Bongi Gwala places great store on having up-to-the-minute information at hand. In-depth knowledge – about politics, economics, society and the media – is what distinguishes his public relations and communications consultancy from its competitors.
The former radio programme manager, television producer and government PR officer decided to launch his own company, Blackvoice, in 1999.
Two years after opening the doors of the business, however, Gwala realised that he did not know enough about the workings of the communications industry. He put the company on ice for 24 months and returned to the SABC, using his spare time to learn as much as he could about his areas of interest and writing down concepts for the organisations he envisaged as future clients.
“I absorbed every bit of information I could lay my hands on,” he recalls, “I studied, I read books, I did research on the Internet and I listened to different people’s perspectives and analyses of events and situations.”
At the beginning of 2005, having developed an exhaustive understanding of communications, Gwala was ready to re-launch the company. Through his contacts at the SABC he had heard about the launch of flympumalanga.com. Gwala compiled a proposal, presenting his ideas on how the launch should be conducted. It was accepted and because the project was so huge, Blackvoice was given a substantial down payment.
“It’s vital for a new business to use upfront deposits wisely,” he says. “We used ours to start developing the company.”Since then, Blackvoice has built a substantial client base in local and national government. Asked how he has attracted and retained clients, Gwala says you have to know and understand your client and create meaningful relationships.
“Inexperienced business people are sometimes not frank with their clients; they promise one thing, yet deliver something else.
That is bound to affect the relationship negatively.” With government contracts being notoriously open to corruption, Gwala maintains that he avoids situations where he has to grease people’s palms. Working within this sector in particular, Gwala says Blackvoice found it helpful to create its own monitoring and reporting systems.
“We submit reports pre, during and post each project. We are not asked for these documents but we submit them anyway. We also use news tracking services on every project so that we can measure the value of the PR generated.It’s truly gratifying to be able to tell a client that they paid us R100 000 for a project and in turn received R1 million worth of exposure.”
Blackvoice has built a reputation for its ability to arrange well attended press conferences by sending out stories that sell. “When government launches a bridge, that is not a story. The story lies in how the bridge will help the community, develop the local economy and engage local businesses.
I always insist on at least three or four angles to any press release.”Among the hardest lessons he has learnt is the fact that any business, regardless of size, requires processes and systems.
“One of the best decisions was to hire a financial person who monitors cashflow, chases invoices and ensures that service providers are paid on time everytime. We also have auditors who check every transaction made.”Blackvoice has established a second office in Durban from which it is overseeing a project to position KwaZulu-Natal as South Africa’s soccer province and Durban as an ideal base camp for 2010.
It will be repositioning itself as a complete marketing, PR and audiovisual company following its purchase of two edit suites. “Our growth has been gradual at about 20% per year, but also steady and sustainable,” says Gwala. “We are now ready to move to a whole new level.” Contact: +27 11 787 0131; www.blackvoice.co.za