“Stakeholders today – whether they are customers, communities, shareholders, the media or government – are so empowered with information that businesses can no longer prescribe how they are going to engage with them. So the communications strategies that work will be those that enable companies to build collaborative relationships with their customers, and to position themselves as a preferred partner to the stakeholder groups they wish to engage.”
It is on this premise that Bertha Dlamini has built Rito Consulting Services, a communications company with a difference. Creating a sustainable communications solution is something Dlamini knows a thing or two about. The entrepreneur worked in a number of high profile communications and marketing positions before striking out on her own. These included positions as marketing and PR manager for Kagiso Television and Communications, spokesperson for the Bank SETA microfinance skills project, head of corporate communications at The Communications Firm and a secondment as group client services director at Red Cube agency.
Her track record of committed delivery coupled with her fresh approach to communications strategy earned her something of a reputation in the industry. So much so that when she started to consult in 2006 she was approached by the National Credit Regulator to assist them in designing communication strategies for the roll-out of the New National Credit Act. A large contract with the Bank SETA, to roll out the marketing of the Women’s Development Programme followed.
“Within three months of starting to consult, I had three substantial contracts,” she says proudly. It’s more than many entrepreneurs are able to land in twice the amount of time, but Dlamini made sure she didn’t let the success go to her head. “I disciplined myself to drawing a minimal salary while building up reserves in the business. I wanted to have enough in the bank to be able to pay the salaries of two senior communications managers and two junior account managers for six months, before I was willing to employ anyone,” she explains.
This enabled Dlamini to map out the steps to a carefully considered vision. “I never wanted to be just another communications and PR agency. My vision for Rito Consulting Services is to create a company that offers clients the ability to build collaborative engagement platforms with their key stakeholders,” she says. To meet this objective, Dlamini’s strategy is to absorb her clients’ vision in order to develop a comprehensive understanding of their environment and the issues facing them. “There is no set formula – no ‘one size fits all’ – approach to communications. Each company has its own specific environment, its own important stakeholders and its own set of material issues. We design communications strategies according to their requirements in this regard,” she continues.
Dlamini is well aware of the threats to communications firms, particularly in the light of the latest economic downturn.“We all know that marketing budgets, and more specifically PR budgets, are the first to be cut when times get tough,” she says. One of her solutions to the problem involves collaborating with other companies in her field. “Some might call these companies competitors, but the fact is that in the current economic climate, it is about demonstrating collaboration capabilities with complementary organisations in order to become the key partner to clients. At this time, companies need to make sure they are adding exceptional, measurable value to clients – and it’s worth exploring collaborations with other companies in this regard,” she says.
By forming close working relationships with other companies in the communications field, Rito has been able to boost capacity when needed. “We are all experts in our own areas of communications –one company might offer something to your client that you can’t offer, and this means you can concentrate on your area of expertise. At the end of the day, your client wins, which means you win – and that’s what matters, not how you got there or who went along with you,” she explains.
But Dlamini has a word of caution about finding common ground. “As with all partnerships, you need to find people who you can work with – and for us that has meant finding people who have the same work ethic that we do,” she says. It’s a work ethic based on providing measurable, bottom-line results that align with the company’s vision for its clients. Dlamini concludes: “’Rito’ means voice and that’s what we aim to give our clients – a clear and distinct voice.” Her own voice is proving pretty distinct in industry circles and, if her track record and impressive client list is anything to go by, it’s one we’ll be hearing from for a while. Contact: +27 11 442 0788
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