TRANSCRIPT: Let’s Talk Content Marketing with Prenessa Nalliah
Ethan Baird: So, on today’s episode, we’ve got Prenessa Nalliah today. She is someone who I have been chatting to for a while and has been part of the networking meeting group that we’ve been having called Media Mind, and Prenessa has a wealth of really interesting marketing information that she has been gifting us in the Media Mind group, so I figured let me pull her in on a podcast, chat to her about her career history, where she’s at and get some advice for small businesses. So Prenessa, can you introduce yourself?
Prenessa Nalliah: For all the listeners, I am Prenessa Nalliah. I am a Fractional CMO. So, what that means is that small businesses, SMMEs with probably up to about 50 to 100 employees in total, will come, reach out to me and ask me to fill any marketing skills gap that they may have. So, this could be anywhere from strategy, people management in terms of their marketing department, establishing the marketing operation, constructing and monitoring campaigns, optimising things, and using data analytics to build smarter dashboards that can help make better business decisions.
Ethan Baird: Okay, so let’s talk a little bit about your career history. Where did you start off and how did you get where you are today?
Prenessa Nalliah: So funny story. I actually started by studying architecture at the University of Cape Town. Going into that, I was rather introverted, and I felt that I needed to balance out my analytical mind with my creative mind. So, architecture presented that opportunity to do so, being one of the four key professions that, culturally, we are encouraged to go into. It’s medicine, law, engineering or accounting. I was always good with numbers, did not always enjoy them though. I enjoyed people more. Having the ability to engage with something that was not as predictable as a formula, as a calculation. You say something, you would never know if you are pushing a boundary with someone or not. You only know when you get that feedback. So started off there and a lecturer sat me down and he said, “Look, do you really want to be an architect?” And I said, “Truthfully, I do not think so. I want to be a sustainability expert. I’m very passionate about retrofitting, sustainable technology, and then also just designing passively. So, I want to do what I can to contribute to the development of housing, schools and hospitals across South Africa and India.” And he said to me, “The thing is if you really do not want to be an architect, it’s not one of those careers where you can wing it and get by.” And so, it just so happened I was working at a… I was shadowing at a firm, an architecture firm, where the moderator for our final exam came from that firm. There was a bit of friction in the departments at that time and he failed me in my second year. So being a distinction student all my life, that really knocked me down. And it forced me to take a long, hard look at what do I want to do, what do I want to be, what really makes me happy, what lights me up, what is going to make me feel good? And the answer to that was working with people, going out and helping people, transforming lives. So, with my student allowance, in my third year, I was repeating my second-year majors, doing my third-year minors, and I went out and I said, “Well, let me go and do a fundraiser. Let me try and see what it’s like to lead a team, learn some people skills, get more than just a piece of paper, if I make it through this gauntlet.” And yes, so during the course of that, I just kept it hush-hush for a couple of months. In the process, we were teaching fashion-model training, but we didn’t have any restrictions on height, weight, nothing like that at all. I just wanted to help people see themselves in a different light, take that confidence and then go out into the world to do better at whatever profession they wanted to follow, and teach them that there was so much more to modelling than what media, mainstream media, presented it to be. So, through that process, we actually prevented the suicide of a young lady and I got feedback about it in email, and I felt this really strong moral responsibility to keep it going. I was willing to walk through fire. Culturally, defying your parents’ wishes for you at that age is not necessarily the best thing. I think, for me, that was the start of recognising a power within myself to help people, transform people, and say, “Look, change the trajectory about which you are living your life.” And for me, it became very quickly, am I hurting anyone? Am I harming anybody? No. Okay, cool. Am I stopping the next person from doing what they want to do? No. So, I did not really see any reason for anybody to stop me from achieving what I wanted. And it very quickly became clear to me that my two key strengths in a business context would be connecting with people, and then connecting people with each other. And that sounded like marketing to me, connecting a brand with an audience, connecting a stakeholder group with the actual brand, the positioning of the brand and what it stood for, its values, its mission. So, I quickly changed tack. I went into a BA of Corporate Communication, and I thrived. I was still running this fundraiser, kind of UFO, in the business world at that time. We knew we were not an NGO, but we were not a private company either. I was almost just running a fashion show as a sole proprietor. I was the youngest person on the team at that time, leading people probably three, four times my age. I met great people and we started attracting sponsors, major sponsors, like City Varsity Cape Town, African Pride Hotels would sponsor venues for us and see what we were doing with kids. So, we started transforming lives in terms of taking people who the system in our country would not have given a second look. We