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BRAD FISHER: MARKETING AND COMMUNICATIONS CODES FAIL TO EMPOWER SMMES

Brad Fisher | 30 March 2023

Picture: 123RF/ELNUR


The proposed amendments fall short of the mandate to drive meaningful participation and may even have the opposite effect.


In an effort to drive meaningful participation among black South Africans in the marketing, advertising & communications (MAC) industry, the department of trade, industry & competition recently proposed updates to the broad-based BEE (BBBEE) sector code.


The intent behind the updated legislation is to accelerate the rate of transformation and address social injustice in the sector by improving ownership, management control, skills development, enterprise development and supplier development initiatives, while contributing to socioeconomic development in the country. However, we believe the amendments fall woefully short of the code’s mandate to drive “meaningful participation” and may, in fact, have the opposite effect.


The MAC sector code applies to organisations that derive more than 50% of their profit from advertising, public relations and marketing communication across all media, including digital platforms. The updated regulations will, among other stipulations, require sector companies to boost the BEE contribution to company ownership and procurement from 50% to 70% to remain compliant.


With these proposed amendments the sector has a unique opportunity to drive meaningful reform and positively contribute to socioeconomic upliftment, as small-, medium- and micro-sized enterprises (SMMEs) are the key drivers of economic growth and development. The National Development Plan forecasts that SMMEs will generate more than 90% of all new jobs by 2030.


However, rather than take up the mantle and lead the way for other key economic sectors, the proposed sector code updates will simply perpetuate the narrow enrichment that creates industry fat cats. While the intent of the proposed changes is laudable in principle, the reality is that the BEE model in SA is defunct, and the codes do not work to support grassroots development, especially regarding enterprise development and supplier development initiatives.


Fronting structures


Little or no money generated from the BEE codes through ownership and preferential procurement reaches sectors that need it most — the two lowest-income categories comprising the informal and microbusiness sectors. Unsurprisingly, the new proposed legislation for the MAC sector will also fail to reach the grassroots level to empower more people, particularly among microenterprises, independent contractors and the informal sector.


The proposed amendments to the terms of ownership that apply more rigid criteria for a larger proportion of black ownership, will most likely lead to more arbitrage opportunities for unscrupulous businesspeople to create fronting structures that allow companies to maintain the status quo.


The amended legislation makes little provision to create a broader ownership base by only allocating three points to genuine broad-based grassroots participation in companies. Applying heavier weightings to this ownership category is vital to broaden the financial impact of this legislation and drive meaningful change through a transfer of ownership in the sector.


Regarding procurement, there is nothing in the updated legislation that pushes companies in the industry to preferentially use small businesses, microenterprises or informal sector businesses. In its current guise the legislation awards points for procuring goods and services from businesses from qualifying small enterprises — 51% black-owned businesses that generate less than R50m in annual turnover — and exempted microenterprises with annual revenues of less than R10m.


These criteria in effect disincentive companies from working with the most important yet largely marginalised sector of the economy — small businesses generating less than R1m per annum in revenue and informal sector businesses, including all traders or service providers that are not in full-time, secure or stable employment and generate less than R200,000 in annual revenue.


Remains trapped


The issue is that companies can simply accumulate the required points by procuring from a few qualifying small enterprises and exempted microenterprises rather than distributing procurement budgets across hundreds or even thousands of smaller enterprises or individuals.


As such, money remains trapped at the top of the funnel and none filters down to those operating at the bottom end of the revenue spectrum, which is what is ultimately needed to drive meaningful enterprise development and provide genuine support to economically vulnerable individuals, while bringing new entrants from the informal sector into the industry.


If the department of trade, industry & competition is serious about driving transformation in the sector it will award procurement bonus points to any business contracting with microenterprises and informal traders. It will also mandate that companies incrementally increase the proportion of spend to these categories over time to remain compliant.

Some large corporates and fund managers may argue that the administrative burden of administering procurement spend or empowerment funds across thousands of enterprises is onerous, impractical and fails to meet corporate governance requirements. However, technology-based solutions exist that create the economies of scale needed to administer and distribute procurement budgets effectively and at low cost.


Estimates suggest there are already more than 1.5-million informal service providers registered on on-demand platforms such as Uber, Bolt, Mr Delivery, SweepSouth and Money4Jam, which provides access to 1-million members who possess smartphones and are available at short notice to perform pieces of work for corporates, from promotions work to quantitative research or market surveys.


Allocating at least some budget to digital platforms and aggregators can provide access to tens of thousands of informal businesses and microenterprises at scale without the complexity and administrative burden. Yet the broader industry and government continue to hide behind their straw man argument that this level of grassroots empowerment is not feasible. The reality is that we have access to a broad array of enabling digital platforms in SA that effectively and efficiently aggregate microservices.


These platforms can give the corporate market access to microenterprises and informal sector business at scale, creating opportunities for companies to leverage the multiplier effect for greater impact while aligning their BEE and environmental, social & governance efforts to craft shared value solutions.


If the government is unwilling to mandate this level of transformation it is incumbent on the sector to lead the way with a discretionary approach to true grassroots enterprise and supplier development that will finally achieve meaningful transformation within the sector.


• Fisher is founder of the Adreach Group and SDI Trust.


‘Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER’.


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