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We ate our own dog food

Magna Carta is a reputation management agency, established in 1994. We are turning 20 this year and have grown in leaps and bounds since inception. We pride ourselves in professionalism and being one of the best in the communications sphere. With all that in mind, it came as an uncomfortable surprise when Brendan Seery awarded us the PR Onion in his Orchids and Onions column in the Saturday Star (February 15, 2014). The Onion, which is an award to a PR agency for getting something wrong, was for a basic PR101 procedure. (See PDF: SaturdayStarOnion)

As a reputation management agency – our own reputation is of utmost importance. No client would trust us with their brand(s) if we didn’t have the reputation we have – a reputation that took years to build and polish. But as the saying goes; every dog has its day – and it was our day. The Onion provided us with the opportunity to eat our own dog food. It was our turn to show how we handle ourselves when our reputation is being questioned – put to practice the advice we give to our clients.

Ignoring the Onion was an option with the hope that none of our clients saw it – but as Magna Carta CEO Vincent Magwenya states “perception can easily turn into reality”. Another option was to go on the defensive and blame it all on the intern in question. But that would be a contradiction to how we consult with our clients on matters similar to this one.

Take Responsibility.

For a brand to retain any credibility during a crisis, taking responsibility is the first step. “The Onion from Seery was a clear indication that something had gone wrong with our management protocols of interns and our interface with the media – we had to accept this fact and take action” explains Magwenya.

Magwenya, who makes it clear that “communication is about leadership”, did exactly that and made contact with the Journalist. Part of managing a reputation includes building and continually maintaining relationships. Ignoring the matter would have meant Seery would forever have had ill-feelings towards any mention of Magna Carta. The relationship between reputation consultants and journalists is the most important factor of our field – it affects our clients at the end of the day. Clients will not feel comfortable working with an agency that doesn’t have great relations with media representatives. “Media relations management is our bread and butter.”

In his message to Seery, Magwenya unpacked Magna Carta’s plan of action as to how we’ll ensure that such a slip up will never happen again. “It is never enough to just take responsibility and apologise. It is also important to show that measures have been formulated to remedy the issue at hand”, said Magwenya. This was simply not a “find the intern- fire the intern” issue. Being reactionary would mean that we solved the problem at surface level but didn’t get to the root cause of the problem.

Quick real-time action from Magna Carta’s CEO put the company back into the good books of Seery. After the response he awarded us an Orchid for our peace effort and most importantly we mended our relationship with him. (See PDF: SaturdayStarOrchid)

Budgets, even good ones, merely allocate resources

Solutions lie outside of the fiscal tool and key is in implementation

This year’s budget, the last of the current sitting administration and possibly the last budget of finance minister Pravin Gordhan, was a mix of conservatism as well as practicality given that we are in an election year.

While it did bring about an income tax relief of R9.3 billion to households, increased tax cuts and support to SME’s, incentives and funding for Special Economic Zones (SEZ), and continued funds for infrastructure development as well as to social services, it was somewhat conservative in its approach to the challenges South Africa faces in reducing the current 24% unemployment rate.

While the National Development Plan (NDP) is aimed at creating an equal society where all can partake of the economy the latest budget fell somewhat short in terms of reaching these objectives.

With an estimated economic growth rate of 2.7% predicted for 2014 we are still far off the 5% growth per annum needed as outlined in the National Development Plan (NDP) to make an impact on structural unemployment.

While many quarters of society, most notably labour, have not given their full support to the NDP, its implementation remains critical in order to get SA on the right economic path. While this budget did not allocate specific amounts to the NDP, key sectors outlined in the plan have been allocated their share of resources.

Infrastructure spending over the past five years has amounted to R1 trillion with R847 billion allocated over the next three years for numerous projects including rehabilitation of dams, refurbishing of Metrorail coaches as well as support for IPAP &SEZ.

Education remains the key pillar for NDP to be successfully implemented. As such it receives an allocation of R256 billion. Another key sector for the successful implementation of NDP is that of healthcare.

With the NHI pilot programmes already underway and R1.2 billion allocated to piloting general practitioners code, the sector still faces numerous challenges which no amount of budget allocations can resolve unless structural reforms are initiated.

Employment remains but the biggest obstacle currently facing the country. While strides have been made in creating employment for all, the negative theme far outweighs any good news on the topic. Allocations to employment include the expansion of the Public Works programme as well as the introduction of the youth wage subsidy, both of which needs some time in order to judge it a success or not.

Momentous political year officially kicks off

Over the next two weeks, two events that define the political economic agenda take place in parliament in Cape Town. Tomorrow evening, President Jacob Zuma will deliver his state of the nation address and in two weeks’ time, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan brings out the speed point machine to explain how government will pay for all its needs over the coming year when he presents the budget.

