Johannesburg-based agency MetropolitanRepublic have recently spread their coverage into Sub-Saharan Africa. The venture into Uganda, where they built the office from scratch, going against the more common route of licensing, has not been without challenges.
It is seven months since MetropolitanRepublic opened its doors in Kampala, Uganda. They knew the route they had taken was going to be risky and that there would be challenges. Their competitors were sceptical and still are, but MetropolitanRepublic have been realistic in their approach.
When challenged on whether this move was too early for an agency that is just short of five years old the response has been why wait? Globally there is an increased focus on Africa. The continent’s status as a potential growth area is ranking higher and the prospects for business growth is almost a given. The agency’s foray into the rest of Africa was probably a year ahead of schedule, but their successful pitch for the MTN Uganda account fast-tracked that. Viewed as advertising mavericks, the team at MetropolitanRepublic pride themselves in delivering a certain calibre of work and the only way they were going to raise the bar for the Ugandan market was by opening a fully fledged MetropolitanRepublic office rather than trying to integrate or partner with an existing agency. “This is Africa. Investors tend to be nervous about her. The political landscape is often unstable and there are infrastructural challenges such as lack of constant electricity supply. But, we have a taste for adventure and like to set our sights high” says Dawn Klatzko, Managing Director of MetropolitanRepublic.
The challenges that the agency faced were greater than expected and the learning curve has been described as “a sheer vertical”. They recruited some of the best talent in the market and have invested substantially in formal training and up-skilling. They consulted on governance and fiscal protocol. They brought in professionals to help them assimilate the environment and the culture. “We are serious about our commitment to Uganda and to what we want to achieve for our clients. If we were going to deliver a communications product that is visibly of a different calibre, we needed to make a substantial investment in people with the right talent. Finding the right person to head up the company was more of a challenge, but we found the enthusiastic visionary we were looking for,” explains Klatzko.
Alex Rukundo took the position of Managing Director of MetropolitanRepublic Uganda. A Ugandan native familiar with the country’s cultural environment and ethnic nuances, Rukundo sees a bright future. “The population is young, so there is a progressive spirit in Uganda. There is a very tangible vibe and the new generation is working hard towards a stable future,” says Rukundo.
As a South African agency, MetropolitanRepublic has a solid grounding in a country of diverse cultures and respect that each African country has its own uniqueness. With the MTN campaign for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, which they partnered with The Jupiter Drawing Room, they made vernacular mainstream, so deep was their understanding of cultural nuances. The expression Ayoba made its way into the South African lexicon and was placed in the Oxford Dictionary. “Being in South Africa, we are well positioned geographically and culturally, compared with our international competitors from Europe and the United States. As part of our methodology we are on the ground, amongst people and in the consumer headspace. We draw on specialist resources for every client and every project. We are applying the same methodology in Uganda,” says Klatzko
In Kampala, there are hardly any traffic lights or street lights, the potholes are enormous and the traffic is crazy. But with a population of 33 million, 225 licensed radio stations (190 broadcasting), 50 licensed TV channels (18 broadcasting) and 18 newspapers, the media and consumer landscape is ripe. “Uganda is fertile. You drop a pip and a tree grows. However, we are being realistic, getting the best view of the road ahead, even when visibility is not always crystal clear,” concludes Klatzko.