In our exclusive Modern Marketing Industry Interview series, Group Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Net#work BBDO, Boniswa Pezisa, discusses how she has always been an activist and communicated that through her creativity, her contribution to the advertising industry and having an opportunity to help channel people with raw talent.
Getting into the industry
Pezisa studied marketing at Rapid Results College. She was introduced to advertising when she got into acting, and was ‘sold’. ‘I love creativity – the work that I do is a form of art that appealed to me then and it still does now.’
Pezisa has not worked at many companies. ‘I find a place that I truly love and then I stay and get inspired,’ she said. She started in an integrated marketing/below-the-line advertising environment. ‘It was amazing and we solved every problem – if you are open to learning and growing, you could do so in anything. I am a perpetual student and so I learned quite a lot as I was there for eight years.’
Pezisa was then headhunted by the agency now known as TBWA, after which she joined Nedbank, heading up communications there. ‘I learnt a lot and I got to work with extremely smart people. When you had to present to them, you really needed to know your story.’ She was at Nedbank for two years and then moved to Net#work BBDO.
What have you enjoyed most about working in this industry?
‘There are amazing moments in advertising where you get to work with people who want to drive change and you get an opportunity to work on a brief that is going to inspire society as a whole and that is going to transform people’s lives. At Net#work, we did the very first Brand South Africa campaign, which was about re-instilling pride in who we are as a nation. It’s an iconic moment and the most amazing moment of my life.’
The agency also had an opportunity to work with child welfare to highlight the plight of young women who fall pregnant. ‘We were just thrilled to have this campaign, which was about getting under the skin of that and educating society about those kinds of challenges.’
‘Those iconic moments where you get to truly transform a mindset and contribute to change are what I live for, as well as moments where, as a sector, we sit together and ask: how are we going to tackle transformation? Because we are a creative bunch, we are going to do it right. In the early ’90s, we came up with this concept of ‘Abakhethwa’ where an advert was placed in the newspaper that stated ‘if you are a photographer, you think you can write or you think you can draw, call this number’.’
Pezisa said they were not looking for qualified people. ‘The feeling and belief that we had, and that I still have, is that Africa is the springboard for creativity and it is innate in all of us. All we need to do is to channel people accordingly. And so we launched this year-long programme where we trained people on the ground. They were basically placed in various agencies and it was phenomenal.’
Loeries 2020 Hall of Fame inductee
The Loeries Hall of Fame was introduced in 2007 to recognise a lifetime of achievement and support of the creative industry. Pezisa was inducted this year into the prestigious hall of fame. ‘Peer recognition is the biggest accolade. This is my peers in the sector saying, ‘We see you and we notice your contribution. We acknowledge the role you play in helping us move forward and move the needle’.’
Pezisa said that this needle still needs to be pushed and we all need to keep playing that contribution role. ‘That for me is service, hence I call it a ‘Service Award’, because I believe I have been acknowledged for serving my peers.’
Key components of leadership
‘You have got to be a good listener, you need to have empathy, as well as be compassionate. But you should also not suffer fools gladly. So you need to thread in all of those things.’
Pezisa said the biggest part of true leadership is absolute presence. ‘You can be quietly present: you notice, you are conscious, you are aware of what is going on around you and you are listening actively. Active listening is critical. Deep insights are also important. So, while are you listening, listen in for those insights, because the insights are what will help add to your leadership and your leadership style, and your mobilisation skills as a leader.’
She added that a leader must be able to lead diverse people in the creative space. ‘I always find it strange that we champion diversity, and then when we get these diverse people, we want to cut them down to the pulp of the same thing. We should not compromise the richness in diversity, it is what makes the whole organisation or the team strong.’
Watch the rest of of the interview below, where Pezisa discusses her hobbies and interests and industry-related changes.
One of Pezisa’s favourite campaigns is the Mercedes Benz #EveryTerrain, which features the late Hugh Masekela. ‘What is memorable for me is when Masekela said, ‘You know. In past South Africa, these lands were not accessible to me.’ That is such an emotive thing.’ added Pezisa.