The two events take on added significance as they take place in a year when South Africa is due to hold elections while celebrating 20 years of democracy.

President Zuma will most likely use his State of the Nation address to reflect on his government’s five year term but also the ANC’s 20 years in power. He will most likely point to success in the improvement of access to water and electricity, improved access to education as more children now enter Grade R and the improvement of the lives of the poor through access to social grants.

The opposition will be keen to point out that no significant movement has been made in reducing unemployment while the public health and education system are crumbling in part. Crime, while stabilising, remains high and South Africa’s competitiveness in many areas of economic life has either stagnated or is deteriorating.

Those complaints are likely to simply be drowned out by pomp and ceremony and sense of occasion.

The main reason that President Zuma will have to fall back on history in his address is because he has little to share as a current achievement. Infrastructure spending, his point of strength throughout his term of office feels like it has ground to a halt, with no new projects confirmed and actual spending lagging behind what was planned.

There is thus unlikely to be any new initiatives announced, all that might be saved for the new parliament, where the ANC expects to retain its majority and Zuma fully expects to lead it as president.

One of the most remarkable achievements of South Africa’s democratic government has been the reform in public finances. The reform was part of the adoption of Growth Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) as the official economic policy in 1996.

The process started with the merger of the department of finance and the department of state expenditure to create what is today known as the National Treasury. This led to the introduction of the three year budgeting system, the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF), which has brought stability and predictability to the budgeting process.

It then evolved to produce one of the most evolved and sophisticated and transparent budgeting systems in the world, but it also produced the budding romance between Minister Trevor Manuel and his director general at the time, Maria Ramos.

The most remarkable feature of South Africa’s budget is the phenomenal growth it has undergone, with spending now exceeding R 1 trillion, but also how spending has been redirected. When the ANC took power in 1994, South Africa spent more on servicing the interest on its debt than it did on education.
That changed in the early 2000s, when the reduction of national debt through selling off its assets and slowing down capital expenditure allowed government to reduce debt and therefore interest paid on it.

The most keenly watched item on the budget will be measures to boost economic growth as a way to fight poverty and unemployment. Opposition parties will also watch the growth of the Public Service Wage Bill, which has grown briskly over the past few years, due to higher numbers of employment and generous wage increases.

This in turn influences the Public Service Borrowing Requirement, where markets will watch closely to ensure that SA does not borrow to pay its civil servants, a slippery slope for any country to be caught in.

South Africa’s re-engineering of public finances has been compared to redesigning a plane in mid-flight. It is a technically complex undertaking that is probably the single biggest reason we have a stable democracy to celebrate. It should never be taken for granted.

By: Thebe Mabanga, Media Director Magna Carta

Magna Carta Retains Standard Bank Public Relations Account

Magna Carta Retains Standard Bank Public Relations Account

Magna Carta has retained the Standard Bank public relations account, giving it the opportunity to work with the marketing and communications teams of Africa’s biggest lender in formulating their  media relations and PR strategy until the end of 2016.

The decision cements Magna Carta’s position as one of Africa’s leading reputation management consultancies and follows an intensive pitch process that began six months ago. Magna Carta, which was named African PR Consultancy of the Year in 2012 by the international Holmes Report, has managed Standard Bank’s public relations account for the past 12 years.

“We are very excited to continue our 12-year relationship with Standard Bank and are fully aware that our biggest challenge will be to continue being innovative and creative on an account that we have managed for such a long time,” said Vincent Magwenya, Chief Executive Officer of Magna Carta. “We look forward to delivering a world class public relations service to Standard Bank.”

Standard Bank’s required scope of services will see Magna Carta supporting the bank across three key pillars: Standard Bank Group, including its operations in the rest of Africa; Personal and Business Banking; and Corporate and Investment Banking.

Magna Carta is part of the TBWA\South Africa Group of marketing and communications agencies, which is in turn owned by New York-based advertising, marketing and corporate communications giant, Omnicom Group. The Johannesburg-based agency boasts a 17-country African partner network and is the exclusive Africa affiliate of Ketchum Inc., one of the world’s largest public relations groups.

Issued by: Magna Carta
Contact Person: Hilary Macaulay
Email: [email protected]

Strategic Social Solutions drives corporates to befriend the social media trend

Strategic Social Solutions drives corporates to befriend the social media trend
Befriending the trend is taking off with a growing number of corporates that have embraced a South African public relations innovation that has the potential to break through the social media conversations and turn them into brand-building discourse.

