Habari Media: Adrian Hewlett

Habari Media: Adrian Hewlett


Some entrepreneurs struggle to survive, let alone grow, in many of South Africa’s highly competitive sectors. These entrepreneurs may also experience difficulty in breaking through today’s advertising clutter to communicate to their chosen customer groups. Habari Media’s Adrian Hewlett has impressively demonstrated how to break away from competitors, while creating online advertising services that allow clients to break through the clutter and reach online consumers more creatively and effectively.

Hewlett completed his studies at UCT just as the dot.com bubble was gaining momentum. His “heavy involvement” in the local rugby club at the time led Hewlett to an interest in sports marketing and landed him a part-time job with then recently launched Rugby365.com. When the Internet bubble burst, Hewlett found himself marketing manager of a dot.com business with no money.

He moved strongly into sales to raise revenues. While Hewlett’s passion for sport became a passion for online advertising, he knew he wanted to do something for himself – to create an organisation “the way a business should be run.” The opportunity arrived when, in 2004, he won the local advertising sales account for MSN.co.za and negotiated an exit from Rugby365.com – with the MSN account.  Hewlett gets a“real kick out of being responsible” for his own destiny. The calculated risk of “finding a client and working from your bedroom” gave him exactly that and thus Habari Media was born.

Hewlett may have won MSN’s business through excellent salesmanship and dedicated focus, but he learnt quickly that relationships and delivery were key to keeping the business. Within two years, Habari Media had become the most successful sales house globally, with 100% of their available space sold – this for an organisation, Microsoft, which had a policy of not doing business with start-ups.

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Hewlett then extended the MSN contract to other African countries (Nigeria has as many online users as South Africa) and subsequently landed careerjunction.co.za. Habari Media now represents the largest online audience in South Africa with 3,4 million users. The other lesson Hewlett learnt after a few months was the need for multiple revenue streams, both to cover increasing operating costs and to balance out possible downturns in certain sectors. As a consequence, he has learnt as much as possible about below-the-line marketing and created a promotions division as part of the business, Habari Direct. Hewlett believesthat one needs to “think big and act big” to grow your business:

“If you think they are bigger and better than you, then they will be.”

Habari Direct has invested in a set of leisure and lifestyle partnerships that allow it to link unique lifestyle rewards to client promotions. One recent campaign Hewlett executed with Kellogg’s included anoffer of free pedicures and manicures to Kellogg’s Special K consumers, for which Habari Direct directly contracted over 350 beauty therapists – not atypical agency practice.

Habari Media’s online advertising sales business employs some of the most creative and effective international best practices to ensure clients don’t land up with a “Christmas Tree” site. Hewlett warns entrepreneurs against advertising below the “fold” of a website or using flashing (or green) banners that may irritate users rather than nurture strong and positive brand associations. Research has found that the brand recall from online advertising can be twice as good as TV advertising and eight times as good as press. He suggests that when advertising online the brand should achieve a consumer frequency of five views per user in order to have brand impact.

Hewlett offers an Egyptian example of a rich media online advertisement for Coca-Cola that allows Internet users to play a game, watch a TV commercial, enter a competition or listen to a jingle, without leaving the page on which the online “banner-type” advertisement has been placed. In this way, online advertising can be both effective and captivating as part of an integrated communication strategy for launching a new product or engaging existing customers.

Media companies are well known for educating, entertaining and encouraging their customers to invest in their media offerings. Habari Media created a unique platform through an annual Digital Symposium to assist advertisers to better understand the opportunities for online and mobile advertising. Hewlett acknowledges that advertising agencies, which in Europe are responsible for most online advertising, have been relatively slow in South Africa to embrace online advertising. It is with this in mind that Habari Media is supporting The Bookmarks, South Africa’s first online creative awards created by the On-line Publishers Association.

Some people have questioned the number of South Africa’s online users, suggesting that the market is too small to be significant or profitable, especially given the low bandwidth speeds and penetration. Hewlett disagrees strongly, arguing that, with over five million Internet users, South Africa has almost as many online consumers as taxpayers.

This Internet population is greater than that of Austria, Finland, Greece or Romania. Hewlett also believes that the growing number of online consumers is a very appealing market. As Hewlett looks forward to greater bandwidth during the coming year, he doesn’t necessarily expect these developments to dramatically grow the number of Internet users.

He suspects that the South African Internet population may climb to eight million, with the real change being a significantly enhanced user experience. Hewlett is confident that the future of the Internet in South Africa will see double the number of page impressions (meaning longer time online and greater engagement) and double the online spend.

As the online and mobile environment in Africa changes, Hewlett believes that Habari Media is well placed to take advantage. He points to his business’s great reputation and long-standing relationships in the market; his strong sales team; his organisation’s ability to learn from its mistakes and grow; and his team’s speed to market. Although Hewlett believes that “no-one can sell your business like you,” he has focused strongly on developing and retaining good people.

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In addition to competitive salaries and social activities, Hewlett believes that he is able to hold onto good people partly because he “really likes the people who work [for him]” and the culture celebrates top performance throughout the business. One piece of advice Hewlett received was not to takehis “foot off the client stuff”.

Although he still regularly visits clients and supports his sales team, Hewlett is now spending more time managing his team and focusing on the “people issues.” Having pursued his love of sport into the Internet boom and then online advertising sales, Hewlett has demonstrated how to deliver superior performance, develop a winning team and build a successful multi-divisional and multi-national entrepreneurial business. Contact: +27 21 487 9100; www.habarimedia.com