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Activating The Brand Connection With a Nex Invasion

As a marketing professional you must spend quite a bit of time meeting clients, suppliers and those people who don’t really fit into either category or which defy classification. How do you rate the people you meet on a day-to-day basis? Is it important that they come across as professional, or would you rather they appear funky and off-the-wall? Do you want business-like or would you rather have fun and passionate?

The purpose of a Nex Invasion is for us here at Nex Media magazine to visit the companies which make up the marketing industry and to find out what it is that makes them tick. Who are the people that you are going to be dealing with, what are their feelings and experiences of the company they work for and what is their approach to you. Essentially we want to introduce the company to you as if you were visiting them – to meet and see the real people.

The marketing industry is not generally considered a very stuffy or rigid environment so one would expect the companies active in this sector to be a bit more relaxed and laid-back. Dress codes will be less formal and the fun to seriousness factor would be a little more slanted to the relaxed side. That said, I do not want to give the impression that the work is not taken seriously, for reputations are built on the messages these companies generate.

The Brand Connection is a company in the activations and outside broadcast space and as such spends a lot of time interacting with the general public. One of the requirements of this sort of interaction is the ability to be personable and approachable. There is a need to make the general person in the street feel comfortable and relaxed while preparing them for something which is a bit out of their comfort zone. This takes a special type of person, but more importantly, it requires the type of person who has a knack for defusing a tense situation.

The entire team at The Brand Connection fits into this description quite comfortably. The best description would be a group of fun-loving, thrill-seeking and slightly whacky individuals who know how and when to work hard but also to play hard. Testament to this is the four-wheel drive monster dune buggy which is parked inside the building at The Brand Connection and the photograph of various members of the team covered from head to toe in mud following the completion of The Warrior Race.

It is somewhat difficult, from mere appearances, to determine who is in charge but it soon becomes clear that a definite hierarchy exists. Bevan Milne is the general manager of The Brand Connection and is ultimately responsible for the operations of the company. However, when it comes to giving orders which are unequivocally obeyed it is Liz Breet who calls the shots. Liz is the Admininistration Manager. (It must be pointed out at this time that titles are about as close to corporate as The Brand Connection will come.)

But, let’s start at the beginning. The Nex Invasion at The Brand Connection started, as you might expect, with the arrival in the reception where we were greeted by Thandolwethu Nohenda who doubles as receptionist for The Brand Connection and parent company The Media Connection as well as having various community radio stations for which she is responsible. Thando has been at The Brand Connection since July and finds the company a fun, casual and relaxed place to work.

Moving past the small but comfortable reception area, The Brand Connection is situated down stairs through something more reminiscent of a garage but which is used as a storage and prep room for all the equipment needed for the task of holding and hosting product activations and outside broadcasts. This room can house all of the OB vehicles which The Brand Connection has specifically kitted out to meet the different and various requirements of its broad spectrum of clients. Everything from a fully functional OB van through to a basic van for community radio station broadcasts or product activations. The vans are named ‘The Rhino’, ‘The Elephant’ and ‘The Buffalo’. A 3×3 metre temporary studio is called ‘The Lion’.

Walking into the office area, the first person we come across is Liz sitting behind a very business-like desk with computer, filing drawers and lots of paperwork. Although she is the ‘responsible’ person in the company this does not mean that she is serious. It soon becomes clear that, as the only woman in the office, she has taken on, or been delegated, the position of honorary ‘Mom’ to a group of ‘Boys’. Liz actually joined The Media connection six years ago in the accounts department and was there at the inception of The Brand Connection. She has seen it grow and develop and has played a vital role in that development. Although her role has remained accounts related, it has expanded to handle all aspects of admin, logistics, accounts, costings, job preparation, record keeping and everything that goes into ensuring that every activation or broadcast is a success, not only from the customer’s point of view, but also from a financial standpoint.

