Advertising and marketing professional Uyanda Manana takes the helm at Conversation LAB with immediate effect, joining four other staffers as majority shareholders.

According to the agency, furthering black women is on the agenda, and Manana already on the lookout for top talent. Manana leaves her position as managing director of sister agency, BE, which she helped build 18 months ago; BE now merges with Conversation LAB.

Manana says, "This is an exciting and tremendous opportunity for me as a black woman. I get to lead an incredibly talented team of people across Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg in shaping our industry into something more reflective of our multicultural society."

"Diversity and cultural transformation are not only about [gaining] access to opportunity; it’s about acceptance too. It fosters an environment that gives people the security and room to express and accept their uniqueness. It opens up paths to creativity, making our work and processes that much richer and more human," she adds. 

One of Manana’s priorities is to strengthen the agency’s Johannesburg offering, with plans to open doors in Soweto. "Being in a township gives young black people real access and exposure to an industry that has been out of reach for too long, and gives us access to the kind of raw talent we’re looking for," says Manana. "Importantly, it positions us in the heart of the communities we represent and talk to." 

Conversation LAB founder Kevin Power, based in the United Kingdom, has commuted between South Africa and the United Kingdom since 2017 after setting up an office there; he remains managing director of Conversation LAB Holdings and says he is focused on new business opportunities for the group overseas. Co-founder Jon Oliff continues as chief technical officer at Conversation LAB.

Power adds, "As an agency group, we want to be relevant and proud of our business structure and make up, and be a positive force for change in our industry. It’s important too for staff morale, inspiration and fulfillment. And it’s vital if we want to deliver work that is relevant, honest and carries weight."

"Manana’s experience, empathy, ability to problem solve, build strong senior relationships and 'take people with her' is a critical part of the deal," he adds.

"We are not just changing the ownership of the business; that’s the easy part and only goes some way in creating real transformation. Critically, we are changing our leadership, a far bolder move, and is a step in the right direction in our intentions and ambitions for the eight-year-old agency," he concludes.

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