Historically, if you wanted something fast and good, it would be expensive. You wanted it fast and cheap? It would be rubbish. You can follow where I’m going with this…
It used to be that any project was governed by these laws of physics and while I’ve always been a firm believer in the rule, I’ve also learnt that everything is relative. One man’s rubbish is another’s gold and all that.
A year ago, we started building a company that provides outsourced advertising production and content creation for brands across the globe. It’s an idea we’ve worked on for the better part of a decade and given the Rand’s relative weakness, GMT+2 time zone and international creative track record, seems like a no-brainer.
We’ve grown from a staff complement of 9 to over 70, work a 20-hour day across 4 shifts, deliver hundreds of projects every month and are currently looking to fill a further 30 positions to meet demand. An added benefit is that none of these new roles are working on business that originated in South Africa. That said, the budgets are tight, expectations are high and turnaround times are on the extreme side of fast, which produces an interesting conundrum that relates directly to the title of this article.
As a company, we’ve always believed in multi-skilled talent. Creators with a great design eye, that also happen to code. Writers that are also great photographers. Maybe it’s because of our South African roots – a culture that always makes a plan and an Industry that just isn’t big enough to support lots of specialists. While some people arrive at our door multi-skilled from the get-go, we’ve mostly had to invest a lot of time into developing the kind of skills and personality mix we need. It’s stood us in good stead, as it’s given us the ability to retool ourselves as client needs change and the industry evolves.
As South Africa comes to grips with its’ position as a technology outsource destination, we’re learning that the creative industries have slightly different requirements from the traditional ICT. So, we start with candidates with some kind of digital, creative or production education. Put them through an intense internship program that combines broad creative production training with development of verbal and written communications skills, looks at cultural fit and trains them on the myriad of tools and platforms we utilise daily.
By the end of the program, the candidates that we can’t place internally have been prepared to work in an industry that nothing but actual work experience can really prepare you for. The very best candidates are offered positions working on design, video and digital briefs for our international client base.
So, having a large workforce of young, hungry go-getters that are trained on our processes is great. But at the end of the day, experience matters. Enter what we internally call “The Pyramid”, essentially a model that combines the principles of apprenticeship with performance measurement. We encourage development of functional specialities, as well as developing skills across disciplines, with the goal of building a large bank of staff suited to our ways of working, at the pace that our clients demand.
We have informally applied this approach to over 20 people in 10 years of being in business. Of those, we’ve managed to retain a good portion of them in key positions, while many have moved on to setting up their own businesses. So, something must be working…
The point I’m getting to is that while the adage of Fast. Good. Cheap. may still be relevant, we as South Africans have the unique opportunity of being able to offer services that are competitively priced, of a high quality and with fast turn arounds. But, being able to continue doing this will rely heavily on training up employees and investing in them to be ready for jobs and ways of working that barely exist today, and for most of what this industry might throw at them.
And if you’ve done a really good job, they might become your greatest competitors.
Global Production & Executive Creative Director at More & Oliver Africa – Peter van Jaarsveld