From Agency to Inhouse

by Will Francis

Posted on Apr 1, 2022

In this episode host Will Francis chats with Ewoudt Cloete, PhD about his transition from working in an agency environment to running a team inside one of Africa's largest retailers, MassMart (part of the Walmart family). Ewoudt also discusses his academic background, experience as a DMI student and gives us an insight into digital marketing in South Africa. 

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Podcast Transcript

Will: Welcome to "Ahead of the Game," a podcast brought to you by The Digital Marketing Institute. I'm your host, Will Francis, and today I'll be talking to Ewoudt Cloete all about working in-house as a marketing team leader. Ewoudt is Senior Manager of Digital Operations at Game, Africa's leading discount retailer where he oversees digital marketing strategy and implementation. He is a doctor no less with a Ph.D. in communication studies. And he's also a graduate of the DMI, having completed the DMI pro-diploma. He has previously been head of social media at Wunderman Thompson, as well as Chief Digital Officer at AVATAR Agency before making the move to an in-house role less than a year ago. Ewoudt, welcome to the podcast.


Ewoudt: Thank you so much, Will, it's great to be here.


Will: It's great to have you. Just to set the scene for people just tell us where you're currently working and what you do there.


Ewoudt: So I currently work for a company called Massmart. Massmart is part of the broader Walmart group, the International Retailer Group. And in full Massmart specifically, I work on a specific individual retail brand here in South Africa. So the brand is called Game and Game has over 120 retail outlets across Africa. And like I said, part of Massmart, which is then part of Walmart. And my role specifically within the company is that I look after all things digital marketing. So that includes the management of our internal digital marketing team, all of the liaison and working in collaboration with all of my agency partners, as well as the overarching strategy for the brand in terms of making sure that we drive the right growth and value for the business in terms of our digital presence.


Will: That's interesting. So it's a very mainstream brand because it's a general kind of supermarket brand, right? So there's a few things to ask you there. And I'll come on to that in a little while how you deal with having, you know, a very broad audience. But let's just talk about your trajectory, because you were in an agency environment. And now for about eight months, is it, that you've been at Game?


Ewoudt: Almost 12 months, getting close to my anniversary.


Will: So your one year. So you've gone in-house into a corporate kind of in-house role. What were the major differences that struck you on your first week there?


Ewoudt: Well, to be honest, basically everything. I think, for me, when I started here, it was quite a shock to the system, not necessarily completely in a negative sense. But just the broader culture, the working environment, completely, completely different to what I'm used to from my agency side. I mean, look, from an agency perspective, I've always, firstly been used to much smaller teams, and much smaller company structures, in general, a lot more flat organizational structures.


So coming into, you know, a massive, big corporate, that's part of the Walmart group, you can probably imagine, that was a big change and a big shift. So I think, first and foremost, the scope of it. And the size of it was probably the first thing that really struck me in terms of, you know, how big this engine is, and how many people it takes to make this company run. So that was probably I think, initially, when I started, you know, the enormity of it was probably the first thing that hit me.


Will: Is it faster paced in-house?


Ewoudt: It's such an interesting question. Even before I started, a lot of my agency friends and ex-colleagues mentioned to me, "You know, when you're gonna go into a retail corporate environment, you are gonna be so bored. You know, agencies are very fast paced, they're very agile, you know, corporates are all about red tape, it's going to be very different and you're gonna get bored." But I can honestly confirm, I have not been bored for one day since I've started here. And actually, to be honest, the pace is much more intense. And I think that one thing that goes along with that is not just necessarily the pace itself, but the level of complexity in terms of the role, the amount of parts, and components, and you know, smaller moving cogs that all have to get coordinated.


I think in an agency environment. Yes, you do get exposed to that. But because at the end of the day, you know, you're delivering on a specific brief based on what that client has provided you, there's certain restrictions and limitations to what you're working on at any given time. But you know, if you're a digital marketing manager within a bigger corporate, the limits and the restrictions are actually out of the door, because you're responsible for everything that touches that element that you work on. And obviously as we know with digital marketing and digital in general, it really touches everything and you know, all businesses are looking for ways to improve their digital footprint, improve their digital presence. So yeah, I think the complexity of it is really something interesting. And I would say a lot more complex than your kind of standard agency role.


