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Habari Media: Adrian Hewlett
Some entrepreneurs struggle to survive, let alone grow, inmany of South Africa’s highly competitive sectors. These entrepreneurs may alsoexperience difficulty in breaking through today’s advertising clutter tocommunicate to their chosen customer groups. Habari Media’s Adrian Hewlett hasimpressively demonstrated how to break away from competitors, while creatingonline advertising services that allow clients to break through the clutter andreach online consumers more creatively and effectively.
Hewlett completed his studies at UCT just as the dot.combubble was gaining momentum. His “heavy involvement” in the local rugby club atthe time led Hewlett to an interest in sports marketing and landed him apart-time job with then recently launched Rugby365.com. When the Internetbubble burst, Hewlett found himself marketing manager of a dot.com businesswith no money. He moved strongly into sales to raise revenues.While Hewlett’s passion for sport became a passion foronline advertising, he knew he wanted to do something for himself – to createan organisation “the way a business should be run.” The opportunity arrivedwhen, in 2004, he won the local advertising sales account for MSN.co.za andnegotiated an exit from Rugby365.com – with the MSN account. Hewlett gets a“real kick out of being responsible” for his own destiny. The calculated riskof “finding a client and working from your bedroom” gave him exactly that andthus Habari Media was born.
Hewlett may have won MSN’s business through excellentsalesmanship and dedicated focus, but he learnt quickly that relationships anddelivery were key to keeping the business. Within two years, Habari Media hadbecome the most successful sales house globally, with 100% of their availablespace sold – this for an organisation, Microsoft, which had a policy of notdoing business with start-ups. Hewlett then extended the MSN contract to otherAfrican countries (Nigeria has as many online users as South Africa) and subsequently landed careerjunction.co.za. Habari Media now represents thelargest online audience in South Africa with 3,4 million users.The other lesson Hewlett learnt after a few months was theneed for multiple revenue streams, both to cover increasing operating costs andto balance out possible downturns in certain sectors. As a consequence, he haslearnt as much as possible about below-the-line marketing and created apromotions division as part of the business, Habari Direct. Hewlett believesthat one needs to “think big and act big” to grow your business: “If you thinkthey are bigger and better than you, then they will be.”
Habari Direct has invested in a set of leisure and lifestylepartnerships that allow it to link unique lifestyle rewards to clientpromotions. One recent campaign Hewlett executed with Kellogg’s included anoffer of free pedicures and manicures to Kellogg’s Special K consumers, forwhich Habari Direct directly contracted over 350 beauty therapists – not atypical agency practice. Habari Media’s online advertising sales business employssome of the most creative and effective international best practices to ensureclients don’t land up with a “Christmas Tree” site. Hewlett warns entrepreneursagainst advertising below the “fold” of a website or using flashing (or green)banners that may irritate users rather than nurture strong and positive brandassociations. Research has found that the brand recall from online advertisingcan be twice as good as TV advertising and eight times as good as press. Hesuggests that when advertising online the brand should achieve a consumerfrequency of five views per user in order to have brand impact.
Hewlett offers an Egyptian example of a rich media onlineadvertisement for Coca-Cola that allows Internet users to play a game, watch aTV commercial, enter a competition or listen to a jingle, without leaving thepage on which the online “banner-type” advertisement has been placed. In thisway, online advertising can be both effective and captivating as part of anintegrated communication strategy for launching a new product or engagingexisting customers. Media companies are well known for educating, entertainingand encouraging their customers to invest in their media offerings. HabariMedia created a unique platform through an annual Digital Symposium to assistadvertisers to better understand the opportunities for online and mobileadvertising. Hewlett acknowledges that advertising agencies, which in Europeare responsible for most online advertising, have been relatively slow in SouthAfrica to embrace online advertising. It is with this in mind that Habari Mediais supporting The Bookmarks, South Africa’s first online creative awardscreated by the On-line Publishers Association.
Some people have questioned the number of South Africa’sonline users, suggesting that the market is too small to be significant orprofitable, especially given the low bandwidth speeds and penetration. Hewlettdisagrees strongly, arguing that, with over five million Internet users, SouthAfrica has almost as many online consumers as taxpayers. This Internetpopulation is greater than that of Austria, Finland, Greece or Romania. Hewlettalso believes that the growing number of online consumers is a very appealingmarket. As Hewlett looks forward to greater bandwidth during thecoming year, he doesn’t necessarily expect these developments to dramaticallygrow the number of Internet users. He suspects that the South African Internetpopulation may climb to eight million, with the real change being asignificantly enhanced user experience. Hewlett is confident that the future ofthe Internet in South Africa will see double the number of page impressions(meaning longer time online and greater engagement) and double the onlinespend.
As the online and mobile environment in Africa changes,Hewlett believes that Habari Media is well placed to take advantage. He pointsto his business’s great reputation and long-standing relationships in themarket; his strong sales team; his organisation’s ability to learn from itsmistakes and grow; and his team’s speed to market. Although Hewlett believes that “no-one can sell yourbusiness like you,” he has focused strongly on developing and retaining goodpeople. In addition to competitive salaries and social activities, Hewlettbelieves that he is able to hold onto good people partly because he “reallylikes the people who work [for him]” and the culture celebrates top performancethroughout the business. One piece of advice Hewlett received was not to takehis “foot off the client stuff”. Although he still regularly visits clients andsupports his sales team, Hewlett is now spending more time managing his teamand focusing on the “people issues.”Having pursued his love of sport into the Internet boom andthen online advertising sales, Hewlett has demonstrated how to deliver superiorperformance, develop a winning team and build a successful multi-divisional andmulti-national entrepreneurial business. Contact: +27 21 487 9100; www.habarimedia.com