When it comes to media, fresh is what’s hot. Being in the know – or even better, setting the trend that everyone wants to be in the know about – is what media businesses pride themselves on. So it’s surprising that the traditional big guns in media have been so slow to realise that a change is sweeping their own industry, and that the people who are doing it right are the ‘little guys’. People like Sacha Matulovich and Pepsi Pokane, partners in creative media company Re:Public.
Except that when you look at the work they’re producing and the clients they’re servicing (not to mention the turnover they’re doing), they don’t seem so little anymore. A four-year-old company, started by two twenty something year-olds, has produced ground-breaking design and production work for the likes of Coca-Cola, Johnnie Walker, SABC, Motorola and MultiChoice. And they did it without any capital. Such a team deserves a place at the table with the heavy-weights.
But it’s precisely their desire to breakaway from ‘traditional media’ that has made them so successful. Matulovich started Re:Public after a stint as an intern at Network BBDO, his first ‘position’ after leaving advertising school. “After being in an agency for a couple of months, I decided I didn’t want to go into advertising,” he said. Some people are born entrepreneurs and Matulovich is one of them. While still in college, he built up a small but profitable ‘business’ doing graphic design work.
Unfazed by his brief and unsatisfactory experience in the profession he thought he’d chosen to follow, Matulovich immediately set up Re:Public. “My angle was to create brands from scratch for small start-up companies, conceptualising the name, look and feel, identity and logo.” Of course, start-ups often didn’t have the money to pay him the going rate for such work, so Matulovich worked on risk, taking a profit share in the brands he was instrumental in creating. Pokane took a similar diversion from his original path.
Having studied a degree in International Business, he went into television presenting and eventually producing, which is where he found his niche, getting involved in shows like CineMagic, Standard Bank Joy of Jazz and The Toasty Show. The partnership between him and Matulovich brought together two talents – one with a strong branding and design orientation, the other an innovator in production ideas – to create something new. As Matulovich explains, “It was quite different at the time for a production company to arrive at a pitch with pictures of what the thing would look like, with logos and brand positioning. Typically, production companies would come along with alot of words about what they’d do, giving no thought to what the ‘brand’ would look like.” This approach secured a contract with SABC to produce Afro-Music Café and Re:Public was on its way.
“It was an incredible experience for us, a company with a turnover of about R1 million, to get one contract worth around R1,2 million. Looking back, though, it was just the beginning.” The real tipping point for them was their Urban Massive production for MNet. It was here that Re:Public moved from merely creating a production for a broadcaster to creating branded entertainment. When Motorola learned about the African, urban youth culture focus of the show, they immediately saw the potential it had to strengthen their brand presence in that market.
“It was the fastest sponsorship deal I’ve ever seen. It was signed in about a week,” remembers Matulovich. A traditional media company might have advised Motorola to buy up advertising slots around the show but not Re:Public. Instead, they worked the brand into the storyline of the show through clever but subtle product placement. It proved to be a major step for Re:Public. The next thing they knew, Coca-Cola was wanting their own Urban Massive. Johnnie Walker was among the big brand-name clients that followed. “This is definitely where we’ve innovated the most,” agree Matulovich and Pokane. “While TV and branding and all other media are great, no medium should really stand alone. We’re interested increating concepts for clients and we believe that concepts are bigger and more important than any medium. The appropriate medium should follow the concept.”
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