Will: And so if a friend of yours asked you, they were thinking of going into digital marketing, and a friend asked you, "Well, should I go for an agency job? Or should I go for an in-house job?" What would you tell them has been a sort of a quick overview of the pros and cons?


Ewoudt: I would definitely say if you start out your career, start out on the agency side. The reason why, to be very, very honest, I think in an agency environment, you know, especially when you're starting out, the environment can be a little bit more forgiving because you're in an environment where you're part of a broader team, you're working together to drive goals. So I think there's more of a climate of let's work together, let's upskill you, let's mentor you, and make sure that you get to the right place, and we're not gonna give you work and responsibilities that you're not comfortable doing or that you feel you don't have the expertise to take on.


In a corporate position, it really is about you're here, you need to jump in, you know, you need to make things happen. So I think, in that context, agency is a really great space to hone your skills to really get a great understanding of the basics of digital marketing, content generation, lead generation, you know, all of the different channels. And I feel like that's a really good proving ground for someone that wants to like move into a corporate position later in life.


Will: I agree. I mean, I've described working in an agency as like Marketing Bootcamp, you know, because and I agree, it's something...I think it's something really good to do in your 20s, as well, when you've got the energy, you don't have kids, you don't have commitments, you can stay late, you can do the all-nighters when there's a pitch and all that kind of thing. But you are pushed so hard. And you have to flex between one minute you're working on a beverage brand, the next minute, you're working on insurance, and you really kind of, I would say, yeah, it is like a boot camp, you're just pushed to your limits a lot. So it is a good proving ground. I do agree with that.


Ewoudt: Yeah very much. And just to add what you were saying about that as well, you're 100%, right, in an agency environment, you know, I think working hours are probably also a lot more flexible, and probably open to interpretation, you know, because you're working on various clients, and they all have requirements and needs. And as an agency, you need to kind of try and fulfill all of that. And that's on top of all of the new business work and pitch work that you might be doing. So yes, there's all these different streams of work. I think one of the biggest differences for me in a corporate environment, there is a lot more strict guidelines, and I guess, also respect around working hours. And look, the retail environment is very fast-paced. So it's by no means, you know, a 9:00 to 5:00 type of job. But I think in general, from a corporate perspective, there is this understanding, you know, work hard while you're at work. And as far as possible, we try to switch off when we go home.


Will: I'm curious, being an ex-agency person, what kind of client are you? Do you think you're a really tough client because you know, what the agency should be doing and how they should be managing you as a client? Or do you think you're a better client because you understand and you're more compassionate and understanding towards their position?


Ewoudt: That's a great question. And it's something that I've reflected on a lot myself. Even before I started in this role, one of the personal goals that I gave to myself is I don't want to be a terrible client, like, "Ewoudt, please make sure that you do not become the type of client that you hated when you were at the agency." That was something that was really important for me. And you know, a hard question to answer because this is probably something you must ask one of my agency partners, but from the feedback that I've received, the guys have told me, "You know, what? You're both really incredible in the partnership that you build, and also how you treat us as equals."


And I think that's very important for me as well, coming to this corporate environment. I've seen a lot of clients, where, you know, that I am the boss, there's a hierarchy, I give you orders and you need to follow them and don't question them. I found those type of relationships just aren't great for the brand. It doesn't build collaboration, it doesn't build trust. So one of the key mandates that I've said to myself and to my team, is that the agency are extensions of our team. They are not separate teams, they are not doing work for us. We are working together to achieve a goal. And I think if you take that approach, it gets reflected in the work as well.


Will: Yes, it's a partnership. It's got to be, you're absolutely right. It's a collaboration. That's definitely how it works best. So how creative can you be in-house versus an agency?


Ewoudt: So when it comes to creativity, I find this also a very interesting topic because there's lots of different aspects to creativity and I guess it also comes back to how you define creative freedom. I think on an agency side, because of the general expectation being that you are the agency, you are coming up with the creative ideas, I think naturally, most of the ideation work when it comes to creativity comes from an agency side, because that really, for most of the part, for 80% of the agency work that we do, that's the main mandate is make sure that we really are thinking creatively, we are innovating, and we are looking at great new ways to build a brand.


