Subscribe to industry newsletters

[Behind the Selfie] with... Francois du Preez

This week, we find out what's really going on behind the selfie with Francois du Preez, Digital Creative Director of Grey Advertising Africa...
Conquering a mountain of digital briefs on a Friday night while awkwardly taking a selfie – I hate selfies.
Conquering a mountain of digital briefs on a Friday night while awkwardly taking a selfie – I hate selfies.

1. Where do you live, work and play?

Du Preez: I live in a pineapple under the sea, I work in Bryanston, Johannesburg and I play wherever the party is.

2. What's your claim to fame?

Du Preez: I live in a pineapple under the sea? As far as I know, I was the first person in South Africa to get a BA honours degree in creative communications specialising in digital, if that counts. Vega, where I studied, launched the course when I finished my degree and I was the only one to sign up and obviously the first one to finish. So there's that...

3. Describe your career so far.

Du Preez: I finished my studies and started an ad agency, the Firehouse multimedia, with a partner. We quickly grew and soon had offices in Johannesburg and Lagos. At the same time we started a tech company called Tree. Tree developed custom digital solutions designed to automate the brand management and print procurement process. Tree was based out of Johannesburg with a satellite office in Sydney, Australia. The system enables clients to alter creative elements within the brand guidelines, place orders for printing any branded element and manage branded material across an entire franchise network, whilst keeping branding 100% consistent. After leaving the Firehouse I started a small, digital outfit called Digitaal. Digitaal was all about using open source to its fullest potential in order to give clients better value for money. Digitaal was my "agency hiatus". I had a handful of clients and tried to keep the company as small and simple as possible. It's during the Digitaal days that I spent almost every afternoon bass fishing, it was awesome and badly needed at that stage. Whilst running Digitaal I did a bit of training on the side; I would teach groups of people how to build websites using open source content management systems. Volcano, a then-independent agency, contacted me to do some training. After a two-day course, Volcano's MD Paul Jackson asked me to come on-board and head up the digital department. I initially agreed to a part-time consulting position but soon fell in love with the agency and came onboard permanently. Volcano was eventually bought by the Grey group, and I am still here today.

4. Tell us a few of your favourite things.

Du Preez: My wife is one of my favourite things because she is just all-round awesome and can drink more tequila than any man I know. I love making music. I've been in bands since I was 14 and I can't imagine ever giving it up, my happy place is behind my guitar. On Thursdays a few people from the office go to Quizaoke, a quiz night that ends in debauchery in the form of karaoke, which is also one of my favourite things. My cats, Humphrey and Eleanor, deserve a mention on this list too.

5. What do you love about your industry?

Du Preez: We are in the fortunate position where we become specialists in many fields due to the multitude of industries we do work for. After many years in the industry, this adds up to loads of conversation topics, regardless of who you are talking to. Advertisers always have some inside knowledge to show off with.

6. What are a few pain points your industry can improve on?

Du Preez: I feel that South African digital work is very derivative. There's some amazing work being done globally where all rules are broken, we tend to "borrow" technology and adapt it locally. I would love to see South African digital companies create work and technology that are global firsts. Advertising agencies tend to do the same - we look at what was successful at the Cannes Awards and we try to do something similar. There are obviously exceptions to this rule, but they are few and far between. We have such amazing talent in this country, it is baffling why we still approach work in this manner. It might be due to South African clients not being ready to try something first. I do, however, sense that this is about to change. Judging by the quality of work at the Loeries this year, we should be seeing some seriously groundbreaking ideas very soon. We have also received some briefs from very high-profile clients asking us to break all boundaries in order to compete at Cannes. Very exciting times lie ahead.

7. Describe your average workday, if such a thing exists.

Du Preez:
  • I walk into my office followed by one of our traffic managers, running me through the day's most pressing jobs.
  • I go make coffee.
  • I sit down and start going through the 200 new emails in my inbox.
  • I get distracted by a job bag that lands on my keyboard with a deadline highlighted in bright orange.
  • I deal with that.
  • I go make coffee.
  • I have a status meeting with one of the teams to see where they are with the job at hand.
  • I sit down to finish the proposal I am presenting to a client in less than an hour.
  • I get a phone call from a business unit director asking about said presentation.
  • I go make coffee.
  • I hop in a car and run through the presentation while someone else drives.
  • We present our work/ideas/strategy to the client and head back to the office.
  • I have a brainstorm meeting with the creative team in a boardroom filled with balls one would usually find in a children's ball-pit.
  • I walk back into my office, met by a mountain of layouts waiting for approval.
  • I go through the work, make some changes and debrief whoever worked on it.
  • I go make coffee.
  • I have a management meeting where we discuss how we will grow our departments.
  • I get back to my desk where I carry on writing the proposal that needs to be presented next.
  • I have a meeting with the production team where we work out costs for an upcoming digital project.
  • I check in with the creative/development team to see where they are with the job at hand.
  • I get back to my desk where I Skype a Nigerian voice artist, sitting in Canada, and direct him while he is recording a voiceover for a TV ad in Pidgin. I don't speak Pidgin.
  • I sneak in two minutes of Facebook time.
  • I catch up with the traffic team and follow up on what needs to get out next.
  • I deal with that.
  • I go make coffee.
  • I log on to the Grey guild to go view and rate some of the latest work, submitted by other agencies in the EMEA region, and see how our work is rating.
  • I have a meeting with a media company and we discuss the latest, greatest media innovations.
  • I get back to my desk and try to make sense of the white board scribbles I photographed from my workshop with a client the previous week.
  • I organise the above-mentioned information into a presentable format and send it off for approval.
  • I complete my time sheets, pack my laptop away and try to convince my colleagues to go for a quick "wait the traffic out" beer at the pub, even though it is only Monday.
  • They obviously agree.

