The Strategy Department


Meet Our Strategist: Nonkululeko Mabena

Meet Our Strategist: Nonkululeko MabenaMeet our Strategist: Nonkululeko Mabena. She has a BA in Marketing Communications Graduate and a PPD in Marketing Strategy from GIBS and she’s also the youngest Strategist at The Strategy Department. As a Strategist, NonkuIuleko starts with research, uncovering insights about people, categories and brands. She then takes this analysis further by developing engaging strategies that help to launch or grow businesses. Find out more about this fearless food-lover here:

What skills does someone need to be a Strategist?

Thinking before breathing skills. The ability to apply a creative and practical mind to answering briefs. One has to be pedantic about asking the what, why, who, how and the occasional “what were they thinking?” Lastly, presentation skills, verbal or otherwise, seeing that our currency is thinking so we need to be able convey the thinking.

What are your work strengths?

Being totally fearless about digging into what drives behaviour and thinking, which makes all the difference between “paper strategies” and impactful strategies.

What’s a typical day at The Strategy Department?

There are no typical days. One moment there are five people at the office, calm and quiet and then an hour later, a full house with ideas flowing swiftly along with banter. What is consistent is the knowledge and thought-sharing encouraged by the years of experience met by new, young thinking – all of which are journeys which help build robust strategies based on some good old debating and authentic insights.

What part of your job inspires you?

As contrived as it may seem… Every part of my job is inspiring. It’s inspiring to know that as a Strategist I am part of the gatekeepers who begin breaking through the misconceptions of the South African consumer. Starting with washing detergent adverts that have looked and sounded the same for the donkey years to black people dancing for no good reason… So, the fact that we can receive a brief for a chocolate brand one day, health on the following day, to one about intergalactic encounters on the next; means we are always a brief away to changing the way people interact with brands in ways that are meaningful for their lives.

Have you got a mentor, if so who?

Don’t tell them I said this but Lara Cassel and Clive Evans are industry greats and I sponge from on a daily basis. Not only do I attribute the opportunity to be a Strategist but also the quality of my growth to them. If you tell them I said that, I will deny it to the bitter end.

 Are you a mentor?

I do not mentor formally but whenever I meet someone (especially a young discouraged black person trying to get into this industry) I always insist on giving him or her advice and anything I am able to assist with in order to advance their career. I understand that it’s never easy but what matters is finding new ways to knock on doors.

During the Loeries you Tweeted about hearing the words “painterly” and “filmic”, can you explain?

I enjoy words that leave you wondering “Hmm does that word even exist?” As I consult Google… Truth is I can barely recall what the well-spoken gentleman was referring to but I know it had to do with an awesome piece of creative.  But I do remember why I found the use of these words interesting, it was to do with how we’re constantly trying to sell our ideas. The reality is, as Clive so nicely pointed out, ad industry people use words like “painterly” and “omni-channel” and “filmic” as ways of repackaging what we do, purely because we are all trying to carve out ways to prove that we are different from the next ad guy trying to sell the same shiny apples.

What did you love about the Loeries experience?

What I appreciated the most is being reminded of the craftsmanship and pure creativity that the industry has to offer. I saw work that wasn’t trying too hard to tick all the boxes in the CI manual and to appeal to the “rising black diamond” – for a change I saw ideas which stir a sense of pride in being a part of this industry all while looking rather painterly and filmic.

What would you change in the ad industry if you could…

Firstly, more transformation and balance of power and a rise in custodians who want to see this shift, across all races.  Transformation in our industry has less to do about heated racial debates and more about telling relevant stories that inspire and drive engagement. Not only is transformation crucial for there to be balance of power but also for the preservation of the stock of what the South Africa creative industry is made of and the possibilities of the colourful journeys that complement each other – making South Africa a creative powerhouse. Meet Our Strategist: Nonkululeko MabenaSecondly, saying “no” to global strategies that stump thinking and local bearing. Rather than adopting global strategies and force-fitting local nuances, the industry needs to be able to find ways to use best global practices to enhance the relevant South African truth. Lastly, stopping the use of strategy as an afterthought and rationalising tool. The role of a good strategy is to pre-conquer the battle – making a seamless transition to spark great creative.

What do you do for fun?

I always find it quite worrying how difficult it is to answer this seemingly simple question. I do whatever the fun “thing” to do is, at the given moment, especially if it involves new experiences, travelling and good food. The Strategy Department is a powerful partner to consider for the development of your Marketing Plans, Brand Strategy, Communication Strategy, Research or Training. Email:

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