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Young, Gifted & Killing It: Jabulani Sibiya

by Veli Ngubane (@TheNduna) A water-polo playing, #TouchZA change-making, fighting-against-the-bland strategist: 24-year-old Jabulani Sibiya (@JabzSibiya) is now calling Joburg home as he takes on the lead strategist role on one of South Africa’s most-iconic brands. We find out more.

Veli Ngubane: Tell us more about yourself: where did you grow up and what did you want to be when you were growing up?
Jabulani Sibiya: I am a product of a Zulu king, Jabulani Snr and a Xhosa queen, Tembeka, born and raised in Johannesburg. My dad always said he wanted a family of lawyers, but it turned out the creative industry swallowed us whole. Growing up I always preached that I wanted to be the president. Very bold, I know, but after learning about different political leaders who have shaped the country in the past, I loved the idea of politics. One day is one day, however; for now, the advertising industry is pretty cool.

VN: Congratulations on your recent achievements; please tell me more, especially about the impact and change you plan to make?
JS: Thanks! Winning Tiger Brands School of Magic in 2017 with King James was awesome. Working with different brands, marketers, customers, packaging and shopper marketers from all over Africa was so inspiring. Being recognised by legends in the FMCG space was so motivating. I actually got to understand clients’ views, thinking and concerns more clearly, which was interesting.

I have recently moved over to Ogilvy & Mather South Africa from January 2018, as the lead strategist on the Castle Lite account. Very excited to work alongside Kristel and her strategy team, as well as working with the Castle Lite brand team who are ambitious, brave and exciting.

I’m here to shake things up. I am here to empower and inspire young people in our industry to step up, be bold and challenge the ordinary. Normal is gone.

VN: What is your philosophy in life that influences your work?
JS: Be the best version of yourself. When you start you have to finish, but the trick is finishing harder than when you started. Give your best every time.

VN: You have pioneered #TouchZA an initiative to expose students to the agency world; how is that going?
Yes! I cofounded it with a good friend who also studied in the same field, Jason Tuohy. We started Touch because we saw a gap in the market. When we were students, there were a limited number of places and platforms where you could engage with real life problems and collaborate with others to solve it. Touch is also a great opportunity for students to meet with specialised practitioners in their respected fields.

Touch is a monthly event that takes place on the last Wednesday of the month. We release a max of 20 free tickets to students and a max of 15 free tickets to people in the industry (creative, strategy, PR, client side, etc). Tickets are released on Quicket on the last Monday before the last Wednesday of the month. Details are on the Touch Talks: South Africa social media pages (Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, as well as our website which is on the way). If you are interested and reading this, give me a shout (Twitter/Instagram). Help and support would be appreciated. We’re currently working on starting touch sessions down in Cape Town. Ok, that’s my PR rant done, haha.

VN: What do you think the advertising world needs to do to retain black talent?
JS: Ah. The good old discussion around black talent in agencies.

Inclusion. Probably less important than the rest; however, it is worth mentioning. Black talent from time to time feel that they are not involved enough, either due to culture within the agency or due to not being supported or being put on big work or projects. Let’s not only use them in work that needs to speak to the mass market but also trust them on other big pieces of work.

Representation in managerial roles. Young black talent who sit in studio carry brilliant ideas that make sense, are tactical, and are sometimes simple to implement within the mass market. Including black talent in managerial roles for discussions that can take their ideas further, as well as conversations around insights to make them stronger and/or to challenge them even more, but most importantly, people who naturally understand the context of these ideas.

Listen to them or at least make an attempt to. These [people] are involved in movements; they are on the ground; they are doing wonderful things with their lives; they are moving forward; they are doing things differently. What if agencies noticed this, empowered them, collaborated with them on projects or simply used their side hustle skills to add flavour to the work they produce? Agencies always look outside of the building when sourcing to make work when there are musos, writers, actors, bloggers, social movement starters, etc all available within the agency.