In a corporate environment, which I found very interesting is because as a client, you are the one controlling your budget, and you've got that oversight of your budget, too. And also, you've got the power to make decisions on how that budget is spent. Even though you might not be the creative resource, you've got a lot more freedom to make those creative ideas happen. I think a lot of the frustrations that I had on an agency side is, you know, you will pitch ideas that you've really worked hard on and you think they're amazing. But then it comes down to budget, or it comes down to some other practical implication. And that idea will never see the light.


As a client, you know, if there's a great idea, and I really believe in that idea, I know I can make that idea happen, because of the control that I've got internally. So I think once again, it speaks to that partnership, you know, the trust between the client and the agency, if there's great trust between the client and the agency, it also creates a great platform for those amazing ideas to actually happen. And I think you end up with a lot less ideas that actually just disappear within the ether.


Will: Yeah, I can imagine that's quite satisfying being in the position you're in now knowing that you can make things happen because you're right. I've been the agency side much of my career, and you're just trying to make things happen. And most of what you come up with doesn't see the light of day. And you just...that's your life and that's fine you're okay with it. But it can be frustrating for sure, especially when you think you're sat on a really great idea and you just can't get it signed off.


Ewoudt: I actually have...I've got like, and this is very sad to admit, but I've actually got a folder on my PC of all the great ideas that never happened. A few PowerPoint presentations. So no, I completely understand.


Will: Wow, that's a good folder to keep. I don't have that folder. Maybe I should have.


Ewoudt: You need one.


Will: Yeah, maybe I should have kept one, I need to go back and think about that. So okay, so now the position you're in, you're building a team, or you know, you're retaining, you're developing, you're nurturing the team on an ongoing basis. So how does that work, again, in relation to agency, does it feel more permanent? Is it more about developing the staff you have? Is it less of a revolving door now?


Ewoudt: Well, I think so most definitely. I think one of the biggest differences with the internal team that I now look after, and that's reporting into me, is that really much of the goal for me is how am I nurturing my team to at the end of the day, take over from me, right? The reality for me as a senior manager, because I'm spending most of my time in meetings and replying to emails here and there in between those meetings, I need to make sure that my team are completely adequate, and on the right level to work without me, without my intervention. So most of the time that I do have is focused on mentoring them and make sure that they have that autonomy, that they have that independence, and that they can confidently do the work without me.


And that's very important, because the engine needs to keep running, you know, if one of the team members, there's a problem, or there's a personal issue, anyone in the team needs to be able to pick up and really drive with whatever is necessary to do. So I think definitely that the focus is very much for me, as an internal senior manager now is to mentor and manage that team to make sure that they're really growing. And then at the end of the day, they also have the trust of the agency partners, because that's also a very important thing and an interesting thing that I've picked up on, you know, I spoke about the hierarchy on a client side. And even though as a client, you might not be enforcing that, there is still this, you know, assumption of hierarchy.


And I can see that play out in meetings with agents, with agencies, with suppliers, where you can see there's almost a thing like, "We need to speak to Ewoudt because we know Ewoudt will understand A, B and C. Ewoudt has to be in this meeting." But that's also something that's very dangerous to me. You know, I also always say to my team members, "You need to be able to make a decision without me and you should have the confidence to do that and have all of the information." So that's a big focus for me as well as to create that platform and to make sure that my agency partners trust me as much as they do the rest of my team.


Will: That's very interesting. That's a good approach to sort of, yeah, negate the need for you having to be in every meeting and in every room for every decision. As you rose up in your career, did you find it hard to kind of let go of the hands-on tactical stuff?


Ewoudt: You know, what Will, yes to a certain extent.


Will: A lot of people do, by the way. I mean, that's very common.


Ewoudt: No, most definitely, I think for me, you know, because when I started out my career, I've always seen myself as a creative soul, and someone that wants to create something. I wanna make sure that I'm always in a role where I'm creating something, whether that is an actual creative idea, or just a great report, or even sending a very eloquent email, I always wanna make sure that I'm busy creating something because that's something that I get a lot of fulfillment from. And you're 100% right, I think as you climb the ranks in an agency environment or a corporate environment, there's definitely a shift that happens, where a lot of your output becomes, I guess, a little bit more ambiguous, not that tangible, it's more about managing, it's more about mentoring, it's about being part of the right discussions.


