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Collaboration and integration are the new foundation of brand brilliance


The South African Breweries recently appointed SPHE VUNDLA as Corporate Brand Director. Here, he uncovers the unique challenges this massive business faces. The only way to manage the integration of multiple brands across multiple agencies is by establishing a strong rhythm and efficient ways of operating, while becoming an expert in managing multiple objectives too.

Managing the South African Breweries corporate brand comes with the challenge of ensuring the organisation’s efforts and achievements are communicated and built on through continuous and seamless storytelling.  This is no small task, as it requires close co-operation with multiple players in various parts of the business. 

The last few years have seen this dynamic industry become more difficult to maintain; the Covid-19 pandemic hit the brewery industry hard with the country introducing new restrictions, including multiple bans on the sale of alcohol. Because of this, I had to embrace agility and scenario planning in a completely unprecedented way. Adopting a discipline of readiness – which at times meant having campaigns ready to plug-and-play in response to changing socio-economic and political conditions – became a key part of how the organisation operates.

Fortunately, SAB hasn’t been alone in its efforts. Being able to keep a strong rhythm going has also made it easy to engage a network of some of the country’s best agency partners, who also live out this culture of collaboration, breaking down silos and ensuring the brands move forward as one. But to do it properly, we needed a unified approach.

‘Being able to keep a strong rhythm going has also made it easy to engage a network of some of the country’s best agency partners’

A framework for collaboration

Managing multiple agencies requires a good strategy. I had to introduce a framework to bring this to life through an integrated meeting of all agency partners and internal stakeholders across all functions that work on the SAB corporate brand – the Newsroom, as it’s called. This is where teams check-in on each other, which is increasingly important in today’s current social climate, as well as in a creative environment. Of course, it helps ensure collaboration and mitigates duplication of effort, but it also connects us as human beings, not just a collection of human doings.

We align on the stories that we’re telling in the week and foreseeable future, engage with data on how our communication is performing across channels, hold each other accountable for actions to be completed, and brainstorm the best ways to get over the finish line as a team. This is serious work, but I have found that making it fun and interactive is key to its success. I also want to give as many people as possible a chance to showcase their work.

‘It has been amazing to see the power of our brands to shape culture and shine a spotlight on social issues really come to the forefront at this time’

As part of a team culture that the team calls ‘Nyisism’ (i.e. the relentless pursuit of excellence), we have a weekly Newsroom with all agencies, and I personally have quarterly to monthly check-ins with myself and the agency leadership to build strong and transparent relationships. This helps to keep each other honest and recognise team members who are doing great work. 

For the teams, Nyisism is a commitment to understanding that excellence is doing your best with what’s at hand; committing to showing up as your best self to every engagement; recognising that while teams must stay accountable, ideas can come from everywhere; and embracing radical candour and honest feedback in a way that holds oneself and others accountable with respect, as well as a ‘can do’ attitude.

Healthy constructive competition

The SAB corporate brand is serious about seeing agencies as partners and a part of the team, which inspires and encourages the respective agency partners to evolve to a culture that aligns with the organisation, as well as owning their expertise in integrating with other agencies that work on the brand. 

I do, however, have to be cognisant of the fact that, for better or worse, inter-agency competition is something that doesn’t go away. I believe in healthy and constructive competition that keeps everyone on their toes and ultimately delivers the best work for the brand. However, when working in an integrated framework such as the SAB one, collaboration to deliver multi-channel integrated campaigns, while celebrating and empowering the diversity of thought that comes from the expertise, is critical to ensuring cut-through, resonant work.

So far, the approach to the massively complex task of managing so many objectives and stories has certainly been one of SAB’s most notable successes. It has enabled the teams to live up to one of SAB’s fathers of marketing Neil Hobkirk’s favourite sayings, “Big brands can do big things.” 

It has been amazing to see the power of our brands to shape culture and shine a spotlight on social issues, really come to the forefront at this time. I am a big fan of Carling Black Label’s #NoExcuse movement which seeks to address men in the societal issue of gender-based violence, and the inspiring work from Brutal Fruit in celebrating femininity and encouraging women to occupy their space and embrace their uniqueness through the You Belong positioning. 

At Castle Lager, it was beautiful to see how South Africa came together behind the Boks for the Castle Lions Series and helped increase national blood donations by 24% year on year through our partnership with the South African National Blood Service for the #InOurBlood campaign. This goes to show that it takes a true commitment to integration and collaboration to achieve the highest order purpose of a brand, shape culture and move society forward.


Sphe Vundla is Corporate Brand Director at The South African Breweries. He is an international award-winning and skilled marketer with multi-industry and multi-discipline experience in delivering strategic and creative solutions while elevating brands across Africa. As a marketer, Vundla’s experience across numerous marketing disciplines and industries has given him the power of adaptability. Over the last three and a half years, he has been intricately involved in some of SAB’s most iconic beer brands including Castle Lager, Castle Free, Carling Black Label, Lion Lager and Hansa leading the digital and integrated media functions for these brands.

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