Strategic Social Solutions (SSS) from Magna Carta, the award-winning PR agency, has become a significant contributor to the firm’s business growth and relevance on the back of proven capacity to ignite social media conversations on issues relevant to major brands.

“Early adopters of the SSS product include leading automotive, financial service, beverage, hospitality, publishing, state-owned enterprises and cellular telephony brands – primarily in South Africa, though the first implementation in sub-Saharan Africa is already under way,” says Katie Taylor, Magna Carta’s new media director.

SSS tracks and maps influencers of social media conversations relevant to corporate clients, including bloggers, websites, Facebook, Twitter, their own media and other channels. Topics generating most comment are identified, including praise or complaints around industry, company or competitor performance and fed back for intelligence.

The nature and provenance of the social commentary is established and management made aware of relevant issues and conversational opportunities. The key is the building of a relationship strategy which ensures issues and opportunities are addressed and targeted content developed. This material is primarily intended to enrich current conversations, but additionally spins off into traditional media adding further leverage to the conversations. Exposure across new and traditional media is then measured, tracked and fed back into the strategy.

Taylor notes: “Social media conversations are uncontrollable. Many corporates see chaos out there, but you can bring coherence to chaos by tracking trends and identifying the influencers of the conversation and feeding them back into an overall strategy.

“A major corporate cannot upend a trend if the issue excites social media users. But you can befriend the trend and own aspects of the conversation. On occasion you can bend the trend by including input that highlights different aspects of the subject.

“Manipulation is impossible as self-interest is rapidly spotted. But the key lies in the more strategic and proactive approach to social media that is possible. Experience to date suggests tangible brand benefits are achievable.”

The Magna Carta approach and social media innovation contains various components, mapping and strategy formulation, strategic implementation and influencer science.

“We drive the philosophy that social technology has to be measurable,” says Taylor. “With the appropriate mix of tools it is possible to carry out a searching evaluation of a company’s social and communication landscape.

“Once communities have been identified, a company can develop areas of mutual interest, ignite, join and spread conversations, host events and thank friends with significant impact on brands.

“Live newsrooms can be created on a corporate website to aggregate social channels and ensure a credible destination for content. Networking through Twitter and Facebook attracts newsroom traffic while multimedia releases can be produced for placement in any media format.”

A key positive is increased marketability of strategic services. “Billings are traditionally driven by PR implementation. SSS clients immediately recognise the value of the strategic element. Relationship strategy formulation therefore has the potential to add considerably to revenue streams while emphasising PR’s role as a strategic partner, she points out.

“To date, the majority of those buying our strategy product have moved to the implementation phase and they are reaping significant rewards.”

SSS and social media technology has also created the ‘citizen journalist’ opportunity. “SSS is best utilised by good corporate citizens offering good products and exceptional service who are open to comment and happy to engage in a permanent consumer conversation but who are following an overarching strategy in order to build their brand,” she says.

“Strong brands were the earliest adopters. For them, building a long-term relationship with the customer is first prize and they have discovered a new corporate tool in SSS to help them do just that.”

Issued by: Magna Carta
Contact Person: Hilary Macaulay
Email: [email protected]

Let us understand and not misconstrue the media interest on Madiba, by Vincent Magwenya

Let us understand and not misconstrue the media interest on Madiba, by Vincent Magwenya

The media’s intense focus on the health of ex-president Nelson Mandela (Madiba) should not be seen as mischievous or an overzealous editorial obsession, however fraught this attention may seem to family, friends and political comrades. I will be the first to concede that scenes of reporters and television news crews camping outside Madiba’s homes and the Pretoria Heart Hospital can be overwhelming. Recent accounts of irresponsible reporting do not alleviate this apprehension.

The genesis of this phenomenal interest can be traced back to Madiba himself. To understand this “obsession,” we have to acknowledge the affection Madiba had for the media and the nature of the bond he shared with journalists; a relationship that did not flag from the moment he stepped out of prison through to the formative years of his Presidency, and then later, as an international elder statesman.

Despite spending 27 years in prison, Mandela never lost touch with the power of the media or the influence it has on society. This global icon was the ‘rock star’ above all rock stars, and the media enjoyed unprecedented access to him. Not since Dr Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi, had the world witnessed such inspirational leadership; journalists simply loved him. They were awed by the aura of humility and warm charm; this despite his heroic ‘struggle’ credentials and messiah-like status.