started transforming those lives to the extent that those people were able to put themselves through tertiary education by working in the fashion entertainment industry. So, it became full circle, that people were starting to do and be better through our intervention. So continued all the way up until 2019 and in that time, I had done a marketing internship at an FMCG company. I saturated the internship very quickly because, as you know, when you are working and studying, your development is probably twice the pace of your peers that are just studying alone. So always being a busybody and balancing the two, and then doing my internship, still running my own brand in Cape Town, so commuting between Durban and Cape Town. Six months into a twelve-month internship, I saturated it. It was agreed by everybody I was teaching more than I was learning, and so the best thing to do would be to give someone else an opportunity and for me to take a step back. I went directly into a management position at a fine art company about six weeks later. I had a six-month contract there, and then went into a family business launching the concept of a good-news company. So, we wanted to really just spread positivity, help people take their attention away from all the bad things happening in our country at that time. It was quite hectic, the change in our political landscape, evidence of state capture coming out and all these different enquiries. So, the news was a dismal thing to follow in South Africa at the time. Resource capacity changed. Six months later I found myself working for Microsoft Partner and I was working in the marketing department and did a bit of training, internship, all the while still running my brand in Cape Town, so lots of commuting. And yes, then I spent a year there, came up, went into an agency for two and a half years, so that took me to about May, June last year, 2021. And ever since then, I took a step back and I’ve been running my own fractional CMO agency. So, we have a group of super specialists in specific niches that we work with and we specifically serve SMMEs, and now what we’re doing is disrupting the fabric of the agency landscape in South Africa. We’re proving that it’s possible to deliver that top-notch quality service and transformation for SMMEs in the marketing department, but without that hefty fee starting at twenty, thirty grand a month. And so, what that has become is we are now serving clients across the world. So, we have clients in the USA, clients in the UK and quite a few countries in Europe.
Ethan Baird: Brilliant. Yes, that’s a super interesting journey to get to where you are today. Very, very busy person. Very busy person.
Prenessa Nalliah: Yes. I think it’s a challenge when you love what you do. You actually look around you and you see it is very hard to pick that one thing. So, I’m a firm believer that you go and explore and see what you are capable of doing. And if it does not work out, if it is not sustainable, can you hand the opportunity over to someone else? I think that is a key part in what has made us so successful. That is why the Media Mind group means so much to me is because we are always sharing what we know and what we have with each other.
Ethan Baird: Speaking of sharing, let us talk about some marketing tips and advice for business owners. So, your target market SMMEs, what are some of the misconceptions that they have about marketing?
Prenessa Nalliah: The first, greatest one for me is that marketing is easy. It’s because of the advent of social media and all these tools and knowledge that is at our fingertips. Marketing is unfortunately one of those professions where a lot of people come in and self-diagnose. You would not go into a doctor’s room with a couple of symptoms and say, “I have this condition.” You would go in for the test and say, “Doctor, please tell me. You are qualified, what is wrong? And what is the next step from here?” Marketers, most often, are not treated with that kind of respect and authority in their profession. Very often people believe that because they get caught by the trap of running a Google search and then reading the best SEO articles thereafter, that they understand what it takes to be great marketers. And so, they say, “I need someone to come in and do marketing.” But then they start telling the marketer what to do and how to achieve the goal. And the marketer, with all of this wealth of experience and knowledge, suddenly has no idea, “Okay, well, how do I navigate? Now I need communication skills because I know what to do in the marketing field, but the client is not actually enabling or empowering me to do that.” So, it ties in with one of the things we recently spoke about in Media Mind which was non-marketers making marketing decisions. My advice to all business owners as SMMEs, whether you are a corporate actually or whether you are an SMME, is really to guard against non-marketers being the ultimate decision-makers when it comes to marketing strategies. You have to take some kind of risk and have an appetite to test things out, but most importantly, you have to trust the marketing professionals. And if you do not trust them, then I do not think you should be hiring them in the first place.
Ethan Baird: An issue that I have seen, very first hand, is when the upper management gets ideas, or sees a course, or reads a book. You want your management to know what you are doing. You do not want them to know nothing, but sometimes you almost want them to know nothing because then they can leave it to you. I have seen this issue crop up a lot where upper management gets an idea in their head, and then they cast it down to everybody else, and then everybody needs to jump, and it completely disrupts their marketing cycle and disrupts the daily tasks that people have been working towards. So how do we deal with that?