And to be honest, that's always a tricky thing for me, because I've said to myself, "For me to be fulfilled in a role, I still need that balance." I don't wanna get into a space where I completely end up, not producing anything, I'm not adding and contributing to the actual output. So what I've done in my role is I've made sure that there is bandwidth for that, and that I'm still developing on those tangible outputs. And I think that's also important from a team dynamic, because I think it also becomes very dangerous if you've got a manager that is only, you know, shouting out orders and delegating. I think you really want a manager that you can see, "Okay, they actually can also get their hands dirty, and they're still willing to do that. And they actually enjoy that." I think from a team or role perspective, it's actually something that's very powerful. So that's something that I've tried to focus on quite a lot.


Will: I like that. I like that approach. You're empowering the team to be autonomous, but at the same time, you're keeping the feeling that you are one of the team, and you haven't just disappeared into boardrooms, you know. You're right, I think that's a good balance, a good way to put it. So we know, give us a quick breakdown of the specific roles in your team, what kind of people are you managing?


Ewoudt: Okay, great. So the way we've structured the team, basically, is that we've got a range of digital specialists that are looking after a specific set of channels, if I can put it, that all basically phases of the customer journey. So proof of awareness to consideration, at the end of the day driving actual conversion, but also retention. So really how we split it is we've got digital paid media specialists. But those digital paid media specialists are further specialized into specific channel sector. So for example, we've got digital paid media specialists that are focusing on social media, whether that's Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, how to boost and promote content effectively there, also doing work with influencers.


Then we've got paid media specialists that are more focused on the Google ecosystem and how to drive growth there. We've got email and direct marketing specialists very focused on CRM, and customer journey, orchestration, that type of thing, obviously, because there's this big engine, and we've got all of these different assets and campaigns always running, I need a very strong operations lead as well. So there's an operations lead making sure that, you know, everything gets effectively trafficked across all of the different parties. Also have a financial manager, very, very important. And that there was also a bit of a new skill to learn for me coming into corporate around, you know, financial hygiene and making sure that, you know, orders are raised in time, and that, you know, there's no problems around making sure that our agencies get paid, very, very important. And really, that's kind of how we built it. So it's a highly specialized structure, with specific team members looking after specific components of digital work.


Will: And is upskilling in your team, is that something that you promote and do?


Ewoudt: Very much so, very much so. I wanna make sure...and I think we have a specialized structure. That's definitely one of the dangers is that if a team member becomes very specialized, and they've got this very specific component that they're responsible for, it can start pigeonholing the resource. And that's something that I, as a manager, am also very aware of, because I wanna make sure the resources in my team even if they left Massmart, how employable am I making them for the next move in the career, whether that's at Massmart or not? I think it's very important and it's part of my responsibility to make sure that I'm increasing and adding to their employability.


So what I always try to do is put up a structure of cross-learning and cross-education between the different teammates. And a good example of that is, even though we've got specific specialists looking after specific components of digital marketing, every team member is running with separate campaigns that holistically include all of the different elements. So, for example, you have your email marketing specialist running with a campaign. And that campaign will include social elements, website elements, Google banners, you know, wave pushers, whatever it might be. So even though yes, they are accountable for email marketing, they are still being exposed to the full gambit of digital marketing.


Will: Yeah, that's good. That's wise, I think.


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What about the importance of soft skills? How do you see the importance of developing soft skills within a team, so things like time management, leadership, etc.?


Ewoudt: So, so important. So that's probably to be honest, what has been most of my time on. I think, also...and it speaks to the type of resources in the team because I think most companies, and this could be a South African insight, but most big corporations are only now really starting to become serious in terms of building their own internal digital marketing. There's some brands, you know, that have been doing it for years. But there's other brands that really haven't been doing it yet.


So because of that, it means that most of the digital marketing specialists within the country that have that skill set are coming from an agency background, and are currently in an agency environment, because these roles haven't really existed within a corporate environment. And the interesting thing for me is that I found is that a lot of the soft skills that you need within a corporate environment are not necessarily that important in an agency environment. They might be, but I think some of them, you know, we up the ante in a corporate environment. And something like time management is a great example. Because a lot of agency resources, you know, they might have been trafficked by someone by a traffic manager that, you know, everyday tells them exactly, "This is what you've been working on. And this is what you're gonna do today. And this is what you're gonna do tomorrow."