Education/training. This is fairly simple, you would think but there are those [who] look past it or get lost in the chaos that is work. Adland needs to throw black talent into training and/or educate them. The least adland can do is put together some internal practices for people to learn and prosper within the agency.

VN: Which brands are getting it right in connecting with the main market? No pressure…
JS: Wow. This is a complex question, because there are brands who are getting it right; however, in different areas. I am going to leave it up to the reader to identify what it is about the brand or comms that hits the sweet spot — Find a better way to shop

Build It — Waterwise competition

Axe South Africa: #YouGotSomething

VN: How do you perceive yourself as a young leader in the creative industry?
JS: Wow. I honestly don’t consider myself as a leader in the creative industry, just yet. There are legends out there who I think are really doing their part in shaping, creating and recreating the creative industry. My dream is to be as passionate and knowledgeable as them one day.

VN: What advice can you give to people wanting to become kickass strategists?
You have to be hungry. You have to be on the ground and try by all means to immerse yourself into the world. Be bold; back up your work with valid evidence; and a key one which I learned from my previous boss, Lesego Kotane, is to try your best to simplify things. Many times, young strategists tend to show others how much work we have done vs the work getting to the point in a succinct way. A simple tip is to watch as many ads, campaigns, brand messaging, etc and try work back to what you think the insight and goal of the work is.

VN: What do you like most about your job? What is most challenging?
There are a lot of great things about strategy. I might be biased because I love my job. However, [I have] to be learning new things every day because research literally sits at the core of what I do. The most challenging thing for me is the amount of thinking you have to do in a short amount of time.

VN: What is your favourite ad campaign, past and present, and why?
Wow. I will list local examples, just because I am a fan of SA work.

Telkom Valley

This has to be one of my favourite past campaigns. I am a sucker for work that is emotional, work that speaks to the heart, work that is moving, work that’s real and makes you think. Work that makes you buy into a story which lends your heart to buy into the brand. I think this piece of work is timeless.

Meet South Africa. Meet Bheki — the uMbhaco Maker

This work, done by South African Tourism, was fantastic. It really picks up on all the nuances of the beautiful places that exist within SA. I also love that it is tourism done in such a modern, fresh type of way. It is not the typical kind of work that you would see tourism businesses getting involved in.

VN: What has been a highlight in your career?
To be honest, it was the day I found out that I will be leading the strategy on the Castle Lite account. This move has been a big step; besides the new city, it is a move where I can really put my hand up. I can’t be scared; in the words of Sylvester Chauke, “I have to stand against bland”, be bold and make great work.

VN: if you had a super power, what would it be?
Teleport. I blame Goku for this

VN: What exciting projects are you working on at the moment?
Castle Lite has some exciting work coming up! Boy, oh boy, it’s a busy and exciting year. I wish I could tell you. All I am saying is I’m amped (as I dance around the room like Carlton from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air).

VN: Tell us something about yourself not generally known.
I am a water-polo enthusiast (I am sure people are like eh, like in the water, emanzini?). Correct! I have been coaching water polo for the last six years but I have been playing for the last 10 years. Water polo is less of a side hustle for me and more of a passion. Last year I had the opportunity to go to France with the team I coached. What an opportunity. I also love the fact that coaching actually helps me think in a more-tactical way.

VN: Please would you supply two or three pieces of work you have been involved in?
JS: Sanlam WhatsApp group drama series

Veli NgubaneVeli Ngubane (@TheNduna) entered the world of advertising with a passion after completing his BSocSci (law, politics and economics) at UCT and a post-graduate marketing diploma at Red & Yellow, where he’s currently advisory board chairman. He also sits on the IAB’s Transformation & Education Council, is a DMA board member and has judged the Loeries, Apex and AdFocus awards. He is CCO and founding partner of the largest black-owned and -managed full-service agencies in the country, AVATAR. He is also co-founder of M&N Brands, which is building an African network of agencies to rival the global giants. In his monthly column “Young, Gifted & Killing It”, he profiles award-winning, kick-ass black creative talent in South Africa.

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Young, Gifted & Killing It: Jabulani Sibiya


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