The Managing Director of Durban-based Gameplan Media is also the owner and founder, having started the business back in 1997, off the back of a successful print and radio career.
Q: What were you doing before founding Gameplan Media and what were your reasons for starting the agency?
A: I was the MD of East Coast Radio, having worked as a print journalist, radio journalist, and then presenter at Capital Radio and East Coast Radio, where I got involved with TV presenting as well. I felt that I wanted to start a business of my own and break away from the corporate world. With a broad pool of media experience and a solid network of contacts, I set up Gameplan Media as a full spectrum media consultancy that would offer solid media/PR services integrated with the emerging digital and social media needs of clients. With time, we developed niched services in specific areas, including sporting events and codes. Even in the 1990s, we could see the start of a trend of broadening media preferences coupled with increasing pressure on tradition media organisations, which we felt would create an increasing reliance on external agencies to provide meaningful media content and provide ROI for events and their sponsors.
Q: Who was your first client and what did you start with, in terms of staff and resources?
A: Curiously enough, we serviced Jonty Rhodes on his benefit year! It was a leap into the unknown and not what we were expecting to cut our teeth on. I was on my own, doing everything from guest liaison to copy writing and photography, right down to fixing labels to commemorative bottles of red wine!
Q: Fast-forward 23 years and what did your agency look like at the start of 2020, in terms of client base, staff, and resources?
A: Our business model has evolved. The one certainty about this industry is that change is the one constant. We now have a very diversified portfolio of clients, spanning sporting events to agriculture, medical, fashion and lifestyle. In an effort to deliver reliable, credible content, I have a large number of contracted service providers who handle copy writing, video, photography, social media, web and graphic design as needed for specific clients and events. A lot of our accounts are seasonal and require their input for only part of the year, so I contract in the specialists as needed. We have a small core staff in our office in Kloof that manages each account and liaises with the pros that are needed to service each account.
Q: Does Gameplan Media have a particular strength or speciality, or sport that it is particularly strong in?
A: Sport and music have always been two passions of mine, so it was no surprise that we gravitated towards sporting events and codes. We have developed a long-standing relationship with events like the Vodacom Durban July, we service Canoeing SA, and have become the preferred service providers to major canoeing and surfski events like the Dusi, as well as having solid exposure in MTB and trail running, where we have worked at several world championship events. The core of our philosophy is consistent messaging and brand representation, and we do that by managing the client’s media/PR, websites, social media, and targeted comms like email and SMS messaging in one umbrella strategy.
Q: As founder and owner, how involved are you in the day-to-running of Gameplan Media?
A: I am fully hands-on. From the day I started this business I look forward to getting involved with every level of its activities, so you will find me at the coal-face every day.
Q: What impact has the COVID-19 pandemic had on your business?
A: As a business that is probably 80% seasonal event-driven, the COVID-19 lockdown has been disastrous. We spent the first week of Level 5 cancelling most of our event-based work for the rest of the year. But then many of these clients had a totally new set of communication needs, and we have adapted to handle that. New skills and appetites for live streaming productions and more personal engagement with target consumers have actually been exciting and rewarding.
Q: You have some strong views on how COVID-19 is going to change the sports event and sponsorship space. Please summarise those thoughts.
A: I have long felt that our sports sponsorship and event market was due for a major shake-up, and the COVID-19 pandemic has done just that. Many of our events run on bloated, old fashioned models, with jaded media plans and sponsor ROI models and expectations, balanced on the other side of the see-saw by an end-user who is spoilt and feels unduly entitled. We have a unique environment in South Africa where our lifestyle, weather and culture foster a nation that is sport-obsessed. But we need to wake up to the rapidly evolving demands on the modern men and women, who are trying to juggle their time between their work, a career on the side, parenthood and family, social commitments, and their increasingly important and expanding digitally-connected communities. We spend our money and time differently now and the sports sponsorship industry has to wake up to this fact. Globally, mass participation sport and sport spectator attendance has been on the decline, some of it alarmingly rapid, as time and financial constraints change our behaviour patterns. Events for spectators and recreational sport lovers will become smaller, so let’s make them more personal and try to make them more rewarding. As people choose to do and attend fewer events, you need to make sure your events, clients and their sponsor come out on top of that decision-making process. The end user (the spectator or recreational runner/rider/paddler) must also see the real value attached to the offering and be happy to pay for it.
Q: What about sports PR in South Africa? What state was it in pre-COVID-19 and how do you see it changing, post-pandemic?
A: The sport PR industry in South Africa is still underdeveloped, but it is good to see more and more specialist skills being entrenched in organisations, federations and their sponsors. The COVID-19 ‘CTL+ALT+DEL’ effects on the event industry will force some major changes, but these should be seen as exciting opportunities and not threats. Technology has made it possible to create dynamic new ways to reach and engage your targeted audience without massive cost implications. For many events, the best thing that will come out of this lockdown set-back is the enforced shake-up of the entire event plan and budget. The shrewd operators have wiped their whiteboards clean during the lockdown and rebuilt their event models, interrogating each step and level of their event plans, testing them for effectiveness, and, crucially, whether they deliver value-for-money.
Q: Which sports organisations – either local or international - do you believe are getting it right, in terms of marketing and commercialising their product, and why?
A: Locally in KZN I have worked with The Sharks and The Dolphins as they reach out to their fan bases to build loyalty. Yes, they take brave chances, and these sometimes prove to be not as effective as desired, and then change happens as they adapt and continue to “lead while others follow”. I follow the engagement of the commercial arm of the Barmy Army with admiration and interest. FC Barcelona is a trail blazer. And the way that new levels of engagement in Formula One racing become available – commercially – for the fans is exciting.
Q: As a Durban-based agency, are you happy being seen as such, or do you believe brands, sponsors and rights-holders need to broaden their view and look outside Jo’burg and Cape Town, when looking for an agency?
A: Our world is so small and digitally-connected now that the need for the agency of choice to be based in the same neighbourhood as an event, client or sponsor is no longer relevant. And I feel the COVID-19 shake-up has increased our ability to the be digitally-dependent on effective communication rather than reliance on face-to-face interaction. We will meet better and more efficiently, travel less, and become more effective in our dealings. In choosing an agency to look after your communication needs, the decision should be a business and an emotional one. Find people who resonate with your product and their users. Find an agency that offers the value and return. You will know this is working when the relationship develops organically, because of a shared passion, rather than the execution of a contract.
Q: Where would you like to see Gameplan Media in 10 years’ time?
A: A good question at a time like this! No-one has a crystal ball that is of any use at all. We will set out to embrace change and adapt, follow our core passions, and aim to contribute to a leaner and more efficient event industry in the next few years.