I can attest to this. Towards the end of 1993, landing my first job at Reuters in Johannesburg, I rubbed shoulders with the who’s who of local and international newsrooms. We all followed Madiba as he travelled the corners of South Africa during this country’s first democratic election campaign. Madiba knew some of these newsrooms legends by first name. He cajoled and joked with them as if they were his children, colleagues, or friends. He treated everyone in the travelling media corps with unprecedented respect. He was particularly fond of the young, feisty Deborah Patta of 702’s Eye Witness News. He would place his arm around her, like a caring and loving father.

The media reciprocated; he became a subject of sustained editorial interest and a father figure. Journalists enjoyed every moment with him. We called him “Tata” when shouting for attention, a wave, and a smile for our cameras.

I became a first hand witness to Madiba’s media skills. At the start of the Zaire conflict in 1997, between the Congo’s long serving dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko and Laurent Kabila, the international community requested Madiba to broker a peaceful solution. Africa, then, and the world, had just witnessed the horrors of the Rwandan genocide. Fears of another deadly conflict in the Great Lakes Region spurred Madiba into action. He deployed the negotiating skills he had used to usher South Africa through peaceful, sometimes contentious multi-party talks in 1994, to broker a deal.

One of meetings with Kabila took place at Madiba’s house in Houghton. The late Parks Mankahlana, his spokesperson at the time, alerted us to a ‘photo opportunity’ and ‘presser’ with President Mandela and Kabila. By 18h00, cameraman Spokes Mashiyane and I had joined a growing group of local and international media in a stake out in front of Mandela’s house.

The mood as always, was jolly. After all, this was a “Mandela story.” Nothing happened until close to midnight. None of us complained. Mankahlana regularly came out to assure us, “they will be coming out soon guys.” Eventually they did. Madiba commenced with a sincere apology for keeping us waiting. He introduced Kabila and then gave an assurance that all parties involved in the conflict had committed themselves to finding a peaceful solution. He went on to declare, “As you would all appreciate, these are very sensitive matters, I therefore hope you will not probe me further.” He smiled, shook hands with Kabila, wished us a good evening, and turned away to disappear into the glimmer of his sprawling garden.

We all looked at each other in absolute amazement. What was that? Did we just let him get away? We had been waiting for this briefing since 6pm. Satellite feeds were booked and postponed. What did he mean, “he hopes we would not probe him further”? Mankahlana, the astute spokesperson that he was, remained gauging the temperature. After a few seconds of silence, attempting to process what had just happened, we gave up. After all this was Madiba. We trusted him. That was the end of story.

Mandela would continue his cordial relationship with the media, even in vexing times. Media hacks would not stop speculation about his courtship with Graca Machel, widow of the late President Samora Machel of Mozambique. The Madiba touch won the day. At a press briefing, Mandela authoritatively stated, “my culture does not permit me to discuss an issue of this nature with somebody young enough to be my granddaughter.” The “young” female journalist responsible for the question somewhat embarrassingly obliged.
The media never scorned Mandela for breaking protocol either. Not even when he stood up – during a state visit – and did the famous Madiba jive during an electrifying performance by the late Jabu Khanyile of Bayete, at the Royal Albert Hall, in London while alongside him Queen Elizabeth sat stoned faced.

Again, in Hluhluwe, about 300km north of Durban, Madiba did the unthinkable. The occasion was a handover of land – previously designated a game reserve – to a neighbouring community. In attendance were Head of State, Mandela, Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini and Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi. Before the ceremony, Madiba, King Zwelithini and Buthelezi were seated at the foyer of the reserve’s lodge. Madiba spotted Walter Dladla, the late AFP photographer. In a moment of excitement, pointing towards King Zwelithini he commanded, “Ah! Walter! Come and meet uNdabezitha.” Walter obliged, reaching out to shake the King’s hand. But, the handshake was not to be. Buthelezi rushed to grab Walter’s hand and chastised him observing that the “King does not shake hands with commoners.”

Recently, in Kenya on a business trip, I discovered the same intense interest. Everybody I met, from waiters to business associates, expressed concern about Madiba’s health. Newspapers in Nairobi led with front-page pictures of tributes outside the Medi-Clinic hospital in Pretoria. The hotel doorman bid me farewell with a wish of “good health to Mr Mandela.”

So, concern for Madiba’s health is more than just obsessional editorial interest. He was a ‘father’ away from home, a global icon, a celebrity, and a beloved elder statesman. Let us celebrate and appreciate his special relationship with the media, historically, now and in the future. Let us cherish the shared appreciation of a free media, and dignity he bestowed on those who practice it. Madiba’s health is, and will remain an issue of global public interest.
Vincent Magwenya who is CEO of Magna Carta PR, retired from active journalism. He writes in his personal capacity.

Issued by: Magna Carta
Contact Person: Hilary Macaulay
Email: [email protected]