Many of the procedures and processes which currently contribute to the success of the company have been developed or honed by Liz. Her responsibilities extend to maintaining constant contact with the various teams while they are out on broadcasts or activations, ensuring that everything runs smoothly. It is for this reason that Liz has also been included in some of the activations and broadcasts, so that she knows what these functions entail and require. She commented, ‘I have to know and understand what the guys are doing, as well as be on top of them.’ This comment, understandably drew loud and raucous laughs and guffaws from the guys who were eaves-dropping. Despite the laughter it is obvious that they hold Liz in high regard and have great respect for her role within the company. She really is the backbone which provides the essential structure to this tight-knit group.

At around 30 years of age – one doesn’t ask a lady her age – Liz is one of the senior members of the team. On the other end of the scale, are the young members of the team which includes two apprentice interns. It is difficult to stress strongly enough the close bonds which exist between the members of the team. The bonds are as close as those between siblings.

The only family members in the team are Bevan and Simon Milne. Simon has now moved into a more strategic sales role within the parent company although he still maintains close links with The Brand Connection. Simon was sad to leave the close family environment of The Brand Connection but now plays a more fundamental role and is able to connect the dots between the sales and the operations of the company. Bevan has now taken over the day-to-day running of The Brand Connection.

The very next person you come across as you walk into the office is Ernest van Niekerk who has the impressive title of Physical Facilities Manager which means that he is responsible for managing the warehouse and everything in it. This includes all of the health and safety procedures, vehicles, ensuring they are properly maintained, that machinery and tools are correctly logged out and checked in, maintained and fully operational. Ernest, who is 28 years of age, is assisted by the two apprentice interns who, as one would expect, are given all the leg-work to do. Ernest also assists by driving when vehicles have to go to distant locations. While this is not a requirement, the team likes to know that everyone within the company has an understanding and appreciation for the functions and activities it is involved in.

Moving down the line, the next person you would meet would be Marketing Co-ordinator Shaun Kemp, whose role, as you would expect is to market The Brand Connection. This involves meeting with customers, as well as handling all conventional and social media marketing platforms. He is also responsible for post-campaign follow-ups. However, as is normal with any company and also to keep in line with the aim of everyone being exposed to all aspects of the business, Shaun has also been out and had training on broadcasts and activations.

Quickly crossing the room as Shaun stares intently at the food leaving the fridge to make sure that no-one has taken his health-conscious, protein-rich food, we come to Bongumusa Louis Mpanza or ‘Bongs’ as everyone calls him. Bongs is treated with a great deal of respect within the crew, not only because of the fact that at 36 he is the old man of the broadcast team, but also because he has extensive knowledge. A qualified sound engineer, he joined The Brand Connection as a part-time employee in 2008 on a contract basis in then again in 2010 for the Coca Cola Trophy Tour in the run-up to the World Cup. Bongs is now the Activations Manager and is responsible for all aspects of the activations from planning with clients through to liaising with the venue, the talent and the various Municipal authorities.

Right in the middle of the room is the spot where Bevan sits and his perched vantage point allows him to overlook the entire room. Although he is responsible for the running of the company as General Manager, Bevan has a more inclusive style than dictatorial. Bevan has achieved his current position, which he took over from Simon, through the process of doing every job which was needed. He has done the activations, the outside broadcasts, packed the vans and driven many thousands of kilometres to some very remote places. Essentially he has put in his time and many of the processes which are now used as a matter of course were devised by Bevan in order to find an easier or better way of doing something. He has been instrumental in designing the layout of vehicles and the equipment which is housed inside them. He is also not above making the tea and coffee for anyone who wants when everyone else is busy.

While he misses the ability to go out on the activations and broadcasts, he realises the need, both personally and professionally for him to be more office bound. He commented, ‘I need more structure in my life and the ability to spend more time with my family. But also the company needs more structure. We have grown and we need certain processes and systems to be devised and structures to be put in place in order to improve accountability and to allow us to offer our clients better reporting. I have learned a lot from Simon and now it is time for me to build on that.’

