What memories mark your childhood years?
When I relate my childhood to the work I am doing now there are two things that stick out in terms of my first loves. I have always had a passion for art and drawing from the ritual my brothers and I had growing up. Every time it rained we would get excited as it meant we could bring out our books and draw. I still have a thing for rainy days today and the memories it invokes!
The other childhood memory is related to my other passion, music. Even though no one studied music formally, it was a huge part of our lives. My parents had a record player in their room and I would steal moments in there to listen to Roberta Flack’s “Killing me Softly”. Years later the Fugees made it a huge hit I was like “I called it at the age of seven!”
Xolisa Dyeshana is Creative Director at Joe Public where he has spent the better part of the last 12 years.
What (or who) proved to be your greatest motivation to succeed during the formative years?
My parents because of the sacrifices I was very aware they were making for me. I come from a large family of seven with me being the last-born child. As a result I am the only one who got to enjoy certain opportunities. Knowing my parents (and siblings) were making these sacrifices was a huge motivator for me.
Why the ad game?
When I completed Matric I was unsure about what I wanted to do. As much as I wanted to follow my passions, I didn’t want to be poor doing them as I had only ever been poor in my life. It was around that time that I found out about advertising, which for me was the perfect solution as I could indulge in my passions, get paid for it and be able to see my work in lights!
For a young black man in South Africa, breaking into the advertising industry can be tough, how did you get your big break?
My big break came when I was invited to interview for a job at what was then FCB Activ, the retail entity of the then biggest agency in South Africa, FCB. The MD interviewing me was taken aback by my passion as I was applying for a copywriter position even though I had studied graphic design. I literally had to beg him to trust me with the position, as I had no experience! But he gave me a chance and as they say the rest his history!
In your opinion have South African businesses fully embraced the need for investing in advertising their brands?
For the most part the majority of blue chip companies have embraced the need because every brand wants to be a household name - and companies are seeing the results of their outlay. What is always going to be a challenge is at which stage companies decide what portion of their profit goes into marketing. Because it’s an investment, which takes a lot of sacrifice in the short-term but the fruits thereafter, are amazing.
Other than budget restrictions, what are the major frustrations that creative agencies face on a regular basis?
By its very nature creative work requires that you produce something new and different each and every time; but by our very own human nature, especially when we are looking after large amounts of money, we would rather stick to what is safe, tried and tested. So our biggest challenge is being asked to think out of the box, only to be put back in the box!
Another frustration stems from being asked to produce this miraculous piece of work but when it comes down to the actual experience that the consumer has with the brand it’s completely different and unsatisfactory. It doesn’t assist what we have been asked to portray and in some extreme cases goes against the message that we are preaching.
What does your recent appointment as Chairperson for Loeries mean to you personally?
As an industry we are facing some of the biggest challenges we have ever faced. We are reeling from a recession, budgets are getting tighter and demands are getting more intense. Markets are saturated and technology has been both a challenge and a blessing. On top of all this we need to ensure we still keep on track with our transformation agenda while staying at the top of our game. So an appointment like this is an extreme vote of confidence in my abilities to move us forward during these tough times. It’s an extremely humbling accolade. I cannot say that enough. I am so honored but at the same time I am well aware that one can only bask in it but for a moment – there is so much work to be done.
What achievements of the Loeries Committee to date are you most proud of?
First would be the scholarship fund we have made available to underprivileged students and the results that has yielded. The Travelling Exhibition is another that has given so many more people more a glimpse into this industry – people that would otherwise have never had the opportunity. The third is all the steps that have been taken to ensure that the Loeries are not just a showcase for advertising agency people, but for marketers and media owners and the communications industry at large.
What is the one aspect you would want to change when it comes to the Loeries?
It’s not really about changing anything; it’s more about carrying on the amazing work that has been done by my predecessor Boniswa Pezisa and our Loeries CEO Mr Andrew Human and the Committee. It’s about pulling all invested parties to see how best we can serve the work and create advertising that resonates.
One of your main drives is to ensure that talented underprivileged minds find it easier to embark on a career in the industry. Why is this important to you?
As someone who sits on various industry boards I am very actively involved in ensuring that we increase access to the industry to all. I believe as South Africa a lot of the work we produce is absolutely brilliant but we are yet to create a uniquely South African aesthetic. The only way that can be achieved is to have an advertising industry that is reflective of the market that is serves.
Are advertising agencies, especially the more established ones, doing their bit when it comes to mentorship?
I don’t think any of us, small medium or large are doing as much as we could be doing. But having said that the efforts I have seen particularly in the last two to three years have been encouraging. From the scholarships offered by the Loeries and internships offered by agencies to the programme put in place by the Creative Circle Exco that assists in placing young talent at some of South Africa’s top agencies where they get experience and get paid for that experience to cover their living expenses…lives are being changed.
At the end of your tenure what legacy would you want to leave behind?
If we have an advertising showcase in the form of the Loeries that takes place over a week and absolutely celebrates creativity and we have an industry where we have taken bold and brave steps to ensure it is reflective of the people who consume it I would be very happy with the legacy I am leaving.
All who know you know about your passion for music, how big is your collection?
Wow. Enough to fill a lifetime! See I believe music is the soundtrack to life. If I look back on my life there is always a song that goes with every memorable thing that ever happened. I am always on that constant journey to discover new music.
What (non work-related issue) keeps you up at night?
Well, unfortunately it is work related. Ideas keep me up! I love ideas and they excite me. If I am up at night, it’s probably because I am excited about an idea.
What do people not know about Xolisa that would surprise them if they knew?
In high school I was always the lead in every musical and I actually got school colours for my performances in Drama. While I never pursued it as a career, I am one of the lucky ones for I can pour all these passions into my work. My passions for music, art and acting have all found a home in my advertising work!