On purpose, passion, and profit

Posted on July 6th, 2016

On purpose, passion, and profit

DNA Brand Architects, a communications and brand consultancy firm based in Johannesburg sells enthusiasm and out-of-the-box thinking, and they do so in an industry which places these exact qualities at a premium.

How are they able to do this? Through none other than founder and ‘Chief Architect’, Sylvester Chauke (35), who believes that you can’t sell what you don’t already have. This energetic approach together with an ability to execute has seen Chauke run a successful (and yes profitable) business.

DNA Brand Architects, which was launched in 2011, counts some of SA’s biggest brands including Vodacom, Nando’s, Pernod Ricard and SABMiller as clients.

But it is this sense of fun and creativity that underpins everything the team does, with Chauke heading a team of young professionals who are sharing in his vision and energy.

An energetic start

Chauke got his start working for some of the country’s largest agencies including Ogilvy and DDB. He also has experience working with brands from DStv and Coca-Cola to Nandos.

He is also no stranger to recognition, Chauke was in 2013 chosen to represent Africa at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland and most recently he was awarded the Top Empowered Young Achiever of 2016 at the SA Oliver Empowerment Awards.

“DNA Brand Architects was created for creatives and the brilliant minds that it houses and it is a playground for young people on a mission to do great work”

Chauke speaks to SME South Africa about his ‘your vibe attracts your tribe’ thinking when it comes to picking his team and being hungry to do good work.

Q: What do you try to accomplish with every project that you work on?

If it does not leave your mind inspired, stretched or thrilled then it is not yet magic. With every project we work on, we aim to change minds and influence direction. In short, we stand against bland and make WOW stuff. It is not always easy but you know when you land a solution that moves you. Fortunately for us, this is what our clients love about every project we tackle.

Q: What do you see as the connection between creativity and making money – how have you managed to balance the two?

Creativity is a rare commodity nowadays, [we are] surrounded by so much blandness and dull engagements. I always tell my team that, clients are willing to pay for great thinking. Therefore, in everything we do we have to showcase thinking that is balanced out by a good level of creativity. In this way, we can offer a holistic approach that is worth investing in.  The balance of making money and having fun is an ideal we aim for daily.

Read Also: Believing in Purpose over Passion

Q: You seem to have boundless amounts of energy and enthusiasm – from your social media presence to the projects you do – what do you believe is the source? And how has it benefited you as an entrepreneur?

Well, I believe the source of my energy and positive outlook on life comes from the understanding that you get what you put out. So if you put out good energy you will receive good and if you put out the negative, well that is what you will get in return. I also believe that I have lived a very colourful life and come from a family that loves to laugh at everything and that has taught me that life needs to be appreciated and celebrated as much as possible. No matter what the challenge is, you have to believe that you will be able to see through with a dance or a song, whatever it is that tickles your fancy.

This has impacted how I operate as a businessman through how I inspire my team to produce the kind of creative solutions we offer to the brilliant clients we work with on a day-to-day basis.

Q: On your Instagram profile, the DNA Brands offices are represented as a very fun, energetic place to work – why is this important to you?

I am thrilled that you feel that way. DNA Brand Architects was created for creatives and the brilliant minds that it houses and it is a playground for young people on a mission to do great work. It is a haven where we are allowed to be who we want to be so we can further create magic and inspired work.

It was important for me to capture this energy and translate it throughout our office because I did not want to have a company that was like any other. If anything, a business is not about the four walls it operates in, nor the style and furniture, the essence of a business rests in its people.

Sylvester Chauke with his team. 

Q: How do you choose your team and how do you get them to buy into your vision and passion?

What a beautiful question! I look for three things: shared values, skill and energy. This is a good start. I do however also believe that my team and I were brought together by a great power and energy that permeates the universe and hunger for a certain type of belonging. This is predominantly because whenever new members come on board it seems that we share the same energy and outlook that makes it easier to work with them.

This is very important for me. Yes, there is a certain level of influence that I have to have to ensure that we are aligned but most of the time it is authentic and organic.

My team, I’d say, is like a big puzzle that keeps coming together and expanding with every new member that forms part of it. I am fortunate enough to have them as my very own brand architects and continue to hope that their vision and mine are on the same bullet train.

Q: What do you believe makes your agency stand out?

What makes us stand out from other agencies is the energy and outlook we have on the world and the approach to our work. One that says we can influence and lead without being cocky and over-embellished.

This is largely driven by the hunger we have to change the face of the world as young, black and inspired young professionals. We want to make a difference and we stop at nothing to ensure we make this happen. We may be small in size as a company but our hunger is quite big! We are crazy cool, we have mad skills and are hungry as hell for great work and making a difference in the areas we can influence.

“The world is looking to young people to jump in and make a difference and that is what we are busy doing”

Q: Why do you believe your clients choose to work with you?
I believe the clients we work with choose us because we have something unique to bring to the boardroom. Our solutions to the brand challenges they face are inspired and showcase the quality of thinking and application they seek from an agency.

Furthermore, we have learnt to position ourselves in such a way that we can offer services that are needed, in a way that answers to client business challenges. The make-up of the team is also important, our skill sets straddle marketing, strategists, content creation, writers, producers etc, so when we mash up the thinking, it is always interesting and fresh. We live in a world of convergence and to survive in this business you need to be able to demonstrate this business understanding.

Q: How much focus do you give competitors?

It certainly is important to know what your competitors are up to but you cannot plough your energies into that. It never works! It wastes time and detracts you from performing to your optimum level. You have to compete and better what YOU are doing. Let the “competition” do their thing too.

Q: Does being creative influence the way that you do business?

Always and every day! It genuinely is in my DNA. I cannot even begin to think what kind of an uninspired business we would have if it did not. We are creatives at heart and this has to live and permeate right across everything we do at DNA Brand Architects. I am an intuitive leader and more emotive in my approach to tackling problems. I have to keep this in check because amid creativity, there also has to be practicality and good old-fashioned common sense.

Q: You launched DNA Brand Architects in 2011 what are some of the biggest lessons that you have learnt over the past 5 years?

Like any business starting, there were teething problems that we faced and had to overcome to build the credibility and reputation we have today. I knew that I would be challenged daily in managing the areas of the business that are not just about marketing.

The operational aspects, especially the people aspects were most challenging. I knew, however, that difficulties were a part of the process towards making any business stronger than what it was before and at DNA Brand Architects we have proven to be able to thrive under any circumstance.

These are some of the key lessons and insights anyone dreaming of being in business needs to know. It is not always going to be roses but it is possible to see through the tough times and still be successful. I have learnt to co-create with those I work with and to carve a vision that not only excites me but excites them – then we have a winning combination.

Q: What are some of the challenges that come with running a marketing agency?

You are only as good as your last campaign or strategy. You are never safe; you have to keep getting better at every single brief. The market keeps changing, consumers keep shifting and the competition is also fighting for their share – we are always in the hustle so you need stamina, you need to re-energise yourself, your people and your work at every turn.

Q: Your team is made up of young and black professionals. Was this a deliberate choice, and if so, what is the reason for it?  

Absolutely. It was important for me that I create a space where young black minds would be able to come together to create great work that would allow them to thrive within the industry. Many of them were looking for an opportunity that would not necessarily be available to them elsewhere at the time.

This was then a perfect opportunity to prove that it is possible with young hungry minds. The world is looking to young people to jump in and make a difference and that is what we are busy doing. Our wish is that the youth of ’76 should look at us today and be proud of how we have taken what they fought for and ran with it.