20 Nov 2014

South Africa: PR, branding and stunning beaches

Green Point, Cape Town - South Africa
As promised, I am starting the series of interviews with bright PR professionals from around the world for this blog, “global public relations”, in-cooperation with the World Communication Forum – #WCFDavos –. We went all the way to South Africa (SA) to hear some valuable insights about how PR is conducted in that region of the world and to learn a bit about branding and communications from an expert in the field. 

I proudly introduce: Mr. Solly Moeng, an experienced consultant in branding and communications, former President of the Public Relations Institute of Southern Africa (PRISA) and founder of DonValley – Brand, Marketing & Communications. DonValley is the exclusive partner of the World Communication Forum#WCFDavos in SA.

Solly Moeng

Solly Moeng is an experienced consultant with specialisation in holistic Brand Management and Strategic Marketing & Communications. His professional career so far has taken him to Canada, USA and France, where he completed his French MA Degree. He was the South African Tourism's Marketing Manager in Canada, based in Toronto, before getting appointed to lead the organisation’s operations in the USA. As Country Manager, based in New York, he managed the roll-out of South Africa’s Tourism Growth Strategy both in the US and Canada.

Solly has also worked as Business Development & Marketing Manager of Mesure, a South African subsidiary of the French multinational construction company, “Bouygues Travaux Public, and Basil Read”; a position that enabled him to act from the company head office in St-Quentin-en-Yvelines, just outside Paris. He has also occupied the Marketing & Communications Manager positions for CapeNature and the South African Biodiversity Institute. The latter, is in charge of the world famous Kirstenbosch, Cape Town, and eight other National Botanical Gardens in South Africa. Solly completed the IMM’s Post-Graduate Diploma in Marketing and attended courses at the respected Vega School of Branding. He currently lives in Cape Town, South Africa, and is now enrolled for a PhD at the University of Cape Town (UCT), focussing on how the nuclear industry integrates media in its crisis communications.

From Amsterdam, I conducted this insightful interview with Solly in Cape Town by phone and email in the first couple of weeks of November 2014. Below you will find his enriching input on how communication is undertaken in South Africa and his views on branding, leadership, communication and PR.

1.    How much do Communications & PR differ in different regions? I mean, do you see much difference in the successful PR efforts done in South Africa from the other regions you have worked at such as Europe and North America?

We live in an increasingly connected world. Many practitioners in South Africa are also members of professional organisations that are located elsewhere, especially the US and UK. Participation in their activities is often online. They are therefore aware of industry trends elsewhere and tend to emulate them. In some cases, local practitioners will initiate and lead discussions on certain topics. However, entry barriers into the profession in South Africa tend to be too low. It seems to be different in other countries.

Stunning Cape Town

2.    How do you evaluate communication and PR done in South Africa? How do they differ from other regions?
There is not much difference, in my view. Here in South Africa, one of the latest big issues has to do with measurement; determining how PR/Communication contributes to the bottom-line. There seems to be increasing awareness about the need to shift measurement focus from ‘outputs’ to ‘outcomes’. This is a good move.

3.    When was DonValley founded and in which areas does it specialise? What are DonValley's main areas of expertise? Could you mention some main projects you have worked so far?
DonValley was founded in 2006 and we specialise in the provision of reputation management services. We help brands protect and enhance their corporate reputation. Exact ‘tools’ to be used for each intervention are determined on a case-by-case basis. We first conduct a thorough analysis /diagnostic of existing strategies/practice in order to determine what each brand needs. Our services, therefore, range from assessing and / developing strategies for corporate communications, media relations, influencer relations, stakeholder mapping and stakeholder communications, issues/crisis communication management, etc.

Solly Moeng, founder of Don Valley
In terms of recent project, we were called in as contractors by South Africa’s premier retail giant, Woolworths, with me being contracted to act in the position of Head of Corporate Communications & PR and to lead internal teams and help protect and enhance corporate reputation. What started as a 3-month appointment ended-up lasting almost 2 years. My leadership contributed in helping Woolworths regain previously lost positions as the most respected corporate brand in the South Africa retail sector, on one hand and, on the other hand, in the general corporate sector.

We have also been helping another giant brand, Imperial Logistics, develop a new corporate communications strategy, including media relations, internal communications, influencer strategy, crisis/issues communication strategy.

In addition, I write weekly columns for a weekly online financial website, analysing corporate behaviour. Below are examples of recent articles Solly has written:
Astonishing South Africa

4.    Would you consider cultural backgrounds when crafting communication/PR/branding strategies?
Yes, cultural background in the broader sense, not so much in the ethnic sense. But where the latter is strongly followed, it would be better to have it in mind when drafting communication strategies.  It is generally wise to consider local values and norms in order to shape communication practice, otherwise proposed solutions might, at best, not be easy to implement and, at worst, be rejected outright. For instance, in South Africa we have 11 official languages and there is a considerable influence of English, this is important to have in mind when crafting messages for recipients in this country. Culture determines the way things are done in a country, so it is significant to take cultural differences into account when structuring e-messages in a way that e-recipients will understand and interact.

6.    Branding and Public Relations – are these areas connected? How?
The Public Relations function supports brand. It can be used to help raise awareness about brand or as an ongoing tool to help position the brand, and grow goodwill and affinity to the brand. It is one of the tools, but not the only one. It is all about stakeholders’ relationship and engagement.