There isn't much of that within a corporate environment. So time management and being able to coordinate different jobs all at once, is something that I found in general lacks with a lot of resources when they come into a corporate environment. So I spend a lot of time coaching team members on, you know, inbox management. It might sound like a very silly thing but I found that a lot of the team members, you know, struggled to keep abreast of everything that's happening, you know, "How do I keep a strong to-do list of what I need to do today? How do I prioritize work?" I found like a such an interesting thing around making sure that the team members are clear on what is the biggest priority for the business.


Let's not go down a rabbit hole, and you know, address the small little thing that might not make a big difference, let's make sure that we're always focusing on the big priorities, where we're really gonna see a massive change for the business. So that's probably one good example of, you know, from a soft skill perspective, a really important area and something that I focused on with my team.


Will: That's interesting. I have to ask, have you got any, you know, particular favorite frameworks or systems for that, you know, I mean, you talked about inbox management, that brings to mind GTD or getting things done. Are there any of those kinds of systems that you lean on?


Ewoudt: Nothing as formal as that, but I've got a very simple system that I've used since I've started working. And it sounds incredibly simple, but I found it extremely effective, is just to use a foldering system. So anything that is in your inbox is your to-do list, your inbox of things that you either need to still address, or you need to reply to another stakeholder. But if something is in your inbox, it is an outstanding request, it is something that still needs your attention, or something that you need to review to make sure that it has been addressed. And as soon as you folder something, it is done, it is something that is completed, it's not something that a stakeholder is waiting on for you to action on.


So your inbox actually becomes your to-do list. I think in the world of Massmart, you know, because we're working with our global counterparts, we're working with our local colleagues, there are a massive amount of emails and a massive amount of requests that come through. So I always say, "Let's make sure that your inbox becomes your to-do list," and you use that very effectively to manage your time. And the great thing about the inbox as well is it's time-based, right? So if a certain request has been, you know, lagging for quite some time, that's gonna be at the bottom of your inbox. So you know, from a timing perspective, you know, it's taken me now two weeks to get back to this stakeholder. I really need to make a plan to get back to this. So I know it's a very... it'll be a simple thing to say. But I found if you can coach a team member to get into that habit, it can really help a lot.


Will: Yeah, you know, I do exactly the same thing. I have exactly that system. You're right, because everything that you've got to do will probably end with you then getting back to someone to deliver the work or tell them that it's done. And so yeah, the inbox does serve as a really nice way to do that. I like that. And just thinking about communication, do you have any particular tools? How does your team keep in contact with each other? How do they catch up with each other? Do you have daily stand-ups? Do you use Slack? Tell me about that.


Ewoudt: Yeah, so we've got actually various different communication methods, I think probably at the moment to me, if you asked me. And I think that's probably also just the, you know, outcome or result of the false-based retail world. But to be honest, a lot of our quick fast-paced work all happens over WhatsApp. So a lot of our discussions, we've got various kind of team groups based on, you know, certain streams of work. For example, we've got a trafficking group that is focused on making sure that everything gets done in a certain period of time. And that team is completely basically managed from a very active and highly engaged Whatsapp group.


Then we obviously have stand-ups, we've got various meetings across the day, we've got a daily stand-up. And that has to happen every day. And that's very, very key to make sure that we're all on the same page and we know what the priorities are. And that session is also very important for me, because that's the session that my team members need to communicate any potential issues, you know, any pitfalls, anything that is going to lead to us having an issue during the day in terms of delivering on something. So that face-to-face communication is very important. That's also why, to be honest, you know, we've been back in the office mostly full-time because of the pace of work, and the amount of collaboration that we need to do. It's just something that's been necessitated. Yeah.


Will: That's very interesting. You're using WhatsApp in that way. I mean, it makes sense, it's perfect, because everybody's already got it. So the adoption levels are already through the roof. And you're just using an existing system, rather than trying to get people to adopt yet another tool, like Slack or something. So I think that's great. So in terms of building a team, what are the main challenges facing an employer trying to attract talent at the moment?


