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Yolisa is the managing director at Meropa Communications. She was previously responsible for the Public Sector Division at the agency. In that role, she headed up accounts such as the South African National Roads Agency (SANRAL), Monsanto SA, The National Institute for Humanities & Social Sciences (NIHSS) and, the Southern African Music Rights Organisation (SAMRO).

She has 22 years’ experience in the PR and communications industry and has worked both in agency and corporate environments. She has serviced and/or managed a range of Meropa accounts, including the Department of Health’s HIV and AIDS account (Khomanani), Brand South Africa, City of Joburg and City of Tshwane.  While working at another PR agency she headed accounts such as MTN South Africa, the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority and TsogoSun.

SMETechGuru recently had a Q and A interview with this PR and strategic communications maestro.

How did you end up at your current company? Tell us about your journey to where you are today?

This is my second stint at Meropa. I initially joined the agency for two years in 2004. When I resigned I went the corporate route for a couple of years before deciding to freelance. I had become a mother in 2007 and decided to quit my job and freelance in late 2008 so that I could spend time with my son. The financial crunch in 2009 made me rethink my career and I ended taking a job in another PR agency in 2010. The opportunity to return to Meropa came when I was invited to head up the Public Sector team in 2012 with Brand SA as the main client.

Describe your job: What do you do?

As Managing Director of Meropa Communications, I oversee the heads of the various divisions within the agency. I support and assist the divisional heads with a myriad of deliverables such as resourcing, budgets, new business development, client-related issues, strategy development for new clients, media training and crisis communication.

I also head up the agency’s internship programme called Katelo Pele (meaning “to step forward”). We started the programme eight years ago by taking in two communications and/or digital marketing interns every six months. Over the past eight years, we’ve hired several of these interns in our various divisions. Others have gone on to work at other agencies, in corporate and in government departments.

Meropa has a very flat structure where everyone pitching in where needed so I often end up assisting with aspects of client service.

Which level do you occupy within the business? Who do you report to?

I report to the Group CEO of Meropa Holdings, Patrick Gearing. I am a shareholder both within Meropa and our sister agency, JNPR.

Tell us what constitutes a typical working day for you, pre-and-post the COVID/lockdown era?

In an agency environment, no two days are the same. Before lockdown, we operated from our offices in Sandton full time and would attend quite a lot of client meetings both around Johannesburg and Pretoria. We have been working remotely since March 2020. The workload is still the same with meetings being held virtually. At the beginning of lockdown, we experienced a strange need for an increased number of meetings from several clients. Some clients also pushed boundaries by expecting us to work outside of the usual office hours. We quickly had to nip this in the bud as many of our consultants were experiencing exhaustion and added stress.

What are the best parts of your job and least favourite parts?

The best part for me is when we win an account that we have worked hard to pitch for. This often requires a team effort with lots of brainstorming and creativity.

The least favourite part is haggling over money with clients. I often say that clients who understand the importance of PR and reputation management are willing to invest in our valuable advice. It’s those who see us as just an “add on” to their business who make it difficult for us to assist them.

How do you define and measure success? Is AVE still a thing? If not, what other KPIs do you use to measure success and convey that success to clients?

Success for our clients is measured in various ways. Many are still stuck in high AVEs and want to see themselves in traditional PR spaces. We are teaching clients to benchmark themselves against their competitors in their respective industries and utilise different measurement matrixes such as perception and behaviour change and impact on sales and enquiries. Many people in our industry are wary to measure in this way as it’s a hard look at the impact and effectiveness of the work that we do. Organisations must see Reputation Management and PR as aspects that impact their bottom line and should take us seriously. It’s only fair that we present ourselves seriously and position ourselves as an important aspect of every business that we deal with.

What are your favourite technologies and platforms that you use to make yourself more productive and get more done?

I am old fashioned as I am a BBT (born before technology) J. So the most productive piece of technology I use is my Outlook calendar. I block time through the day for everything I need to deliver. Switching off my email notifications ensures that I get my daily tasks done and I don’t procrastinate.

What PR campaigns stand out for you and what brands produce the best campaigns locally in your opinion?

One of the best campaigns that I believe I have worked on is the Tsogo Sun Football Fridays campaign leading up to the 2010 FIFA World Cup. This campaign united the country around a sport that was initially regarded as a favourite for black people. The understanding was that most white people who followed soccer focused on British and European leagues. The idea was to get the entire country to support Bafana Bafana and also prepare locals to welcome international visitors to the country. Getting both government departments and corporates in the country to buy football t-shirts for their staff and coordinate activities on Fridays was daunting but fun. The campaign was never seen as a “Tsogo Sun” campaign – it became a South African campaign that built lots of GEES! I guess I enjoyed working on this particular campaign because much as it seemed light-hearted, it had great impact in the country’s economy, the lessening of general crime and showed the world what South Africa is all about.

Brands that “shift the needle” definitely get my nod. I love campaigns that make a difference, amplify social cohesion and of cause bring in the money J. A favourite for me remains the MTN Ayoba campaign which was also around the 2010 FIFA World Cup. I also worked on this particular campaign and it was fascinating to see how the country quickly adopted Ayoba.

Another campaign that stands out for me is the Eskom Izinyoka campaign. I honestly believe that many South Africans understood this campaign and it is said that the Eskom hotline received many tips of electricity cables being stolen or illegally connected in the duration of this campaign. Eskom stopped the campaign over five years ago and yet the name “Izinyoka” is still attributed to those who vandalise and steal electricity infrastructure to this day.