8. What are the tools of your trade?

Du Preez: There are too many to mention all of them, but here goes:
  • We use many listening and monitoring tools to gain consumer insights through social media.
  • We use analytical tools to measure our success and optimise our campaigns.
  • We use design/animation/editing/development software to execute our projects.
  • We use our brains and some nifty Grey brainstorming methods to formulate strategies, ideas and briefs.

9. Who is getting it right in your industry?

Du Preez: There is a digital agency in Turkey called 41?29! that is incredibly innovative. The work they produce is just ridiculous, I tend to get green with jealousy when going through their latest projects. They have absolutely no regard for the rules, it's like there aren't any. Full disclosure - I might be slightly biased as 41?29! is a Grey company and the MD, Alemsah Ozturk, recently became Grey EMEA's digital chief creative officer. Regardless of this fact, even if they weren't affiliated I would have the same answer - you can't argue with results.

10. What are you working on right now?

Du Preez: I am actually sitting in Sevilla, Spain, working on our yearly Creative Council submissions that I am presenting to the board later this week. We get rated on a global scale based on our creativity, it is quite nerve-wracking. Other than that, we are launching a satellite television offering in Nigeria and Ghana, building an online quoting tool for a client, building Volvo's 2016 digital strategy for South Africa and reworking Airlink's online strategy. Our day-to-day work includes all digital creative for Volvo, Gillette, SES (the world's largest satellite company), Dulux, content creation for Tabasco and Nespresso and loads of web development for a wide variety of clients.

11. Tell us some of the buzzwords floating around in your industry at the moment, and some of the catchphrases you utter yourself.

Du Preez: 'Mobile-first' is a buzzword when talking about web development. We have moved past developing sites for desktops and adapting them for mobile. I see this everywhere now. Another trend, which is not necessarily a buzzword, is the fact that agencies have started developing products as opposed to ads. When looking at this year's Cannes winners this becomes quite apparent. Volvo's Lifepaint won a Grand Prix this year and I found the entry very interesting. It is spray paint that is invisible in daylight and becomes reflective at night. The paint is applied to bicycles and backpacks or clothing and is designed to keep cyclists safe. It fits in 100% with Volvo's messaging, and without pushing a marketing message, gave Volvo great brand awareness. Lifepaint was developed by Grey London and we are very proud to be part of the Grey EMEA group. I saw a few more similar examples at the Loeries. The idea is to give your consumers some form of value, not just to advertise your product.

12. Where and when do you have your best ideas?

Du Preez: Very late at night while I am supposed to be sleeping. Our brainstorm sessions are also very effective. It is one thing to come up with an idea, but to explore it in a group tends to take it much further. We like to get away from the office for these sessions, your environment has a massive effect on your creativity. Not that we don't work in a creative environment, sometimes a change of scenery is just needed. We usually end up at a coffee shop or bar/restaurant close to the office where we can't be distracted.

13. What's your secret talent/party trick?

Du Preez: This is quite silly, but here goes... I make a tiny hole in a match box where I stick a match in. I then remove it, light it and put it back whilst it's burning, all with one hand. It's harder than it sounds. Try it.

14. Are you a technophobe or a technophile?

Du Preez: I am most definitely a technophile. It's my job!

15. What would we find if we scrolled through your phone?

Du Preez: Loads of ridiculous WhatsApp groups with very inappropriate content. There's a "Loeries 2015" chat group on there that should never be seen... by anyone.

16. What advice would you give to newbies hoping to crack into the industry?

Du Preez: Two things:

1. Go digital

For the traditional folks, whether you are a copywriter, designer/art director or in client service, become a digital specialist. If you stick to a traditional mindset you will find it hard to get a good job. There will always be a need for traditional agency people, but multifaceted candidates get hired first and everything is going digital.

2. Leave your ego at the door

We are not fine artists who can get away with stubbornly ignoring criticism, our ideas get shot down and ripped to shreds right in front of our eyes, every day. Get used to it. If you are too precious about your ideas you will never develop further - the best ideas are never the first ones. Rejection is a major part of what we do. If you are heartbroken every time your idea is scrapped you won't survive very long and you won't make friends.

17. Plug your contact details, punt yourself - list all the places people can find you/your work online...

Du Preez: Website
Personal Twitter
Grey Design's Pinterest
Personal email
Skype: francois_du_preez

You can read more about Grey by visiting their press office, and click here for more on Du Preez.

*Interviewed by Leigh Andrews.

About Leigh Andrews

Leigh Andrews AKA the #MilkshakeQueen, is former Editor-in-Chief: Marketing & Media at, with a passion for issues of diversity, inclusion and equality, and of course, gourmet food and drinks! She can be reached on Twitter at @Leigh_Andrews.

Let's do Biz