What should South African creative directors do to make a change beyond advertising?

Net#work BBDO’s Mike Schalit and Emma Strydom gathered insights from 30 creative directors to answer this question.

Emma & Mike

The title of the limited edition book, Creative Director, is an oxymoron, explains Net#work BBDO’s designer and illustrator Emma Strydom.

It begs the question: how do you control creativity?

“It’s the magic of mayhem and the madness of logic,” she answers, quoting founder and creative director Mike Schalit.

The two present a comfortable duality of renowned figure in the South African advertising space and the new, upcoming millennial.

Together with the team at Net#work BBDO, the two gathered insights from 30 creatives – now many them are creative directors – who passed through the 23-year-old creative agency’s doors.

It’s not a step-by-step guide to how one channels creative energy in a business environment. But it is more a history of combined successes and failures that they hope will inspire the next generation. It’s also a celebration of the agency’s 23-year history.

Neo Mashigo in Creative Director

Suhana Gordhan in Creative Director

Established in post-apartheid South Africa, Schalit hoped to capture the sense of renewal and the sense of social responsibility he felt belonged in the private sector.

“From the start we wanted to put something back. We don’t want to just make ads. We want to make a difference,” Schalit explains. “We were just doing work that was always trying to put back whether it was in your mind or emotionally or then we were doing a lot of community projects.”

Their first nationally recognised social impact project was a solar powered billboard for Nedbank. Emblazoned across the billboard were the words: What if a bank really did give power to the people? Equipped with solar panels, the billboard generates 1350kW to power the kitchen of a nearby primary school.

Schalit formalised his social impact efforts after the project won a Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival in 2007. He called the organisation, MAL or Make a Living, Make a Life.

With education as their primary focus, MAL has been able to establish thirteen library containers in impoverished communities around South Africa. With the help of NGO Breadline, they’ve been able to determine where a library could have the most impact on children in various areas.

The Shout Library in Eisleben Road Primary, Mitchell’s Plain.

The exterior of each library is unique. Designed by Strydom, the facade takes into account the sponsor of each library as well as the children, making it a fun, comfortable and sustainable learning environment.

“We also keep the children front of mind. This must beacon for them,” says Strydom. “They need to want to come to this place and want to stay there and just get super amped being around it.”

But libraries and other social impact projects all cost money. This is where offerings like the Creative#Director book comes in. Like many of the products and projects established by Net#work BBDO, each sale contributes to a new library.

In interviewing the participants for the book, Schalit asked each one: “What should we do to make a dent in the universe and make a change beyond advertising?”

Each of their replies, he says, was about education.

“We need to keep proving to people that creativity is a powerful weapon and it can make a huge difference and that’s the one thing we blessed with in Africa,” says Schalit, adding that maybe creativity doesn't need to be controlled but rather channeled in ways that have impact. 

Creative Director by Net#work BBDO

See more or buy the book to contribute to a library in South Africa.