Ewoudt: So I think if we talk about digital marketing specifically, I think, really, one of the biggest challenges for me is the cultural shift, you know, and like I said, a lot of these digital marketing team members, they are in-agency, and they really love that agency environment, because it's highly creative. You know, it's also highly liberal. And I think for a lot of people working in creative roles, that more liberal environment is something that is fantastic and very appealing.


So what I found the most important, probably the most challenging is keeping employees engaged with their corporate culture, and also saying to ourselves, "How can we be brave as a company to make small little changes, not to make a corporate an agency, but how do we bring some of that agency thinking into our day-to-day? You know, and that could be a simple thing around just making sure we have an area within the building that is not about work, where we are not talking about work, where we are just relaxing, we're just having a laugh, you know, maybe we have a foosball table or a pool table, just a place where people can just relax, and just forget about, you know, all of the deadlines and everything else that's currently happening.


But I think those small little interventions are very important. And it gets into the detail, but I think it all adds up. And to be honest, that could be the difference between an employee staying, or an employee saying, "Listen, at the end of the day, I love the work. I love the challenge but I miss the culture that agencies provide."


Will: Do you think proactively communicate that? I mean, how do people know that it's like that to work there?


Ewoudt: Yeah, it's a good question. I think at the end of the day, that comes into the hiring, I think it's very important. You know, I always say to myself, when I hire resources, "It's a two-way street. Yes, I'm here to you know, assess the resource and assess their capability." But at the end of the day, the resource also wants to know, "Is this a place that I want to work? And how are the people? What is the environment like? Do we take ourselves extremely seriously, and there's no room for fun?" I think it's very important that you set the scene. And I think it's also you know, these companies that think that, you know, every resource or you know, they're just so hungry for work, and they're not looking at other opportunities. I think it's very short-sighted. So I think it's very important that as part of the hiring process, and even from an internal comms perspective, that you communicate that constantly.


Will: Okay. And from the other side, as an employee or as a candidate what do you think the challenges that they're facing at the moment are?


Ewoudt: So I think, once again, speaking about the kind of the shift of culture, I think it is a big shift, because at the end of the day, you know, in a corporate environment, you are dealing with people that have never been exposed to an agency environment. So there's a lot of things that you almost take for granted in an agency world that is, honestly just not a reality in the corporate world. So it's not that, you know, people don't wanna create those opportunities. It's just, it's ignorance, it's just not knowing that, you know, there's potentially a different way to do that.


So I think the biggest challenge is adapting, right? Because there is gonna be some adapting, even though the corporate might be more engaging, and it can have a fun culture, it is definitely not going to be an agency environment. So I think, you know, just giving yourself a reality check and saying, "You know what, this is going to be different. But I'm here for the opportunity, and I'm here to grow my skills." So I think that that shift in mindset is the biggest thing, and I think some people can do it very effectively. But I think for some resources, you know, it takes more work. And for some people, it just isn't a good fit. You know, this also happens, people come into the door their here for a few months, and they just find, "You know what? This just doesn't gel well with me, and I think I need to look for something else." But I think adapting to that culture is probably the biggest challenge. Yeah.


Will: Now, you are a graduate of the DMI. You did the DMI Pro course.


Ewoudt: That's correct.


Will: So I'd be interested to know your thoughts on how upskilling can propel you as an employee, and what kind of advice you would have for people out there in terms of upping their game upskilling, making themselves more attractive to employers.


Ewoudt: Having upskilling is extremely important. And I think just to use myself as an example, because of the intensity and the seniority of the roles that I'm in, what I found is that it really is a challenge to find the time to make sure that you stay upskilled and you stay abreast of the latest trends, it really is probably the hardest thing. And as you know, from a digital marketing perspective, it is the expectation, you know, it's a non-negotiable element, you need to know what's happening on all the different channels, you need to understand the innovations, you know, where is TikTok going? Is Facebook going to survive? You know, you need to have an informed opinion on all of those methods around digital.


So I think something like the DMI course, is a fantastic, fantastic tool, because at the end of the day, what it does is it forces you very gently to make sure that that upskilling happens. And I think just having that credibility, you know, of an institution with global recognition is very powerful, because that could be the thing that differentiates you within an interview setting. You know, if I'm sitting in an interview, and I've got two candidates that are really strong, and they've got similar levels of experience, but I can see that the one candidate is really focused on growing their skills, doing research when they can and they're really passionate about learning more, I will most likely go with that resource. Because you know that hunger and that drive is something that you can't really develop. It's something that I think that comes from within.


