In our exclusive Modern Marketing Industry Interview series, we feature Steph van Niekerk, a Creative Director at Grey Advertising who discusses creating insightful campaigns that engage people.

Early life

I started off by studying Business Science at UCT – as I was clever in Math and Science and never considered myself to be a creative. During those days, it was either you were a creative or you were clever. I got into advertising out of ‘scare rebellion’, it was exactly what my dad did not want me to do, but I did it anyway.

Niekerk wanted to do something different and ended up stumbling into advertising. ‘I went and still go to the Red & Yellow School of Advertising – I got an internship when I was 20.’

Some of her career highlights

I have been lucky enough to work with all the amazing agencies such as Ogilvy Cape Town, Jupiter Drawing Room, Lowe Bull and a few others and now Grey Advertising.

There have been so many highlights. The most recent highlight was being part of a team that created the CitiLodge radio advert – The Real Cost which was the first Zulu radio spot that won a Cannes and D&AD One show award. I like the fact that the door is open that if the human truth is universal – you can write it in any language. And in South Africa, we have so many rich cultures and language background that we can compact which that is completely unique to us.

What have you enjoyed the most about working in this industry?

There is a lot to love about this industry, yes there is a love/hate relationship. We get to work with amazing, smart, passionate, people who are natural problem solvers. There is magic when you get to work with a lot of different experts in their fields, especially when it comes to the production of a film or ad as everyone pulls together for a common cause. I love that part of my job. I truly am amazed by the amount of talent that is out there. The truth about this industry is that no two days are the same, except for now during Covid-19. 

Industry-related changes 

Culture: Advertising was crazy – there was a culture of long lunches, sex, drugs and alcohol and rock and roll were a culture that came with the industry. But over the years and the rise of holding companies – the culture is changing and has become a lot more corporate and business-like in a sense. The good part about it is that the myth of being wild and self-destructive in order to be perceived as a creative which was dangerous in no longer a thing.

I see a lot more people stepping in to help when they see someone in troubles as one the years I have a seen a lot of young talent blowing out before they even started.

Transformation: It is not where it needs to be, it is coming in a bit too slow. Seeing the growth of young black talent in the last decade has been amazing. Now we need to nurture, support and encourage this amazing talent and make sure that they get to the next level such as management positions.

I have worked with a lot of females in my career thus far. When I was a younger creative, I thought it was much more equal as my peers were girls but as I climbed the ranks – I started to see less and fewer women in higher positions. We have lost a lot of female talent to emigration and that is something we need to be aware of.

To hear more about keys to executing a successful campaign, 2020 major advertising trends and her hobbies or interests watch the rest of the interview below

Keys to success

The key to being successful in the advertising industry is resilience. It is not an easy industry – you need to roll with the punches and stick and ride it out. There are many peaks and great moments that crash in disappointments and everything in-between. Do not give up.

As a creative I have realised that a good idea is one part of the job, but you still need to package it in a way that works for the clients and the consumers. Once you realise this, it suddenly all makes sense. The idea is 60% of the work and 40% is how you pull it together and present it to the world.

Van Niekerk’s favourite campaign is the Citi Lodge Real Cost radio advert below:

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