Prenessa Nalliah: I think it is such a good follow-on because that is why I mentioned communication skills in my previous answer. So the benefit of coming from a corporate communication background and genuinely having a love for people, combining that with my philosophy in life which is to leave people and places better than when I find them, it is like this trifecta where you have to look at every communication episode, every encounter that you have, whether that is the upper management, as you say, getting these ideas and filtering it down, you have to look and say that each person in this organisational structure is employed for the purpose of acting in the best interests of the business in their respective field. So, when you trust a marketer, when you employ a marketer, you also, as a business owner, have to look and realise you are not just employing a marketer who is an order taker, depending on this… Especially if you are hiring a marketing manager, that person is coming with experience. They have been the order taker. They have seen the mistakes and they have learnt. They have got experience that is valuable to you. Trust them. Give them enough resource and enough of a framework with which to build up your marketing. The communication skills, especially in South Africa I find, but also now with this global village concept where we are borderless businesses, is this diverse culture we see. So east, west, and then the African culture, Indian culture, Middle Eastern culture, all blending together in a business environment is such a wonderful dynamic because there is an opportunity to really understand each other’s culture. The way that we all respond and react, it is different. It is informed by different heritage, by different decision-making frameworks. Even your gender can influence the way that you respond in a situation like that. Your self-awareness, your personal development and where you sit on that spectrum, it all influences how you push back, if you push back, when, and what your motivation is going to be. So, my advice to marketers who find themselves in that situation is to just take a step back and try and ask what the goal is. What are we actually trying to achieve? This idea that you have, is it more important for the idea to come to light and to be given life, or is it more important that we meet our original objectives which could have been laid out and usually are laid out beforehand? What you often find is I call them popcorn ideas. They will change from week to week, and it makes it incredibly difficult for the marketers to sustain their ability to deliver results. So, if you are not clear with the results and you constantly have these great ideas but you do not have a process for working them through the business and seeing which ones get resources, then you are running in circles in terms of your marketing as a business. The decision-making process for any and all ideas is absolutely critical to the business moving forward.
Ethan Baird: Brilliant. Yes. I think there is a bit of bravery that needs to also occur with this kind of stuff, especially… I do not know. I think people sometimes have the fear of, “If I push back, something bad is going to happen.” The reality is that if you do not push back and if you just go with everything, then ultimately you do not get the results that the client or the manager or whoever is looking for, and then bad things do happen. So, you do have to advocate for yourself.
Prenessa Nalliah: Absolutely. I think in that situation, like I say, I read somewhere once that manners will get you much further than intelligence, in intellect or even resources, like money. And it’s so true because people will think about their experience. You can put me against someone else and, like I say, we are a relatively new agency. Our philosophy is, “Get things done.” And we have been pitted against… We have had to pitch against a couple of solid, award-winning agencies, and oftentimes we win based on credibility, track record, actual results that we are producing. We go in and we pitch for the trial and say, “Let the results speak for itself.” Just on the basis of, again, non-marketers believe that certain awards put you at that top one percent. The reality is they do not because it depends on which award you are winning. Many of them you have got to apply or nominate yourself or it is actually just a marketing ploy. It is a list-building strategy. Good marketers know list-building strategies, apart from awards, genuine awards where you have got nothing to do with that submission and it is bestowed upon you, that is genuine award and it is worth touting to your audience and saying, “Look, I have won this award.” There have been times where, because of the way that we push back, we have come out on top in that relationship. It is not to say that we kind of sit back and take anything from a non-marketer, but we understand what is important to the non-marketer, the business owner. It is to say I want to be the best at this particular industry. I want people, when they think about options in this industry, in this product range, I want them to think about us. And so, your job as a marketer is to do what it takes to get there. If you are going to stick very rigidly to a certain framework to do that, you are going to become obsolete very quickly. You are going to say, “Because of this model and this award, we have done things this way.” And you know for a fact, because it has always been done this way, it is probably one of the worst things you can say in marketing. So, from that regard, just from our experience, we look and we say it is really about being dynamic, being flexible. The golden term in, I think, this area of business is agile. If you are agile in every element of the way that you work, approach work, approach people, I think you are going to get a lot further than just sticking to the way things have always been done.
