, and that’s the market understanding and entrepreneurial flair that we bring.”
That’s how he says they landed National Geographic as one of their first clients, followed shortly thereafter by Fox Africa Channels which tasked them with launching the first Walking Dead campaign as well as Empire.
They leveraged the credibility gained from having these top international brands as clients to grow the business – which has grown by over 100% year-on-year over the past three years –and secure more clients including the likes of BrandSA, South African Airways, KPMG, Caltex, Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and Limpopo Tourism.
Today, AVATAR employs 69 people with offices in Joburg and Cape Town, executing client content across 27 African countries and most recently named the Financial Times AdFocus medium sized agency of the year – the first time a black-owned agency has achieved this accolade.
While Ngubane is incredibly proud to be running a fully black-owned marketing agency, he says it was equally important to the partners that their business be wholly representative of the South African consumer market and this is what he believes gives them the competitive edge.
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“We really traded in diversity, we wanted to be an agency that reflects our consumers and the diversity of our consumers and I think that has been our strength and that’s what has led to the BrandSA wins, the SAA win. We really understand the market and we can apply it that way,” he says.
The biggest lesson he says he’s learnt is the importance of managing your cash flow effectively and willingness to make personal sacrifices during the early stages of his business for the sake of growth.
“For the first three years we didn’t take any money from the business, every bit of money we earned went to back into the business as a re-investment,” he says.