In today’s, 'reputation economy’, brand identity and brand image are two increasingly important factors to consider in a PR strategy. Brand identity is “how an organisation wants to be perceived by its audience”, while brand image is “how the organise is seen by its stakeholders”.

7.    You have been responsible for managing the growth strategy of South Africa Tourism in US and Canada. What are the main branding strategies you have developed during your time in North America? Which would you mention as the most effective plan/programme for destination marketing/branding?
Americans believe other Americans easier than they do foreigners. Our most successful strategy was to use Americans to help tell others about our product. We did this through a consumer advertising campaign, both in Canada and the US, through which we worked with a number of outbound tour operators to promote two types of travel packages to South Africa. One was cheaper, lasting about a week in South Africa, and the other was slightly more costly, lasting ten days or more. 

The first one, dubbed “Upscale Wonderlusters” targeted potential first long-distance travellers and the second one, dubbed “Next-Stop South Africa”, targeted Americans/Canadians who were used to long-distance travel, possibly having been to Asia, Australia, New Zealand, etc. and disposed of both time and income to travel. We believed that the latter were predisposed to consider South Africa as their next travel destination.

Cape Town
We had a special campaign website themed “My South African Story” on which those who returned from a trip to South Africa were encouraged to share their South African stories. Many of them were happy to do so, and thus encouraged others to also travel to South African, telling them that South Africans are very friendly and welcoming to (especially) Americans (because of widespread fear to travel soon after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre).    African-American travellers were particularly interested in the historic aspects of travel to South Africa, visiting places like Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were incarcerated for many years, and his home in Soweto, as well as other related sites. White-Americans are generally interested in wildlife and general sight-seeing experiences. These considerations always informed tour content. 

8.    How have brand architecture and strategy evolved along the years? Is there a global branding strategy programmes you have worked in?

At a high-level, we still follow the “Branded House” or “House of Brands” approach, or some slight modifications here and there. Solly explained that a branded house is a brand like Mercedes-Benz which has many brands under the same umbrella brand while a house of brands is a brand such as Coca-Cola that is owner of other big brands like Sprite or Fanta but with very distinct separation between them – some people do not even know Sprite and Fanta are from Coca-Cola, for instance.

These are still, by and large, the brand architecture options that make sense to consider. I led processes to develop a new brand strategy for organisations like the South African Oil & Gas Alliance (SAOGA -www.saoga.org.za), a new Corporate ID for CapeNature -www.capenature.co.za (formerly known as the Western Cape Nature Conservation Board), Eastern Cape Tourism Board -  www.visiteasterncape.co.za, etc.  

9.    In general terms, how would you define the difference between local branding strategies from global ones?
In South Africa, too many people still confuse branding with corporate identity (the look and feel – usually the logo - part of a brand). One has to keep reminding people that a brand is made up of what I refer to as the ‘invisible part of the iceberg’ (value proposition, strategic intent, etc) and the ‘visible part of the iceberg’ (colours, logos and other look-and-feel aspects). South Africans also seem to like rebranding over and over again, usually whenever new leadership takes over. People elsewhere seem understand that a brand is like a slow growing tree that should be nurtured over time.   

More of Cape Town
10.  In 2015, you will be speaking at the World Communication Forum about communication and leadership, how do you see these two areas? Is communication essential for good leadership? Or vice-versa, communication could only be well executed if led by a strong leader? Could you please develop on this?
Indeed, no leader can expect to be effective if he/she communicates badly, or doesn’t communicate at all. But, communication goes beyond internal communication to company employees; it has to extend throughout the organisation’s entire value-chain and stakeholder groups. Increasingly, all organisations should map their stakeholders, identify them, group them, and determine the most appropriate way (media platform, tone, regularity, etc.) to communicate important information to them. They should also put in place appropriate platforms for two-way/multilateral communication with all stakeholders, informed by a thorough understanding of each stakeholder group, as well as the issues that matter to it. 

These could be rights issues: human rights, workers’ rights, children’s rights, women’s rights, environmental rights, etc., or pure shareholder related issues.

I will also address structural matters in many organisations. Few organisations have Chief Communication Officers or similar positions at the most senior leadership levels, e.g. EXCO, or even board members who understand strategic communications. This lacuna often results in the ‘juniorisation’ of the communication portfolio and denying it crucial opportunities to make strategic input at the right level. Communicators are turned into ‘runners/messengers’ who simply take instructions, often from bosses with little understanding of the strategic role that can be played by seasoned communicators. If positioned correctly, seasoned strategic communicators can help organisations avoid finding themselves on the back foot in terms of reputation management.

Solly Moeng
I also refer to this as “upstream integration for better downstream delivery”. Where strategic communicators are integrated at the top echelons of organisational leadership, they become better prepared to foresee threats and weaknesses, and prepare their organisations deal with potential media issues that might embarrass the organisation. The opposite might also be true, as they might see opportunities ahead of time and, through clever communication, help their organisations take advantage of them through clever positioning.        

I concluded the interview by asking how Solly defines the term 'Public Relations', as I intend
to ask this to all PR professionals whom I will be talking to in the coming weeks. In the end, we should be able to have a global definition when combining all definitions.

A huge thanks to Solly Moeng and Jessica Jones for the time and efforts... Your
time, kindness and attention were highly appreciated!

Keep an eye here for future interviews with C-level PR executives from around the globe.

Join us in Davos on 10-11 March 2015 for the VI World Communication Forum - #WCFDavos - www.forumdavos.com.

Follow me on Twitter ~ and keep on smiling :-)

1 comment:

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