Ethan Baird: Perfect. So, what are the marketing trends that you are seeing currently? Where do you think things are shifting towards? Can you maybe give a bit of your predictions based on what you are seeing now?
Prenessa Nalliah: Sure. So, I think there is two main lanes to this and the one is keeping with this theme of non-marketers making marketing decisions. I just had a conversation with one of my former colleagues briefly on LinkedIn about it. The advent of No-Code, and it is a beautiful thing, and it is also a very dangerous thing. It is to some extent enabling non-marketers making marketing decisions because they believe what they see thanks to No-Code and thanks to the ability, but there is a lot of work from programmers that goes into making this resource available. They believe that it is easy. It is quick. It is simple, and that is disadvantaging the people who are the technicians, who are the programmers, who write millions of lines of code to be able to make that functionality available. So, I feel like in terms of the non-marketers making the marketing decisions, I am seeing this advent of No-Code but it is coming with a whole lot of marketing spiel. It is coming with, “Look at how great No-Code is.” But we’re not then, as responsible professionals in the marketing space, advocating and educating our clients and saying, “Look, No-Code is great, but in moderation.” That is the golden rule, everything in moderation. Anything that you enjoy, you have to look there is a time and place. So, I think agencies in general, we can do a lot better to educate our clients on certain tools. It depends on your level of transparency with your clients, in terms of how you would like to share, what tools you are using and to what extent. I do think that when you discuss a tool, you have to talk about both the pros and cons. The other trend that I’m seeing just in terms of the marketing operation and the marketing process, a lot of people again hiring junior talent because it is cheaper. Your cost to company is a lot lower for a marketing intern but then there is no marketing leadership in the organisation and that is particularly why we are focusing on a fractional CMO offering. To hire a CMO full time is probably upward of sixty to ninety thousand to get a solid CMO at my level with ten plus years of experience. And there is no way SMMEs, unless they just raised proper, serious funding, are able to afford that. If you are bootstrapping, the business owner probably does not make that much. So, in order to combat that, we are giving that experience and expertise from as little as… It works out to $200.00 US, £100.00 British or R3 000.00 South African per month and just to have access to that kind of strategic knowledge, we pride ourselves on keeping our knowledge, A-game knowledge, just knowing what is out there, knowing about these trends as we speak, this trend of hiring fractional talent needs to actually take on. We are seeing it now that we are having conversations about it, but it is a trend that I think more of us can talk about and as agencies, more of us can offer fractional input to help grow the demand for marketing services in a more intelligent and sustainable way. So, in terms of hiring junior talent, if there is no marketing leadership, it is happening but I would caution SMMEs against it. It is a dangerous move and if you do not have someone to manage that junior marketing talent, understand the language, teach the language, again, like I say, you are running in circles.
Ethan Baird: Yes. Something just from a small business perspective that always blows my mind, someone will be like, “Okay, I have got this business. It is my business I have been running for the last five years. I need to get on social media, so I am going to get my niece to run my social media account for me.” Okay, they are young. They understand technology so they can do it, and they do not really realise how much power they are putting into the hands of someone who is not experienced enough to handle that power. People do not realise that posting something on social media may as well be posting something in a newspaper. It has got more weight than you realise. So, you were talking about No-Code and we live in this cool era now where tools and we have access to things that used to be hundreds of thousands of dollars kinds of things, things that were locked away in vaults that only large companies had proprietary access to. Now we are getting all these amazing tools and devices and things that… So, it is democratising that, but I think it is causing this chain reaction where people think that because of how available it is, because of how easy it is to get access to things, it devalues how difficult it is to actually… Or how much expertise you actually need to run that. For example, I cannot do Google AdWords properly. I do not offer Google AdWords because I know how to do it. I can log onto Google AdWords and then I can make an ad. I can watch a YouTube video and I can make an ad. That doesn’t mean I can run an AdWords campaign. So, I think there is this thing of just because things are cheaper, just because things are easier to get access to does not mean that you do not still need somebody with expertise to handle that for you.