Will: We agree of course, that's true. And I want to ask you about your home, South Africa, I want to ask you about things there. Firstly, just in terms of some of the stuff we've been talking about, did you see this kind of great resignation, as it's been termed, around the world? Did that happen in South Africa where people left conventional jobs to pursue their own businesses or side hustles and things like that? Did that affect you?


Ewoudt: So well, to a certain extent, but I think to be honest, I think it has been kind of overaccentuated or overemphasized that it was this big, dramatic shift. I think, you know, the reality in the South African environment is that we have an extremely high level of people that are not employed, right? And that is a very harsh and real reality in South Africa. And, you know, there's a very strong side hustle culture within South Africa, and a lot of people have massive amounts of success with that. But also, the risk is very, very high, right.


So, at the end of the day, there's a big component of people that are saying, you know, "Let's go for it, let's do our own thing." But because of, you know, how many people are also doing it and how competitive the market is around people doing all of these side hustles it is also an extremely dangerous, you know, route to go. So basically what that means is, most people have actually stayed in their roles. They might have looked for other types of opportunities and other companies, but I think they've really been an overstatement of, you know, the amount of people that have just said, "You know, screw it, let's move on and do our own thing," because I think the realities, especially in South Africa, you know, really affects people's ability to be more flexible. Yeah.


Will: And have people wanted to work remotely there? Have they pushed hard for that do you think?


Ewoudt: Very much so. Well, yeah, very much so. And, you know, from a corporate perspective, and from an agency side as well, it's an ongoing challenge, you know, in terms of finding that balance, where yes, you know, being in the office and having that face-to-face engagement, we recognize the value that that can bring, and how that can, you know, create more stability and just harmony within an employee's mind. But at the end of the day, it is also making sure that we can deliver on results.


And look, different companies have taken different approaches. Yeah. But it is very much a big focus. And from a Massmart perspective, that is also something that we get a lot of engagements and a lot of feedback from team members from is that need, that need for a more flexible working environment. And at the end of the day, you need to adapt as well, because there are lots of companies that have taken that approach. So there are other companies. you know, that offer it. So if you're the one company not offering a more flexible working environment, it becomes a challenging thing to manage. So no, definitely.


Will: Yeah, I think that's definitely the case everywhere, I think, certainly here as well. Okay, and thinking about the South African market, what channels are preferred? What marketing channels are you finding work best, and what social channels are strongest for your brand game?


Ewoudt: I think an interesting thing, if we just talk about the broader South African market, and the skill set when it comes to digital, is that it's actually very, very focused and weighted towards social media and content creation. And what I mean by that is, you know, I think because at the end of the day, you know, we're still a developing nation. I think from a digital marketing perspective, we've got some amazing skill sets. And you know, some brands are doing fantastic things. I think the reality is that from a technology adoption, you know, South Africa is a developing country. So because of that, you know, some of the more highly technical, highly specialized digital skill sets is lacking within the country in terms of now I'm just generalizing in terms of the skill set that's available within the market, you know.


So having someone that is a highly skilled social listening conversation analyst, as an example, you know, or someone that can create really advanced customer journeys online, finding those resources can be really, really challenging because a lot of the times they do necessitate, you know, an appreciation and a better understanding of more of the technical elements, not just of digital, but also of technology. And I find sometimes that is probably our biggest gap is that, you know, the digital marketing employees that are coming into the actual corporate environment are lacking a very specific technical and technology skill set.


So that's where we have to focus more of our attention. But from a content perspective, and a creativity perspective, and a social media perspective, fantastic, fantastic. You know, there's amazing work coming out of the country agencies are doing great work that really resonates with the local market. But I really think probably our biggest gap is more on the tech side.


Will: Interesting. So you mean specialisms, like SEO and things like that?


Ewoudt: Great example, exactly. Yeah.


Will: Well, our listeners know where to point their job search if they are a specialist of some sort. That's good to know. You're obviously very much steeped in them in the South African market there. But what sort of differences do you think there are between sot of the general market in places like the U.S., Europe, the rest of Africa, what are the main differences that you think characterize the South African market?


