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Habari Media: Adrian Hewlett

How a passion for sport created a world leader in online marketing.



Adrian Hewlett of Habari Media

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 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 When the Internet bubble burst, Hewlett found himself marketing manager of a 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 and negotiated an exit from – 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.

Read Next: Four ‘treps are patiently building their empire, one brick at a time.

Hewlett then extended the MSN contract to other African countries (Nigeria has as many online users as South Africa) and subsequently landed 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;


25 Of The Most Successful Business Ideas In South Africa

Find out who’s making waves in numerous industries and how they managed to differentiate themselves in local and international industries.

Nicole Crampton



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“Disruption is all about risk-taking, trusting your intuition, and rejecting the way things are supposed to be. Disruption goes way beyond advertising, it forces you to think about where you want your brand to go and how to get there,” says Richard Branson.

South Africa has its fair share of innovative and disruptive businesses taking both local and international industries by storm. From cutting edge space technology to reimagined logistics, and innovative business models, here are 25 of the most successful business ideas in South Africa:

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Colin Timmis Says ‘Position Yourself For Success By Starting With The Numbers’

People pay first who they feel pressure from, so people will pay you when they feel pressure from you.






Entrepreneur Colin Timmis founded South Africa’s first cloud accounting practice in 2011, Real Time Accounting. Then, a few years after being appointed as South Africa’s first Xero partner Colin became Xero Country Manager South Africa. Xero is the emerging global leader of online accounting software that connects small businesses to their advisors and other services.

Related: Pat Pillai On How He’s Helped Over 5000 Entrepreneurs Using 3 Key Steps

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Company Posts

Two 20 Year Olds Reshape Entrepreneur Landscape With New Social Investment Platform

The Merge vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

Merge Connect




Vital Stats

It’s no secret that finding the right investor for your venture is a challenge that most entrepreneurs face. The current process of finding investment is one that is outdated, and limits entrepreneurs due to a lack of time, and network that is needed to find the right investor. But, this doesn’t have to be the case in today’s digital society, says Zander Matthee and Brandon Bate, co-founders of Merge.

“By making the Internet the middleman, we are able to connect with each other much simpler and faster than before” was Zander’s response. “We have taken advantage of this, and have created a digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors” added Brandon.

Merge is a social platform that connects entrepreneurs and investors. It aims to simplify, refine and accelerate the process of finding investment for entrepreneurs, and the process of finding investment opportunities for investors. From idea to developed, the platform allows entrepreneurs to present a brief outline of their venture to a network of all investor types. While doing this, entrepreneurs are able to browse through, and connect with investor profiles that suit their requirements.

Related: 8 Codes Of Success That Helped Priven Reddy of Kagiso Interactive Media Achieve A Networth Of Over R4 Billion

From Private Investors to Venture Capital, and everything in between, Merge allows all investor types to join. Investors have the opportunity to personalise their feed to suit their investment preferences, and will be able to connect with innovative businesses – that are looking for investment – at their fingertips. Only once there is a mutual interest in each other, are users able to enter a secure private chat where they can discuss further and share documents under the protection of a digital NDA.

The two boys became good friends during their time in high school at St Stithians Boys College. However, it was only in their last year, 2016, that they decided to pursue their dreams and create the platform. They didn’t know how to code, so rather ironically, they needed some form of investment to get the platform off the ground.


“We knew we had a mountain to climb, but we believed in our vision and that we were really trying to make a difference, and if we could get others to see that, they would be onboard.” said Zander.

Related: Lessons From The Rich And Famous: Manage Your Money Like Oprah To Avoid Going Into Debt Like Nicholas Cage

Chris Peters is one of these individuals that bought into their vision, and became Merge’s first investor. As a successful entrepreneur and part time investor , Chris saw how much value the platform could bring to all entrepreneurs and investors alike. His marketing and strategic background gave him insight into how Merge could play a vital role in a lucrative space, Brand involvement.

“Entrepreneurship and SME development are two key factors that drive economic growth in developing countries like South Africa. That is why brands are currently getting involved, and looking to support entrepreneurs through various means. We have built a platform that allows these brands to successfully market, and execute on the programmes they have created to assist entrepreneurs.” said Chris

Merge was created to assist all entrepreneurs and investors in finding exactly what they are looking for, regardless of age, race, sex, financial position or social status. That is why anybody can sign-up as an entrepreneur. As long as you are determined and willing to work for your dreams. For too long has the investor space been seen as an “elite club for the select few”, and Merge is here to change that. Whether you’ve gotten your bonus at the end of the year and looking for new investment opportunities, or are an active investor, you can sign-up. Whether you’re currently working, or a retired industry leader, you can join as a mentor.

Their vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

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