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Zinto Marketing: Michelle Combrinck

A branded entertainment company draws on youthful energy to increase turnover from R2 million to R30 million – and looks set to change the face of an industry.

Juliet Pitman



Michelle Combrinck

If you’ve ever been approached by a lady trying to get you to taste a sausage on a toothpick on your Saturday morning grocery buying expedition, you can be fairly sure she wasn’t placed there by Zinto Marketing.

It’s the kind of old-style promotion that makes Michelle Combrinck’s blood run cold. A former teacher and self-styled campaigner for a new approach to activating brands, Combrinck has built Zinto on the philosophy that the ticket to brand success lies in innovation, creativity and staggering amounts of energy. “It’s what we call branded entertainment and it‘s about wrapping an entertainment event around a brand to create a crowd-pulling experience. The ultimate goal is to impart energy and personality into a brand, to make it come alive for the consumer and to allow them to interact with it in a two-way conversation,” she explains. Zinto achieves this for clients through a number of different vehicles including gig rigs, workplace theatre, brand encounters, brand concerts, deployment of brand characters and  a wide range of events and entertainment platforms.

Harnessing the energy of youth

But while Zinto owns a fair share of the branded entertainment market and is undoubtedly a significant player in this space, what makes the company interesting is Combrinck’s approach to finding the right people to activate the events.

“The success of this business relies on having highly energised, motivated, trained and professional staff to really make what we do come alive,” says Combrinck, who sources these people from the youth market. “There is a wealth of young creative talent out there – dancers, singers, actors, performers, DJs – most of whom can’t find work. They have the high levels of energy, creativity and eagerness to get involved that we are looking for, and we have the jobs they want,” she explains. Zinto offers these young artists retainer-based employment and in-house training to fine-tune their skills to the business’s needs. On any given day the company’s office resembles a casting studio, with young talent waiting to audition or getting ready for rehearsals. It’s a win-win situation and as Combrinck points out, provides Zinto with immediate access to the hottest talent in the market.

Servicing the needs of different brands

In particular, Zinto has driven the acquisition of talent from a rapidly-growing hip-hop youth market, which provides it with the right mix of staff to penetrate the all-important and previously untapped black market. The business model is particularly well suited to the FMCG market, and clients include Kimberley-Clarke, McCain, MTN, Yum-Yum Peanut Butter and Boston City Campus. However, the company’s clients encompass a broad range of markets and brands. “We also do work with ‘high involvement brands’ – those where the consumer takes a long time to decide if they are going to make a purchase or not. For these brands, the approach is slightly different and we focus on creating awareness and a platform that educates consumers,” Combrinck explains.

Overcoming perceptions

Thanks to the ‘sausage on a toothpick’ brigade, the broader ‘promotions’ industry has developed a poor reputation and one of Zinto’s ongoing challenges is overcoming negative perceptions. “Many clients have had their fingers burned. There is a great deal of scepticism and cynicism regarding promotions – and rightly so,” says Combrinck, adding that even companies who have experienced ‘wow’ brand events are not necessarily convinced of the return on investment that branded entertainment can deliver.

Fortunately, Zinto can point to concrete success stories, with associated peaks in sales figures. The MTN Y’ello Bus Ayoba Summer Campaign 2010 is one such example. Zinto’s brief was to actively drive airtime sales whilst building brand equity and educating consumers on the company’s various products and services. The company deployed four travelling roadshow teams from Thohoyandou to Cape Town, and reached around 400 000 consumers. “The brand experienced very positive sales figures with a pleasing spike in airtime sales whilst the promobile was in the area,” says Combrinck, adding that a tight brief with clear deliverables is vital to ensuring clients get the ROI they are looking for.

Changing the face of the industry

Combrinck’s passionate about changing the face of her industry and establishing it as a professional, serious marketing vehicle. “Achieving this means having trained and professional people working to make brands come alive in creative, interesting and effective ways,” she says, having recently launched a brand ambassador training academy to improve the overall level of skills not only in her company but in the industry as a whole. Looking to the future, she’s most excited by the industry trend towards penetrating the peri-urban and rural areas. “There is a huge growth market here for brands, and Zinto is ideally placed from a skills, talent and experience point of view to take brands where they want to go in this new market,” she says. With nine-year turnover growth from R2 million to R30 million, the business’s success speaks for itself.

Zinto Marketing Group
Player: Michelle Combrinck
Est: 2000
Contact: +27 11 553 1000

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.


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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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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