Stillwell Partner’s managing partner Matt Scheckner spoke with AList about the upcoming Africa expansion to Advertising Week. Scheckner, an Advertising Week co-founder, spoke about how he approaches a new expansion and what attendees can expect to see in Johannesburg later this year.
Advertising Week Africa will take place from October 28 to 31 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Confirmed speakers include Enver Groenewald CMO of Unilever Africa, Andrea Quaye, CMO of ABInBev Africa and Mzamo Masito, CMO of Google Africa.
Can you take me through the process of developing the idea to bring Advertising Week to Africa?
We started in New York in 2004. The world was completely different then: Facebook was only on the Harvard campus, we were a couple of years away from the iPhone, years away from YouTube. As Advertising Week has grown over the years; we’re now our seventh year in London, we launched in Tokyo four years ago, we just finished our second year in Mexico City, and are heading into our second year in Sydney. What’ve we found is that the challenges in areas of opportunity all around the world are quite similar.
Everybody is wrestling with technologically driven disruption; everybody is wrestling with the evolution of how consumers consume media—which affects everything else in our industry. Africa, in many ways, is a vital engine for the future. It’s the only continent that’s still growing. We started this conversation about three years ago. Advertising Week has grown organically, so there is no big machine behind this thing.
Very often, things begin with the conversation, “Hey, would you ever think about this? Would you ever think about that?” I’m like, “I don’t know, maybe.”
I got an email from some folks from Africa at Republicom, about three years ago. They came to see us in New York in 2016, and we started talking. I was intrigued by the idea of going to Africa. The first cut of our analysis was where we should go within Africa? Do we go to Lagos, Nigeria (our team is mostly Nigerian) and then we got to South Africa. Within South Africa, we thought about Cape Town or Johannesburg. We looked at all of them. Cape Town is a beautiful city and possibly would have been the easiest. But, Johannesburg is the center of the business for the African continent. Our industry has a big presence there, and that’s creative media, technology, marketing, the whole continuum across the entire eco-system. [Advertising Week’s] processes are very slow and very deliberate. We started the conversations in 2016. There is nothing like Advertising Week on the continent, anywhere. Critically, our platform is the only one in the world that has this heft that is built for young people. That’s a big part of the equation overall and will be for Africa.
How is Advertising Week looking to affect the industry in South Africa?
We are looking to make an impact not only on the continent but also by leveraging the Advertising Week platform to tell the story about what’s going on there, like female entrepreneurs in Kenya. There are incredible stories of innovation that are going on there. We are going to be able to help to move the needle and change perception on what the continent is, what South Africa is, what Johannesburg is. We are going to do our event at the center of the city in Johannesburg.
What have you learned from previous expansions that helped to navigate the planning this time around?
For the trees to grow, you have to plant seeds locally. It has to feel like it came from the earth over there. Early on we created an advisory council for Africa that is comprised of leaders across all the sectors. The head of Unilever for the African continent, Dawn [Rowlands] from Dentsu Aegis Sub Sahara, so we’ve got a good group. We have the local knowledge. I think the environment that we are choosing is a part of that; that we are building real connections to the community right from the beginning. We are going to feature the best of the continent and [bring people from the US] not unlike what we did when we went to Australia the first year. I’m really excited. Because it really has a genuine higher purpose.
Can you talk about some of the themes that Advertising Week Africa will explore?
Very purposefully, we look across the whole thought leadership program in Advertising Week, all of it, and there is never a singular theme. That’s purposeful. We hand-curate a program every time.
[Advertising Week Africa’s program] will be reflective of two things: one is called the “timely,” and those would be largely technology-driven areas like AI, blockchain, data, it might be an issue where the definition has changed over the years. Trust used to mean “Can you trust your advertiser?” The new definition of trust is all around data and privacy, and it’s a much more complex issue. Let’s call that all the stuff that’s “timely,” and then there is all the stuff that’s “timeless” like [creative] challenges and storytelling. We have a lot of content at Advertising Week around broader issues like social impact, mental health, wellness and pay equity.
I like that as Advertising Week as it’s grown, has become a place that all those types of conversations can take place, and you’ll see much focus on the talent around the African startup and technology community and giving them a global platform. I think it’ll start with young people and talent, in this case, and you’ll also see a lot around broader social impact issues.
We’re going to be working with the Nelson Mandela Foundation. Our commitment to areas of social impact and what the Nelson Mandela Foundation is all about dovetail nicely. We met with them when we were there in December and those discussions are going to bare a lot of fruit. We are excited to work with them, not just in Africa, but globally.