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LEARNING CURVE | Award-winning Neo Mashigo says winning for him is producing something that makes a difference

M&C Saatchi Group SA's CCO Neo Mashigo, responsible for leading the pitch for the Tower of Light project in Gqeberha
PUSHING ENVELOPE: M&C Saatchi Group SA's CCO Neo Mashigo, responsible for leading the pitch for the Tower of Light project in Gqeberha 

Neo Mashigo is the chief creative officer at M&C Saatchi Group SA. Mashigo led the pitch for the Tower of Light project in Gqeberha 


What is your involvement in the Tower of Light project:


As the chief creative officer for the M&C Saatchi Group, I led the pitch for the Tower of Light project in Gqeberha.

I’m passionate about institutional symbols that serve as more than just statues of people, and I’d like to see us building symbolic structures that have a deeper meaning for the community and the nation at large.

Our approach to the Tower of Light project was that it must be part of the community and part of job creation, civil involvement and bring life to the area in which it resides.

It would be easy for us to build a statue of a celebrated figure such as Nelson Mandela, but we instead wanted to tell a story — the story of the journey of one individual — which can be a journey of every individual in their own spaces. The Tower of Light became the vehicle for that story.


What’s a typical day like for you?


As a CCO, most of the days are the same — pitches, clients, recordings.

But in all of that you have to find a place where you push the envelope.

You push yourself, the work, your teams, in essence, one has to push the industry forward in everything you do.


Do you have any tips for young creatives looking to make a name for themselves in the creative and advertising industry to guarantee long-term success?

Never be afraid to push the envelope, to do it differently, to learn, to grow and explore.

As a creative, the most crucial weapon you have is the ability to solve a problem.

What is this thing going to do? Even an abstract piece of art can be interpreted in different ways by different people, but it should invoke something in you that allows you to ask yourself questions about the art.

I believe one must always be driven by constantly creating, whether when making something or solving a problem.

Be inquisitive and ask yourself, ‘what is this thing going to do and how do I want to make people feel’?

My top tips to a young, up-and-coming creative would be:

  • Go into the industry wanting to solve business problems and build a brand in the most creative way possible;
  • Build an association and affiliation between brand and consumer — advertising and communication should always disrupt the consumer. The work we do needs to cut through the noise in an entertaining, educational way;
  • Bring your authentic self into the space;
  • Research is king. Engross yourself in the work, understand the work, know the work; and
  • Stay focused on maintaining a steady career growth. The early days of your career are the most important ones, that’s where you must put in the hours.


What is the best advice you’ve been given in your career?  


My first executive creative director would always tell me, be ‘MAD’. The acronym MAD stood for: ‘Make A Difference’.

With anything you do in the industry, one must make a difference and make an impact.

I’ve always remembered that statement. As a black person, I came into the industry to make a difference in how people of colour are viewed and valued.


What do you think are the key traits of a CCO? ?

I would say:

  • Pushing the industry forward;
  • Making a difference; and
  • Solving a business problem.

Making a difference speaks to a lot of things; how you delegate, how you lead the business, how you lead the brands that trust you, and growing people.

One must always make a difference in the environment you work in. Show up and shine.


Define what success looks like for you?


Moving things in a positive direction in the industry.

I believe in growing people, growing brands, growing my clients’ businesses and making a measurable shift in their businesses.

It’s important for the environment we work in to be a good one, to be healthy, these things directly impact the growth and success of the industry and the people who work in it.

Awards are important but are not the be-all and end-all. They get you recognition from your peers all over the world, but they’re not why we do the work.

Awards should come as a result of being brave enough to push the envelope and do great work.


What has been the peak and pit of your career?


It’s less about peaks and pits, and more about learning and wins.

I look at the so-called ‘pits’ of my career in a positive way and see them as lessons.

I always try find the lesson in it, what I have experienced or gone through.

The peak:

This industry can be gruelling and I believe one must find your own personal peaks as often as possible, but throughout my career, two special moments stand out for me.

Winning the Standard Bank pitch in 2019 and winning a Loeries Grand Prix in 2018, for a South African Agency doing proudly South African work.

To win these back-to-back is a huge achievement.

When I started in the industry, all the big campaigns and all the big awards were for European, Eurocentric-based work.

It was so disheartening to not see yourself being represented, so much so it made me not care much for awards, because they were not representing ‘me’.

I’ve had the privilege to work with some of the most talented creatives on pitches, there is a fire that is ignited in you when you finally solve the idea, answer the brief and deliver on your promise to a client.

The moment the light bulb goes off and everyone in the room knows that ‘damn’, that’s the one!

I imagine it’s the same feeling musicians have when they’re in the studio and they land on a hit, it’s when you know you’re onto something special.

I am driven by making hot South African work that people would see themselves in and resonate with.

Winning a pitch and getting an opportunity to create something that moves people means more to me than awards.

If I go to a place and people are talking about an ad that I was part of creating and how much they love it, that’s my award.

That’s what keeps me doing what I love, solving a business problem for a client in the most creative way possible.



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