Network With Businesses In African Countries

Estimated read time 4 min read

While there is no doubt that managing a network of companies across the African continent has its challenges, it can be extremely rewarding – provided you know how to manage the business. With 55 countries in Africa, each with different languages and cultural nuances, companies seeking to expand into the continent need to understand that adopting a “one-size-fits-all” approach could be disastrous.

When Robyn de Villiers founded strategic communications and public relations firm Burson-Marsteller in Africa 25 years ago, she understood that the misinterpretation of even a single word could ruin an entire campaign. To prevent this, she set up the agency in such a way that local talent runs the operations in other countries. These are trusted partners who run through a strategy and provide valuable feedback on whether or not an idea will gain traction in a particular market.

One of the greatest challenges of working in Africa is a lack of infrastructure. The lack of telephones, poor Internet connectivity and unpredictable electricity supply can make communications extremely challenging. This, De Villiers explains, is something that many clients don’t understand about working on the continent.

An additional challenge is overcoming the perception people have of Africa. Traditional visual imagery has led people to believe that Africa is a poor continent. This makes it difficult to explain to clients why implementing a public relations campaign, for example, in another African country is so much more costly than it would be in SA. The costs rise when one factors in the infrastructural challenges, as well as the fact that the discipline of public relations is less well established on the continent than it is elsewhere. This means that staff need to be far more hands-on and practical when it comes to implementation.

The Burson-Marsteller Africa network covers 53 of the 55 countries on the continent. It recently announced the launch of Blast Burson-Marsteller on the Indian Ocean islands of Mauritius, Réunion, Seychelles, Madagascar and the Comoros. It has also launched MO Burson-Marsteller in Angola, and extended its partnership with Icon Burson-Marsteller in Cameroon into two new territories: Congo-Brazzaville and Gabon.

De Villiers says the business has a presence in every market in which clients require its strategic services. Central to its success is its understanding of the subtle differences between countries. For example, a campaign that has been well received in 10 countries may fall flat in just two – and agencies working on the continent need to have people on the ground to understand why this can happen.

Clients, too, need to be educated about how their communications need to change. For example, a campaign that was developed in French in Paris cannot be used directly in a Francophone African market, as there are linguistic differences that require translation. The same goes for Portuguese – very often the language variants can be as different as Afrikaans and Dutch.

For De Villiers, strong partnerships are central to operating an African network, so it’s worth investing time in creating long-term partnerships and developing trust. After all, these partners will be working with your clients, and the clients need to have faith in their abilities.

Training for affiliates also works well. At Burson-Marsteller, affiliate agencies nominate staff to spend time working in SA, with the local office. This is equally effective when sending SA employees into other territories to increase their understanding of how to work in these markets.

Ultimately, it is important that partners on the continent have access to global trends, knowledge and best practice – particularly within the digital space – as this will help them grow their businesses.

The big take-out: Burson-Marsteller’s Robyn de Villiers believes that understanding language and cultural nuance, and cultivating a strong team of local professionals to run operations, are key to managing a successful African network.

Credit – Taken from – Managing an African network (

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