Bevan will also be responsible for the process of growing the team. The parent company is currently in the process of constructing a new custom-designed building to meet the requirements of the various companies within the group. This will mean that The Brand Connection will have its own dedicated space. The new premises will be ready around mid-year and will allow for further expansion and will hopefully bring even more developments in the activation and outside broadcast sector.

The Brand Connection is not only concerned with its own future but also that of the industry as a whole. It is for this reason that it provides two positions to Sound Engineering students for them to enrol as apprentice interns. While they may have completed their courses, which includes a practical aspect, they will not have proper industry working experience. Through the internship, The Brand Connection makes it possible for young entrants to the industry to learn the ropes.

Tumelo Mogano, who is 22, is one of the two interns. He has completed his two-year course in music production and broadcasting including audio post production and broadcasting. The top students from the class are selected for the available internships which are offered by companies such as The Brand Connection. Tumelo commented, ‘This is a great company to work for. I have learned a lot in the past seven months. This was my first opportunity to work in and around the OB vans. I have been taught the correct methods of setting up the vans and to do all the set ups for an outside broadcast.’

The other intern is the 26-year old Xolani Mahlangu who joined The Brand Connection at the end of 2013. He was also notified of the internship through the campus where he was studying music production and broadcasting with a major in music recording technology. He also assists with the set-up of the vans and the equipment. He commented, ‘I would love the opportunity to work here on a permanent basis. I am constantly learning new things and it is exciting.’

Bevan added, ‘We feel that it is important for us to take on interns because it allows us to train the next generation of the work force in the broadcasting industry. However, it also gives us access to the top students studying broadcasting and related courses. This means that we have access to new staff if we are happy with their progress while they complete their internship with us. If they do stay, we know that they have been trained in best practises and will do things the way we want them done.’

The next person you would come across, and the person who sits in the back corner of the office is Outside Broadcast Manager Gary Laidler. Gary is a longstanding friend of Bevan’s and the two of them have been directly responsible for building up the Outside Broadcasting capabilities within the company. They planned and jointly built the OB vehicles. Gary also oversees the activities of the interns in terms of the functions they perform when out on broadcasts or activations.

Gary commented, ‘As the company is growing and developing, I am spending more time in the office doing quotes for prospective clients for outside broadcasts, this means that there is a need for more people to manage and run the vans. We have the three vans plus the cube. We need two people for each of these, so if they are all out at the same time that means eight people. It is for this reason that we will be looking to take on more interns in the future. Not only can we teach them about radio and OBs but we gain access to more people which makes it easier for us to handle everything.’

He added, ‘We are currently growing at the rate of a vehicle a year and we are expecting that this will continue with plans already in place to acquire another new vehicle this year. We also working with more community stations to offer them Service Level Agreements where they will have their specific branding on the vehicles. The vans will be serviced and maintained by us but it will allow them to improve their coverage of their respective markets.’

In a team totalling 11 people, there is no room for specialisation, everyone needs to be able to handle a little of everything. The one person who really fits that bill is Risinga Mabunda better known by his middle name Thomas. Thomas is the general maintenance man responsible for the overall condition of the building as well as being responsible for construction, building racks, assisting with the converting and building of the vans, driving when needed, loading and unloading the vans, woodwork, metalwork and even assists with the promotions when needed. He has even learned how to do the cabling in the vans.

You now have an overview of The Brand Connection. However, this article cannot really do justice to the fun atmosphere which prevails throughout the building. There are any number of adjectives which you can use to describe the people at The Brand Connection; passionate, enthusiastic, dedicated, crazy, whacky or even weird. Any one, or even all of them, will work, but there is even more. In order to experience the friendship, camaraderie, mutual teasing and general fun atmosphere you will have to visit The Brand Connection for yourself. Just be prepared for anything but the norm.

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