The World: Parallel worlds inspire an advertising passion

Ogilvy & Mather South Africa's new chief executive is deeply committed to the country of her birth.

When the new Ogilvy UK Group chairman, Gary Leih, upped sticks from his native South Africa after four years at the helm of Ogilvy & Mather there, his chief executive, Robyn Putter, sent out a heartfelt e-mail praising his former managing director. In what was almost buried as an aside, he also announced his own move to take on the twin responsibilities of executive chairman and chief executive for the entire continent, at least until September, when he predicted he'd either be put out to pasture or turned into glue, whichever was more profitable.

O&M South Africa will now be run by Nunu Ntshingila, a South African-born, dyed-in-the-wool Ogilvyite whom Putter describes as "unquestionably advertising's first lady".

Faultlessly modest, Ntshingila is keen to play down any stateswomanly leanings; she is, she says, just the chief executive for O&M South Africa and shouldn't be depicted as a flag bearer for a continent, let alone an industry.

But South Africa dominates advertising and marketing on the continent, and she concedes that the country's influence has a huge bearing on the commercial message as it travels north.

"Most of the work is driven from South Africa because most of the clients - what I call our 'Afrinationals' - are based here," she says. But does advertising created for a developed market translate to the rest of the continent?

"That's always a huge dilemma, and we experience a bit of both," she says. "There's a lot of work that comes out of South Africa that's adapted to suit the market conditions in the rest of the continent, but there's another school of thought that says the ideas need to be generated in the market where the advertiser is operating."

Ntshingila was born in Soweto in 1964. A talented student, she left the township to study social sciences at the University of Swaziland, graduating in 1988 with no idea what to do next.

"I came back to South Africa and there were very few job opportunities. I literally stumbled into advertising; it wasn't a dream I'd had since I was five," she says.

She was accepted on a graduate programme at O&M, then one of the top South African agencies. This, of course, was six years before the end of Apartheid, and the marketing landscape was clearly very different.

"We had almost two worlds. The advertising we were producing was very good in terms of world standards, however, there was another market - advertising created for the black market. We were talking to a very undeveloped market with very simple, communication messages; very direct and unsophisticated," Ntshingila explains.

Ntshingila's graduate programme saw her move around the various O&M departments, spending time in strategic planning, media buying and information before settling in account management and working for Unilever on the Omo washing powder account, one of the businesses targeted at the so-called "black market".

She spent five years in the department, her path crossing that of, among others, the Lowe worldwide creative director, Matthew Bull.

"She's got grace," he recalls. "She has the kind of aura where you want to do the right thing by her. And she's really loved by her people. She's very good at what she does, and she's very brave."

In 1993, Ntshingila left O&M to study an MBA at Morgan State University in Maryland. She returned three years later to a country and business landsape that had seen major change. Apartheid had fallen, and, led by Nelson Mandela, the ANC (now an O&M client) had won the nation's first free elections and business was booming.

Her first position back in South Africa was on the other side of the fence, as the communications director for Nike; interesting, she says, as it marked the sports giant's first steps to re-enter the South African market. But O&M was her home, and she soon returned to the fold, rejoining the account management team and working in a very different business to the one she left.

"The ad industry here has had an interesting journey, and I think that's why I particularly love the South African advertising scenario. It's almost followed the same journey as the country in terms of democratisation and people finding themselves," she explains. "Advertising is much richer today than it was way back then - we're talking to a diverse range of people coming from diverse backgrounds and stages of development."

Although the parallel markets are not completely defunct, the old white and black market distinctions are gone now, replaced by a multi-layered, colourful landscape that Ntshingila describes as the emerging market and developed market, and shades in between. "The possibilities for succeeding are fantastic," she enthuses, "but you can get things wrong, because things are changing so fast."

O&M must be doing something right in South Africa - it was named Agency of the Year by the South African business title Ad Review, after reporting new-business wins to the tune of £15 million in 2003 and £8 million in 2004. It has SAB Miller, Volkswagen, KFC, Nestle, Unilever and IBM among its client list, and has swollen in size to 650 employees. Is Ntshingila happy to remain where she is, or is she eying Putter's soon-to-be-vacant seat?

"Right now, my roots are firmly grounded in South Africa. I love it here - my passion is for South Africa, and where it's going. But, of course, I can't discount the fact that in the future I may be interested in going into the rest of the continent. It's an amazing place to be doing advertising."

THE LOWDOWN

Name: Nunu Ntshingila

Age: 41

Title: Chief executive, Ogilvy & Mather South Africa

Born: Soweto

Educated: University of Swaziland, Morgan State University, Maryland US

Lives: Cape Town

Family: Daughter, 10

Most admired agency: Wieden & Kennedy

Which living person do you most admire? My mother, and Thabo Mbeki

(South African president)

Topics