Paul Jackson is the CEO at GREY Johannesburg. He talks to Business Africa Online on his career in advertising, current advertising market in South Africa, GREY Africa and his strategic role in the company and what excites him about the future of marketing and advertising. Excerpts:
BAO: Tell us about GREY Johannesburg (Africa) and your role at the company?
Paul: The famous Grey Group, re-entered South Africa with Grey Africa. We are one of South Africa’s fastest growing advertising and communications agencies. Right now, my main priority is to grow and cement the global advertising giant as a leader in providing creative and effective full-service marketing solutions across the African continent. It is a critical step in Grey’s growth strategy of developing the network in fast growing and important markets and sectors in the AMEA region. Grey Africa focuses on developing a strong local Grey presence in South Africa as well as leading Grey’s expansion in key African markets.
BAO: How did you break into the advertising industry? And how did you advance to where you are today?
Paul: Advertising has been in my blood since an early age. My father co-founded the once famous and successful agency, Key Advertising which was acquired by the McCann Worldwide group. After leaving university, I teamed up with him and we decided to start our own agency called Volcano Advertising. We went on to become one of South Africa’s most successful and fastest growing independent advertising agencies, winning the Ad Age International Agency of The Year award before WPP grabbed a majority stake in the agency to re-launch the world-famous Grey brand in Sub-Sahara Africa.Our success can be attributed to hard work, a few lucky breaks, partnering with some of the industries most talented and gifted people and a deep passion for the ad business.
BAO: What are the most challenging aspects of your job? What causes you the most anxiety?
Paul: Our mandate is to create work which is thought-provoking, current and fearless in approach. With this comes a certain amount of risk and responsibility. What keeps me up at night? The fact that we are never satisfied. We know we can always be better. We know we have to work hard to stay ahead of industry change and we know we have to continually re-invent ourselves to remain relevant.
BAO: What do you enjoy about your career? Your current position as CEO, GREY Johannesburg (Africa).
Paul: I really enjoy defining the business’ strategies and seeing it come to life. I also love being an active part of world-class campaigns. I am especially passionate about the people who work at GREY and doing my bit to help develop the talent in them.
BAO: What is the current advertising job market like in South Africa? What areas will emerge as hot advertising specialties over the next five years?
Paul: The advertising industry, like all other industries, is experiencing unprecedented change with technological innovation turning our world upside down. This ongoing change necessitates that we re-invent the way we think and the range of skills we bring to the party to tackle client brand and business challenges. These new specialist skills are not only within the realm of digital communications such as digital media strategists, social media content producers, marketing automation and eCRM specialists but more importantly, move into the realm of digital consulting necessitating specialisations such as data scientists, systems engineers and business analysts.
BAO: Is it important to be passionate about advertising in order to be successful on a professional level?
Paul: Absolutely. My role as CEO is certainly not separated from being involved in client business strategy development and campaign conceptualising. I don’t think GREY would be successful if we weren’t all passionate about the industry and the brands that we serve. Passion is what fuels success.
BAO: Do you have a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme? If yes, how do you balance it with running a profitable efficient company?
Paul: At Grey, we believe in the healing power of creativity and that our creative resourcefulness can help solve some of the world’s most challenging problems. For the Grey Africa team, we decided to get behind education in South Africa. Because without an educated, literate population we cannot grow our people, our economy or the brands we serve. In short, we will build a stronger, more profitable business if we build a strong, prosperous society. Formed in 2006, the South African Primary Education Support Initiative (SAPESI) manages the import of mobile library vehicles from Japan with the goal of improving literacy in South Africa’s most rural communities. And with only 8% of the 26 000 primary and intermediate schools in South Africa having functioning libraries, the initiative is one that we strongly believed we should get behind. By 2025 SAPESI aims to cover 2,500 schools with 100 buses, thus having at least one mobile library in operation in each of the 96 education districts across South Africa.As the proud marketing partner of SAPESI, we provide support in the form of strategy, PR, event management, below-the-line and above-the-line communications, as well as branding and design.
BAO: With over two decades in the industry, what excites you about the future of marketing and advertising?
Paul: I would say the fast changing pace of the industry and the technological innovations that have lowered the cost to reach vast audiences easily and cost effectively leaving more budget to produce truly iconic storytelling messages across numerous, interconnected channels. It is the age of hyper-telling and there has never been a more exciting time to be in the communications industry.
As Grey’s CEO, Paul leads a team of creative thinkers to produce Famously Effective campaigns that make consumers love our clients’ brands which in turn get our clients noticed.
With 21 years’ experience in advertising and marketing, Paul’s strategic leadership and creative vision has grown Grey Africa into Ad Age’s International Agency of the Year 2014. A marketing and Business Economics Honours graduate from Wits, he is a director of several successful businesses and is acknowledged as an imaginative innovator and specialist brand architect.
He is also a marketing communications consultant to some of the world’s foremost brands. In 2013, he was given the Rising Star award for his role in shaping the future of South Africa’s marketing and advertising industry.