Ewoudt: That's an interesting question. I think one of the biggest differences probably is when it comes to e-commerce, I think because of you know, the background that we have as a country and the general shopper behavior and shopper culture, is that e-commerce yes, it's growing and there's some massive brands that are doing great things in the space. They're still a really, really big segment of the South African market that are still honestly too scared to even buy online. It's not that they don't have the access, but it's more from a perspective of you know, understanding e-commerce and even considering e-commerce as an option. Because, you know, they might be very risk averse to trying e-commerce, or just because their family and their friends, you know, have never even considered themselves. So it could be from a PR perspective, that is just not something that they're considering.


So I think one of the biggest challenges for us is driving e-commerce adoption. It's not just, you know, competing against other brands, what we are doing most of the time is trying to convert physical customers into e-commerce customers. And that's where to be honest within our market that is the biggest place for growth, you know, instead of trying to go off to the same audience, how can we convert and make a new audience strive to shop online? And how can we hold a hand in that journey? So I think the brands that are doing that really well, you know, that are really simplifying the e-commerce and the shopper journey for customers, those are the ones that are really I think, that are gonna win in the future here in South Africa.


Will: That's interesting. And I'm gonna make a wild guess that it's maybe more mobile-centric there than other markets, is it?


Ewoudt: Yeah, yeah, very much so. Look, I mean, the market is also quite diverse. And that's an interesting thing, you know, you've got people that are sitting on a very, very high income bracket, high LSM. And then you've got a massive discrepancy of people that are very much on the lower end. So we've got this one side of the market that are very technology savvy, and that are also very desktop-based, which is really interesting. But then you've got this other side of the market that never grew up with a computer really, never grew up with a laptop, and their whole life and the entry into digital has always been through their phones. And so we've got this very interesting mix of different types of digital audiences with different levels of digital adoption.


Will: Well, look, I can see our time is up. I've got one last question for you. What are you most excited about when you think about the future of digital marketing?


Ewoudt: I think the thing that I'm probably the most excited about is...and I think, in the context of South Africa is really just to see how we're actually going to drive that e-commerce adoption in a way that feels relevant to the South African market. And I think for us, specifically, what I'm talking about is social commerce, I think the South African market has only scratched the surface in terms of how we can utilize social commerce. But I do think that that's where we've got the biggest area for growth, and there's some brands doing exciting things in that space. But I think considering, you know, the market and the background with technology, and the relationship with technology, that is definitely probably the best place to grow online penetration and e-commerce within the market. So I'm very excited to see how brands utilize social commerce a lot more aggressively in the future.


Will: Yes. And I think that's something everybody's very interested in as well. We only recently did a webinar about it, a DMI webinar about that exact topic. And it's something we'll be doing in future podcast episodes about social commerce, because it is clearly the next big space to capture in terms of driving e-commerce sales. So yeah, I agree with you there. Well, Ewoudt, our time is up. And I'm really so grateful for all the insight. That was a very kind of rich view of the journey from agency to in-house and also a fascinating view into the market there in South Africa. I do actually have one final question for you. Just tell our listeners where they can find and connect with you online.


Ewoudt: Perfect, perfect, Will. I think probably the easiest place to connect with me is LinkedIn. I'm a little bit of a old school marketer when it comes to that. I do have a Twitter profile. And I do have an Instagram profile but I think it's embarrassing to give anyone a link to that. So the easiest thing to do is just do a search for me, you know, tweets on LinkedIn, and I'd be very happy to connect there.


Will: Great. Well, we will do that. And thanks again, Ewoudt, hope to chat to you soon. Take care.


Ewoudt: Thank you so much, Will.


Will: If you enjoyed this episode, subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And for more information about transforming your marketing career through certified online training, head to Thanks for listening.

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Will Francis
Will Francis

Will Francis is a recognized authority in digital and social media, who has worked with some of the world’s most loved brands. He is the host and technical producer of the DMI podcast, Ahead of the Game and a lecturer and subject matter expert with the DMI. He appears in the media and at conferences whilst offering his own expert-led digital marketing courses where he shares his experience gained working within a social network, a global ad agency, and more recently his own digital agency.

Connect with him on Twitter (X) or LinkedIn.

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