Insight Into South Africa

Tumi Sethebe has worked in Adland for 16 years. He speaks seven languages. And he’s won a Lion at Cannes. Here, he reveals how Havas is different from every other agency where he’s worked and gives some insight into the South African market.

Tumi Sethebe

Tell us about your background:

Well, I started my career in 2001 at Young & Rubicam as a junior art director. I joined Ogilvy in 2010. That’s where, as creative director, I launched the TV channel Mzansi Magic, and subsequently, a new mass bouquet of channels called DStv Access.

But, I changed gears in 2013 and worked on the public broadcaster, SABC’s brands, as creative director.

Finally, I joined Havas in June 2016 as creative director, and I’ve been working on the national airline, South African Airways, insurance brand PPS, whiskey brand Chivas Regal and distributor Skye Distribution (Dickies, Brentwood, Samson and Mille), among other large-scale accounts.

What unique opportunities encouraged you to join Havas Johannesburg?

It excited me then, and now: Havas Johannesburg speaks the future, today. That’s an incredible offer, not only to clients but to Havas employees. It’s an opportunity to engage clients and keep them relevant, and position them for success in the future. In an industry that is about discovery, it’s important to be with an agency that understands and practices this every day.

Havas also has a wide array of clients who touch the lives of all people in South Africa. That’s just incredible: to do work that engages across all markets. It’s an opportunity to be a part of something even greater than I imagined.

How would you explain your job to an 8-year-old?

I make people buy things they don’t necessarily need—and get paid for it.

What about an adult?

With a team of savvy content creators and curators, we make content for leading brands to effectively engage audiences in ways that affect those brands’ bottom lines. Our content helps them remain relevant today; fluent tomorrow.

Give us a definition of creativity.

It is simply the process of objective-led ideation and bringing those ideas to life in the most effective way possible.

How can creative staffers at Havas apply that definition to the work that they do—even if they are not in the creative department?

I believe that at Havas, we are a future-fit team—competent and geared to help clients stay relevant today and fluent in tomorrow. So for creative staffers to apply this simple definition of creativity, I believe it’s about putting our best foot forward. Attitude is everything. My approach to work is to always embrace my responsibility to leave what I found better than it was, regardless of position or department.

How do you inspire yourself?

I listen to the world, and, for me, it’s primarily having conversations with my daughters about the most random things. I find their perspective to be interesting and refreshing.

How do you inspire others?

Honestly, the easiest way is to always make them coffee or tea. I think inspiring my team is all about being of service to them. I also try as much as I can to share interesting, new, and off-center stuff that pushes boundaries and challenges norms.

What’s the secret to success?

It’s finding what you love and then giving it your all.

What does a creative need to understand to succeed in a market like South Africa?

The South African consumer profile is varied—there is no single profile. They are nuanced, complex, and interesting. Once a creative understands that—and approaches the South African consumer landscape with an open mind—they are bound to succeed. So it’s all about taking the time to get to know South African consumers in all their diversity.

Taking risks makes all the difference. Author Seth Godin put it best: “The safest thing you can do is to take risks, and the riskiest thing you can do is to play it safe.”

What’s some of the work that you’re most proud of?

Work for South African chemical company Sasol, and my work at Ogilvy Johannesburg for Tennis Biscuits. Also, work for MTN Spray Paint Caps and others.

What keeps you up at night?

I want to leave an etch in the creative economy in South Africa and beyond. A big part of that is about building and leading a team of hot creatives. So keeping the creative department inspired and motivated, sometimes, honestly, keeps me up at night.

What advice do you have for someone just starting a career in advertising?

Never stop asking “What if?” It’s beyond that question that the magic lies.

What would you like everyone to know about you that no one knows?

I fluently speak seven languages.