Back to Black

Posted by David Furlonger on 7 Aug, 2012 / News

Branding consultancy Black has taught some of SA’s leading companies how to develop their brand equity and image. Now it will find out at first hand how effective its teachings are.

Following the breakdown of the 2011 merger with Interbrand Sampson, Black founder and group executive director Veejay Archary says his agency must now confront its own brand challenges.

Black began trading under its own name again on April 1 — a year to the day after the merger. Archary says: “Effectively we’ve had to start again from scratch. Technically we are a four-months-old business. The merger mucked up our brand recognition because we stopped trading as Black.”

Pitching for new business has been challenging, says CEO Marisa Holley. Black doesn’t want to include joint Interbrand work in its portfolio, so initially had little new to show potential clients. “Because we’ve been away, some new companies don’t know who we are.” But she adds: “We’ve shown past clients how to raise their profiles, so why can’t we do it for us ourselves? We have to be our own brand ambassadors.”

In 1991, Archary was a founding partner of HerdBuoys McCann-Erickson, SA’s first black-owned advertising agency. Then, in 2005, he established Black as a strategic, branding and design consultancy. It’s aim was always to be a pan-African agency and by 2010, nearly half its business was outside SA.

That was one of the attractions of the merger with Interbrand: both agencies were growing across the continent and it seemed logical to consolidate. Archary said at the time: “We were competing for the same business and the case for a merger made perfect sense.”

For Archary and Holley, who are partners in life as well as in business, the deal also offered an opportunity to step back from 24-hour management pressures that impinged on family life. Archary says the newly independent Black will have more management depth to avoid a repetition of this.

The two agencies don’t want to go into details about why the merger failed, saying simply that it “didn’t work out” and that the separation is amicable. “Archary says: “It didn’t work for us but we learnt a lot.” Though the two agencies are still working out the details of the split — “I remain a partner in Interbrand,” says Archary — they are operating independently.

Black has emerged from the deal with its SA client base intact — including Absa, the agency’s biggest client since 2009. However, Black’s African activities have been severely hit and now account for less than 10% of total business. Archary hopes to take this back to double figures this year and up to 25% by the end of 2013.

He will be mainly responsible mainly for African growth and Holley for SA. The agency has already picked up new local business from the likes of DStv, Denel and Afrocentric. Archary is keen to reduce the agency’s reliance on Absa, which accounts for 50% of total business. This includes African work for Absa’s UK shareholder, Barclays Bank.

Holley says that despite the year-long “detour”, Black is already stable. “I hope we will be back up to speed, with a fully re-established brand, by the middle of next year.” But she adds: “We are not the same agency as before. By starting all over again, we have been given the opportunity to look at everything with fresh eyes.”

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