Continuing our series of founder Q&As, meet Ronelle Bester, founder of Red Ribbon, our Brands2Life Global Network partner in Southern Africa. 

What led you to set up your own agency?

I was working for a big IT corporate in South Africa whilst going through four rounds of retrenchments. The future was very uncertain and I decided that I want control of my career. Corporate life also didn’t suit me, so it was the ideal opportunity to open my own PR agency. At the time, Cape Town was evolving into a tech start-up hub and with a little bit of research I realised that there was an opportunity to support tech start-ups with marketing and PR. I took the bold step one month before my 30th birthday.

What inspires you each day?

The challenge of solving a problem, helping people, and creating something new is what keeps me growing, learning and creating. I’m energised by people and social interaction, so being part of the Brand2Life Global Network is very valuable to me as a solo entrepreneur.

I’m also inspired by how technology can create economic growth on the African continent, generate much-needed job opportunities, and how mobile technology can help the region to leapfrog ahead in its economic development.

What are the common misconceptions around doing comms in your market?

That Africa is a country. Africa is a continent of 54 countries that are diverse culturally and geographically. You cannot approach it with a single press release and hope to have success. Each country needs its own individual content strategy, executed by a local media specialist.

Local data is of the utmost importance and worth gold. Not a lot of research is done in Africa, so if you could provide country-specific statistics, your success rate will sky-rocket.

And we know you know this, but it must be said as we still get requests to distribute a single corporate article to the whole continent.

What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in PR since you founded your company?

Definitely the rise of digital and owned media, such as websites, blogs, podcasts and social media.

We are being called upon to develop more and more types of content, and as such today we see ourselves as content-creators and not media specialists.

This change has created new opportunities to provide diverse services. To this end we recently launched a digital division to cater to our clients’ needs for regular SEO-driven blogs, optimised website content, LinkedIn content calendars and lead generation campaigns.

What would you say is your biggest learning from adapting to working during a global pandemic?

That leaders are more responsible for their employees’ mental health than ever before! We launched a Friday meeting-free day to assist employees with Zoom-fatigue, signed all employees up on a health and exercise app to encourage healthy living and exercising and implemented a daily check-in with the team. We also have flexible working hours to encourage a balanced lifestyle.

The Red Ribbon team now permanently work from home and will continue with these initiatives. We will also be meeting up once a year for a week at a central location for team building and strategy. A whole new world of working.

Which campaign are you most proud of having been involved in?

Our first and most successful research project in Africa is our proudest achievement. It was the beginning of many more African projects such as thought leadership articles, reports, in-person and virtual media round tables, digital advertising, etc.

This research provided such valuable information that this is now an annual report.

After 18 years in the industry, what is your #1 priority right now?

Our priority right now is to grow the company, especially our digital services. With this comes lifelong learning – the habit of continuously improving your knowledge and skills. This is something I’m very passionate about and I try to encourage employees to take self-initiative and take on new challenges.

Staying competitive in today’s global marketplace means that we need to be innovative, adaptive, and ever-changing. Achieving this depends on the skill and knowledge of the team.

Where is your company headed over the next 5/10/15 years?

Our goal is to a be a fully digital communications agency in Southern Africa, a continent rife with potential. We would like to make a difference to the lives of Africans by helping local tech companies grow and prosper to create more jobs and opportunities. We passionately believe technology can transform Africa.

Moreover, where is the entire PR industry headed?

The whole industry is moving away from writing press releases and pitching it to the media to become content creators at our core. We will always remain storytellers, it is just the medium we use to communicate the story that is moving away from traditional PR to digital content.

The type of content is also expanding to video, podcasts, blogs, social media posts and more.

What are the three biggest things you’ve learned since founding your agency?

Firstly, building solid relationships with everyone in the industry and to keep your reputation intact. Most of our business comes from referrals.

Secondly, Red Ribbon is nothing without its employees. We’re privileged to have a fantastic team and culture. We employ for a personality fit above skill.

Finally, a happy work environment is essential even now that we’re working from home permanently. Finding ways to keep everyone connected and in sync is essential to our success.

We base our existence on three simple tenets: work hard, have fun, and make a difference for our clients.

What do you enjoy most about being part of Brands2Life Global? 

As a solo entrepreneur I highly value the support, the regular video meetings, sharing of ideas and challenges (especially during Covid!) and to tap into world-class experience and knowledge.

It also offers our clients the ability to extend their offering to other countries through the Brands2Life Global network of owner-managed, world-class communications agencies who share the same philosophy for achieving real business impact through powerful storytelling.

Name one profile that you follow on social media that really inspires you in your everyday work

One of my clients, Anna Collard. An inspirational female tech entrepreneur and genuinely nice person. She started Popcorn training, sold it to KnowBe4 and has since established herself as a cyber security evangelist on the African continent, all whilst being a wife, raising two kids and acquiring her yoga training certification.

Red Ribbon shares clients such as Vend with the Brands2Life Global Network and joined the Network several years ago.