A full introduction to Sheila would be longer than our interview, so suffice to say, Sheila has over 30 years experience in the advertising industry, gained in internationally recognised agencies. She is widely known and respected in the South African advertising world and by the captains of industry, for the development and implementation of highly successful marketing strategies. In this interview we cover a lot of ground, from fashion to felines – with some cause marketing in between.
Tell us a bit about your early years?
I was born in Scotland and we immigrated to Northern Rhodesia when I was four and I grew up on the Copperbelt, Mufulira and Ndola. It was an idyllic childhood in an era when life was uncomplicated.
Did you travel back to Scotland?
Yes, we went back to Scotland as a family on the Union Castle line twice, both three month long-leave holidays and once when my father played as an amateur in the British Open, which developed my love of travel.
And then you found your way to South Africa?
Yes, I moved to Johannesburg with my children Justin and Kelly in 1983.
What was your first job?
It was with Barker McCormac in Zambia as an Account Executive with “L” Plates. I joined the ad industry when Mary Wells of Wells Rich Greene broke the glass ceiling and was the first female CEO of an ad agency listed on the NYSE in 1966. She set the pace when it was a male dominated industry and inspired me follow her example.
What advert do you first remember seeing which made and impact on you?
The early Peter Stuyvesant ads, “The International Passport to Smoking Pleasure” – they made a big impact on people in cinemas. In those days shot on 35mm film and depicting a lifestyle showing the world at play in exotic locations, that every young carefree person aspired to – it kinda made Carnaby Street in London and Kontiki Tours pale into insignificance. I also remember the Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve TV commercials which won global awards. They captured storytelling before it’s time.
What’s the best piece of advice you received early on in your career?
At De Villiers and Schonfeldt we had a tenet which I have always believed in and have tried to remain true to in my approach to communications. It seems even more relevant today:
“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble plan, once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone be a living thing.” Daniel Burnham
What do you love about advertising?
The magic of converting a brief into a campaign – with meaning and resonance – with the target market that makes a difference. And, unquestionably, the privilege of working with immensely talented people in their field who are like minded and passionate about communication.
Do you think the ad industry isn’t getting into schools like it used to?
Career Days at schools appear to have diminished, perhaps due to educators having less resource time and the job shadowing concept has replaced career talks. I believe job shadowing is a shorter and more dynamic route to choosing a career that will probably continue with for your working life On the ground experience is invaluable and gives you a real feel for the work, the environment and the people in that particular industry. It delivers insights and the nuances, not available from a talk or text book.
How can we offer accessible advertising programmes to young people?
The internship programmes, at no cost, that exist are very comprehensive and afford great opportunities to young people.
Are South African consumers are becoming more savvy in terms of what they are sold?
Consumers are calling out businesses they feel are unethical and are very quick to take their patronage elsewhere and this, I believe, has driven brands to be authentic. David Ogilvy said many decades ago: “The consumer isn’t a moron. She is your wife.” That is still true today.
What’s your current marketing focus?
I’ve always been passionate about Cause Marketing, Purpose Driven strategies and I believe this removes the risk of being superficial. Brands need first and foremost to be authentic and give the consumer a reason to believe and something that distinguishes them from their competitors.
You punctuate your life with memorable moments – have you always lived conscious of creating experiences and memories?
I have always tried to follow this mantra and be aware that we all leave a legacy – I would like to leave one that would make my children proud.
“I shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”
What are your top three favourite places in the world?
Scotland, Scotland and New York. I also love Chicago. I should also say I’ve been privileged during my career to travel extensively to the USA, Paris, London and Europe with the global agencies I worked for and it instilled a need to explore multiple cultures.
What places do you want to visit?
Mongolia- to see the Golden Eagles, Russia, Sao Tome and Principe.
Your personal style pretty spectacular – is it nature or nurture?
I was influenced in the 60’s by Mary Quant, Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton and the vogue style of movie greats like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I like to think I was born with style and always had an instinct for great design, influenced perhaps by working with an interior design company during school holidays who represented some of the world’s iconic brands – Dansk, Fritz Hansen, Arne Jacobsen, Georg Jensen, Marimekko and more.
Give us some tips?
Classics never date and nor do blue jeans – it’s how you wear fashion items not really what you wear. If it makes you feel good and is vogue, or chic or boho – just do it!
Your garden is astonishing and your felines more astonishing – tell us a bit more…
Both these passions I inherited from my mother. Her garden was beautiful and the first house I owned in Harare had over 120 perennials and I had to learn fast – so every Saturday for three months my surrogate mother in Harare would walk me round the garden and tutor me on the perennials giving me both the Latin name and a unique story by which to remember them .
About the cats – growing up my mother bred Siamese and I always loved cats and started breeding Colourpoints – first in Harare and then later in Johannesburg.
Lastly, we are going through unprecedented times, what philosophy keeps you focused?
The human condition is thus – that none of us get out of this life alive, so the great art is trying to negotiate that difficult truth and most of us run from it but in the end life is all about love and loss.
Many thanks for your time and wisdom Sheila.