Jacques du Preez describes the early, start-up days of ProVantage Media’s history as ‘the billy goat stage’. “You do what you need to, eating anything that comes your way in order to survive, but all the while you’re looking up the cliff for the next opportunity that will take you up a level.”
Looking up the cliff paid off. The company was started from a room in Du Preez’s house seven short years ago; today it’s a R150 million organisation. ProVantage’s story proves just how important vision is to growth. When he started the company, Du Preez might have been taking on whatever work he could get, but he always knew what he wanted to create: “A media business that looks at what’s out there and then offers something better.”
Today, Du Preez says ProVantage prides itself on being a flexible activation and media company that develops media solutions that translate into sales. The company has five divisions – brand activation, transit media, events, tavern media and outdoor – each of which delivers media messaging directly to specific consumer groups.
“The business has grown by listening to clients’ unique needs and then developing things to meet those. Our approach was never to sell a pre-defined suite of services,” he explains. Once a need is identified, however, the company grows it aggressively.
Du Preez reports that ProVantage is among the biggest mall activation companies in the country. “We offered the first in-taxi television system in the country, our tavern media division has 17 different brands in around 600 taverns and our events division has conceptualised and executed three world records,” he says.
Scope to grow
What really gets Du Preez excited though is the sheer scope of the market in which ProVantage operates. He rattles off some impressive stats: four million South Africans travel in taxis every day; 30 million consumers visit the top 60 malls across the country; 55% of the South African population lives in townships, where the taverns are situated.
“And the marketing landscape is changing right in front of our eyes. Never again will we see such opportunities, particularly for entrepreneurs. How could one not get excited by all of it?” he enthuses.
In 2009, a year in which marketing companies around the world struggled to stay afloat, du Preez reports that ProVantage enjoyed its best year ever. “Of course we were nervous and realised we’d have to work harder and come up with better ideas, but our clients look for maximum return on investment and I think what we offer delivers that,” he says.
He also points out that ProVantage offers an integrated approach: “Companies can come to us for the full range of media platforms, instead of having to deal with a different outdoor, events, brand activation or transit company.”
But in spite of its considerable successes, ProVantage has faced its fair share of challenges. Phenomenal growth is all very well but it’s easy in the midst of it to lose focus. “We’re aware of that risk, which is why we introduced product managers.
Their job is to keep the edge sharp on the division they operate, so that we don’t get outshone at any point by competitors who might just focus on one of our areas,” Du Preez says. Another challenge has been numerous opportunities but limited resources.
“It’s always an ongoing challenge to find the right people and we look for like-minded individuals who are the best in the industry,” he explains. Retaining those people means investing in them and Du Preez is big on development, something to which his former PA, now a company shareholder, can attest. He established the ProVantage Academy, an internal training centre that offers a range of work and life-skills related training.
At just 38, Du Preez has established a company of which many lifetime entrepreneurs would be proud, but he has no intention of slowing down. “We want to drive an African expansion aggressively and explore other emerging markets, which is where our strength lies,” he says of the company’s five-year plan. True to form, he’s not letting grass grow under his feet. “Roll up your sleeves and get busy,” he says, “The time is now.”
Player: Jacques du Preez
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