2 Minutes With ... Grant Sithole, Chief Product Officer of Publicis Groupe Africa
Grant Sithole is a writer, musician and an occasional radio host who believes nothing is more important than the work. Make that the work, football, music and food. He grew up in Soweto, South Africa, and began his advertising career at FCB, where he spent 12 years. He subsequently moved to Ogilvy, Bakone, Avatar and FoxP2. Today, he is helping to reshape South Africa's creative industries through internship programs and cultural change. He joined Publicis Groupe in 2021 as chief product officer.
We spent two minutes with Grant, to learn more about his background, his creative inspirations, and recent work he's admired.
Grant, tell us...
Where you grew up, and where you live now.
I grew up in Meadowlands, a section of Soweto that was created by the Apartheid government when they moved the Black people of a previously "mixed" community out of Sophiatown. A big chunk of Johannesburg's artists of yesteryear come from Meadowlands.
How you first realized you were creative.
I can't actually pinpoint it to specifics but I always had fun in the language classes (English and Afrikaans). In the early grades we used to have a part of the class called Daily News where we were asked to write a few sentences that spoke of our last 24 hours. I didn't think that my daily news was that exciting so I just started making things up. I remember my mom being asked if everything was OK at home, probably because I had gotten pretty sensational about what I was doing every day.
A person you idolized creatively early on.
It has to be Sue Townsend, who wrote The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾. It was the easiest read in the easiest format and I have always been in awe of that. Other than that, I have always loved R&B music because my brothers played Jodeci and Boyz II Men and all that so I always wanted to be in that world.
A moment from high school or college that changed your life.
In grade 9 I wrote a pretty great essay in English class and I was hella proud of myself and the marks I received for it. But a year later I was getting a pie from the tuck shop when one of the juniors from grade 9 showed me that said essay was used as a comprehension test in their English class. I mean!!! I still don't think I have a creative award more precious than that.
A visual artist or band/musician you admire.
There have been so many with the passing of time but right now it's a musician/producer called Kabza De Small. He is a pioneer of a music genre called Amapiano and he is taking the dance world by storm. He has classic music training and is a great example of knowing the rules in order to bend them and invent around them. You will hear about and from him soon if you haven't yet.
A book, movie, TV show or podcast you recently found inspiring.
It's not a podcast but I'm a little embarrassed at how late I was in discovering Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Late Night with Seth Meyers. I imagine they must have some crazy/smart/hectic writing rooms. During the pandemic I went all the way back to their earlier shows and I am officially a huge fan of both.
Your favorite fictional character.
It used to be Batman until someone pointed out that his superpower was white privilege. Killed me!! I used to love how he was just a masked guy with no superpower from a lab accident or outer space but I guess I should have questioned it a liiiiitle longer. Dammit! Now all I have is Schmidt from New Girl. Love that dude. Perfect nerd turned awkwardly cool. Very awkwardly cool. Gotta be Schmidt!
Someone or something worth following in social media.
Dave Trott, without a doubt. He is constantly reminding us about the simplicity of this game and the stuff we might have become too politically correct to say.
How Covid-19 changed your life, personally or professionally.
I lost some people who were very close to me to this pandemic, and that level of loss has impacted everything. I value time more. I value spontaneity even more.
One of your favorite creative projects you've ever worked on.
Has to be a project that would probably never be approved today. Vodacom's "We've Been Having It." It was a lot of fun writing the dialogue for a fictional ruler of a fictional country who thought he didn't need Vodacom.
A recent project you're proud of.
"16 Days of Light: We’ll Always Remember," is a project I didn't work on but came in at the tail end of and saw its assembly and packaging. A very important campaign for a very important cause, not just here in South Africa but in many parts of the world.
Your main strength as a creative person.
I guess being able to take a step back and insist on entertainment value in all work. If we are just sending information, then we would be a news desk.
Your biggest weakness.
The pursuit of said entertainment value is not always the easiest to bring clients on board with, and that can get frustrating. Frustration sucks and makes me weak. Hehehe.
One thing that always makes you happy.
One thing that always makes you sad.
What you'd be doing if you weren't in advertising.
Probably a football coach or a lawyer. I don't know why. But yeah.