By Renay Tandy
We spent the long weekend moving into our new office, which we’ve spent the past six months renovating. To properly share how excited we are about this move, I need to take you back (waaay back) to when and how it all began (bear with me while I take a little skip down memory lane!) …
Before we started NGAGE, I worked as a journalist for two publication houses, and loved it – I even won a journalism award from ABB and was sent overseas as part of my prize – before a very short stint as the PR Manager for kulula.com and British Airways.
I then spent a few months launching a PR division for a husband-and-wife marketing company, who treated me very badly, and made it impossible for me to work with them. I was left without any options after two really horrible jobs, one after each other. I turned to my Dad and asked if I could work for him as a sales-lady like he had always wanted me too, and he turned me down! (I was upset with him at the time, but it turned out to be one of the best things he ever did for me).
Russell has always been an entrepreneur, and was planning on starting a marketing company for a while. At the time that my world was falling apart, Russ was working as a marketing manager and graphic designer for a mine access control company; he pushed me into starting NGAGE with him, while he stayed employed, as we needed his salary to survive.
I went with his plan, and honestly thought that I would do it for a few months and then figure out my next move. I remember those first few days, at my Dad’s office, using his phone and internet, and a computer that he kindly bought me. I literally used his Yellow Pages (!) and spent my days cold-calling random companies to try and set up meetings with them. Russ and I spent evenings when he got home from work doing the branding and planning, while I desperately tried to land us our first client.
After three weeks, an old client, Nic Alexandre, gave us our first break, and appointed us to assist Harmony Gold mine with communications, which became our very first client! Thereafter, we landed Fujifilm and Madbuzz energy drink. We worked our butts off for the clients that we had, and did everything that we could to prove ourselves to them.
We also changed the industry norm, and decided not to lock clients into lengthy contracts, which was a risky move, but it paid off in the end, and it’s still how we operate today, it makes us work harder to keep clients, and gives clients the flexibility that they need during difficult times.
After three months of Russ working nights with me and helping out every chance that he could, we finally had enough money for him to quit his job. It was a very scary move, and made us both work even harder.
Lots of people see us today and think that we have it easy, but they didn’t see what we had to do to get where we are. Starting in our spare room in a rented two-bedroom townhouse, we worked crazy hours, and did nothing but work for a long time. I remember stopping work to make a quick dinner, and then us moving our laptops into the lounge to work into the evening, nearly every day. I did the writing (often in my slippers and PJs) and interviews with the clients, and continued to cold call to try get new business. Russ did the client management, the accounts and, between us, we shared everything else, from sending out press releases and liaising with the media, to organising events, managing registration tables and celebrity endorsements.
I even had to wear a red bikini top one chilly morning and stand at a robot in Boksburg handing out condoms for a crazy ‘Hoot if you are Horny’ Valentine’s Day campaign that Russ came up with for Mad Buzz!
In-between the stress and hard work, we did have a lot of fun though; one of my highlights was the Kabelo ‘Road to the Comrades’ Campaign that we did for Harmony Gold. We worked closely with kwaito star Kabelo Mabalane, and publicised his first Comrades Marathon that he ran for charity.
He was a real hard-ass when I first met him, and made it clear he didn’t think a white girl who didn’t know who he was or any of his songs could give the campaign the publicity that it deserved. I proved him wrong and, at the end of the campaign, we not only achieved more publicity than any other Comrades sponsor that year, we also raised R500 000 for charity, and Kabelo and I became really close friends.
Seeing him cross that finish line that first time is something that I will never forget; I was so proud of him! We went on to work on the campaign with Harmony and Kabelo for 3 years after that. It was such a fun time, and we loved the team at Harmony, and considered them all friends. We had so many laughs on those Comrades trips, and worked hard, but played even harder!
After a few years, Russ decided that we needed to become a specialised agency, and focus on industrial brands, given our background and experience. This was really scary, as it meant giving two clients notice, and literally turning away business when we were just starting to turn a profit! It ended up being the best decision that we ever made, as it’s what made us stand out over the past 11 years, win PR awards and land accounts that even we thought were out of our league.
After three years working from home, we took the leap and rented a garage as our first real office (which we were SO proud of!), and hired our first full-time staff member, who went on to be a shareholder in the business before he moved on to bigger dreams. Since then, we have spent eight years renting offices: five years in an office park in the same street that we are in now, and slowly growing (and then shrinking during two recessions), until we finally found an old, ugly house we both loved and saw the potential for an office! After putting in three offers over more than a year, the house was finally ours!
Looking at it now, it’s hard to remember what it looked like, because it’s so beautiful, and fits us perfectly! Russ has worked so hard to make this happen, and I am so grateful to him for all of the hard work, stress and sleepless nights!
I am so excited to have our own space, and make the office less formal again and more fun, which was difficult to do in an office park. And I am so proud of Russ and I and the team for everything we have achieved over the years. I hope that the new space brings a new energy that helps us do even better for our clients, and continue to win big brands that will be proud to call us their agency!