Prenessa Nalliah: Absolutely. I think you have hit the nail on the head for me and again, it speaks to why I value Media Mind so much is because that saying we rise by lifting others, that is really what it is about because in Media Mind [which has 00:21:44] valued everyone sharing a bit and piece of their own journey and then offering something of value that others can choose, whether they use or not, there is no imposition in that group. That is something I would encourage other marketers to come and be a part of, to get involved in the conversation for sure. Like you are saying, it comes full circle. You hire a junior who has got no experience because you, in your mind, know what the bull’s eye is for your marketing department. Unfortunately, you do not know enough about marketing language that this person might have studied to actually communicate to that person what the bull’s eye is clearly enough. So, they start working and they give it their best effort, but they are giving their best effort paddling in the wrong direction. And then suddenly you judge this person on their competency and their dedication and all these other things that it is just a misalignment, miscommunication. It was a bad leadership decision. And then conversely, some people will also actually go and hire too senior talent in the organisation that is all strategy that cannot take action, because they have had so much experience only in the strategic pool. So, for me, that is one reason why I enjoy working on the accounts, touching the campaigns, touching the data flow, seeing how everything works, setting things up. I touch every part of the marketing department and the operation, and I will always make sure that the quality requirements are very clear for our contractors and for our staff to adhere to. So, everything that is going out to our clients is always quality checked and I think that I am seeing more of that in our Media Mind group, the processes being put into place, people celebrating, “Hey, as an agency we have a bigger role to play in where businesses are going.” You have seen it with SEO, the average dog-groomer is becoming a specialist in all different types of breeds because of SEO. And we are not balancing out where the machine should guide, and the human should guide the way that we function in business. So, I really love the fact that LinkedIn has blossomed as a professional community and the key select groups, I think, where we connected as well, Freelance South Africa, these are quality groups on quality platforms where we can connect and actually get value out both ways, for agencies and for the SMMEs.
Ethan Baird: I have been working in radio for a long time before doing this. I did audio postproduction in radio and one of the things that was really frustrating and I could see the difference between one manager versus a different manager was the lack of a good brief. So, I have all these skills, I have been doing this for a couple of years now. Every single day I can produce things. There are awards that show that I can produce things, but if you give me a one-sentence brief, I am going to have to just interpret that in the way that… Just filter it through my own interpretation and produce you something, and nine times out of ten, the person is unhappy with the result, whereas a manager, and usually a more middle manager who did the work at some point and now… Or at least oversaw the work, can say, “Okay, here is a storyboard. Minute one, it needs to do this, then it needs to go into this music, then it needs to go into that. Please compile it in this way for me. You can take creative liberties in these parts.” And then I could shine as a junior audio producer. So, I think it is that same thing that needs to come across with all aspects of businesses. You have to empower your junior team, or just anybody in your team, and if you do not know what you are talking about, you cannot empower them, so you have to find somebody who knows what they are talking about to help empower your team.
Prenessa Nalliah: A 100%. I could not have said that better because it goes back to what we were saying about leadership in your own team as well and you have to… And even you as a head of the business, I think there is quite a few business owners that get caught in the circle and the loop of their own ego where you say, “I am the head of the business and I am at the top of the business, and therefore what I say goes because I know the business. I know the market.” And sadly, team members, not just in the marketing department, are going to come and ask, “But how do you know that? What data?” Exactly.
It is about data-driven decisions, and data is so ingrained into business operations, particularly in our post-COVID… We are going towards this post-COVID business existence where hybrid and remote work, it is normal. This is what people expect now, and you go, and you say, “Do you have data?” Whether you recognise or you see or you want it or not, you have data. Use it. Use it. Why wouldn’t you? And when you are using it, make your entire operation better. Do something meaningful with the data that is there anyway because through remote work, the data is being collected and if not by your business itself, then certainly by Google. You can pop onto Google Analytics as an example and certainly there is a wealth of information there about how your market and the consumer marketplace is actually reacting and engaging with you. There is so much you can do with that to keep adding more value and it just creates that cycle between what you set out to achieve as a business and then how you go about achieving it.
Ethan Baird: Agreed. So, this wraps up our discussion for today. Thank you so much for your time, Prenessa. The final thing I want to just find out is how can people get a hold of you, tell us a little bit more about your company. Yes, if somebody wants to work with you, how do they do it?
Prenessa Nalliah: Sure. So, I am sure this will be in the show notes, but I am available on LinkedIn. That’s Prenessa Nalliah on LinkedIn. There is only one of me so should be pretty easy to find me and I am always open to people asking me marketing questions, business questions, whatever it is. Look, my job is to connect you with the people that you need to achieve your goals. So, by all means, reach out now and I will help wherever I can.
Ethan Baird: Thank you so much for your time, Prenessa.
Prenessa Nalliah: I really appreciate it. Thank you, Ethan.