By Darren Gilbert

With 14 years of experience on both the client and agency side, Plaatjie was the obvious choice for AVATAR owners, Zibusiso Mkhwanazi and Veli Ngubane. For Plaatjie, however, the decision to join was not a foregone conclusion. In fact, it took a great deal of coaxing.

“It’s been quite a journey,” admits Plaatjie. “I had been talking to Zibusiso and Veli for over five months, and they had been trying to get me back into the agency side of things.”

Up until, and during, these conversations, he had been working for BET Networks (a subsidiary of Viacom) and was part of the team that not only brought BET to Africa but also built the market to become the brand’s biggest outside of the United States.

This meant that he needed something big and enticing enough to lure him away.

The ‘something big and enticing’ turned out to be the news that AVATAR had won the Chevron account. Plaaitjie, however, is quick to mention that it wasn’t the only reason he decided to join. He has a history with Mkhwanazi, Ngubane, and their agency, having worked with them while at BET Networks. The opportunity to both run and grow the agency’s footprint in Cape Town also attracted him. More than that, though, it was about being part of the vision that AVATAR has as an agency.

“It’s a huge vision,” he says, “Wanting to build the biggest, most diverse advertising agency in the country and later on the continent – and I want to be part of that.”

In order to achieve this vision, Plaatjie admits there needs to be buy-in from everyone involved. Fortunately, the way Mkhwanazi and Ngubane have set up AVATAR, Plaatjie doesn’t think it will be a problem. “This is an agency that is truly diverse in its make-up,” he says. “The staff are truly representative of the demographics of South Africa. If I look around, there are guys working on different briefs and they are all from different walks of life.”

A bigger test for the business, believes Plaatjie, will be setting up shop in Cape Town, and successfully so, considering the make-up of AVATAR and its drive to be a truly transformed agency. In conjunction with this challenge will be the drive to move away from calling, and thus perceiving, the agency as ‘black-owned’ only.

“We don’t want to be remembered as a black-owned agency,” explains Plaatjie. “We want to be remembered as an agency that is truly representative of those who live in South Africa, while also creating work that represents and speaks to everyone across the country.”

Plaatjie points out that this doesn’t mean AVATAR is shying away from the fact that it is black-owned. It is incredibly proud of this fact, he says. However, there is a certain pressure that comes with it.

“In the time that I have been with AVATAR, it has been very evident that there is that pressure. As an established brand and an agency, we do have to lead the way. But we are embracing it because we have to continue the narrative where the likes of HerdBuoys [South Africa’s first black-owned agency] left off.”

Fortunately, today, the conversation around transformation in the industry is on the table. Fourteen years ago, when Plaatjie started out, it was nothing but a dream, he says. Despite the progress, Plaatjie still believes the industry has a long way to go.

“While the industry has tried to progress from where it was in the past, there is still a lot that we need to do,” he says. “That ‘a lot’ that we need to do doesn’t mean just putting in junior staff who are representative of the demographics of this country.” That’s easy enough to do and can be likened to ticking off boxes, he says. Rather, it’s about changing the look of management and above, including at executive level.

Considering AVATAR is black-owned, they’ve already taken the first step. It also helps that they have Plaatjie to run things in Cape Town and build on what has been achieved in Johannesburg.

“I look forward to building this agency,” he says, “and to bringing the vision of a truly transformed agency to life.”

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