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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

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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
www.zinto.co.za

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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