Johannesburg, 1 September -Reputation is a key differentiator in the marketplace. It’s a value centre for brands and businesses. It drives competitive advantage and business growth, and is a key strategic asset. But it wasn’t always like that.
In 2005, when Janine Hills founded Vuma Reputation Management, South Africa’s first reputation management consultancy, she was a seasoned communications specialist who among other roles, had headed group communications at First National Bank, and also launched eBucks.com, FNB’s ground-breaking e-commerce initiative.
“I had been on sabbatical and I remember in the 11th month, sitting bolt upright one night, and thinking ‘I have to start a business focused on corporate reputation’. I was in Knysna at the time, and I immediately contacted top leaders like Wendy Lucas-Bull, Paul Harris, and Shameel Joosub asking for their comments on the idea. Their response was immediate; they wanted to know how fast I could get back to Johannesburg. While I was registering the company, a leading South Africa company listed in Johannesburg and London appointed a reputation management director at board level. I knew then that I was on the right track.”
Her mission to help clients do the right thing and then to communicate it effectively has paid off. Today, the company is celebrating its 12th birthday, and lists some of South Africa’s most prominent public figures, celebrities, top business leaders, entrepreneurial companies, global brands, and blue-chip corporations in all sectors among its clients.
“There are major benefits to being an igniter in your market,” Hills says. “There was a burgeoning understanding that reputation either leads to opportunities and prosperity, or sends customers to your competitors. Strategic corporate communication was becoming increasingly important, and it is still on a growth trajectory. In the past, communications was hidden within the business structure of the organisation; forward-thinking companies now have a communications director with a seat in the boardroom. There is a greater awareness than ever before that reputation can make or break a company, increasingly so in a social media-saturated world. Being an early adopter of this approach to communications was of huge benefit for a start-up.”
Hills has made it her mission to earn respect for the role of communication in organisations, and to close the gap between the CMO and the CEO.
From the beginning, Hills was also committed to building a company that would set the standard in the industry in terms of transformation. “I was a political activist in Port Elizabeth in the early 80s. Those were formative years and I wanted to ensure that my business would be representative of our population.”
Vuma has achieved Level 1 B-BBEE status and has grown into a truly transformed company, measured by economic empowerment, procurement, skills transfer, and future growth and development. Gender parity and pay parity have been a given from the outset.
“I will be forever grateful for being part of the greatest reputation management company in Africa,” says intern Lesego Zikhali. “As an intern, I have grown a lot, thanks to colleagues and the company. Vuma is a place of learning, gaining experience and building knowledge.”
These factors have all added up to Vuma being the company it is today. “My advice to young entrepreneurs is that starting your business with the right objectives, built on sound principles, makes it easier to achieve growth,” Hills says.
She adds that she is proud of Vuma’s solid team of people, which includes some of the most experienced communication professionals in the country. She describes them as highly skilled, humble and decent people, with a dedication and commitment to the company’s clients and employees that is unquestioning.
“It is indeed a privilege to be part of Vuma Reputation Management’s journey and success as we continue to shift lives through the work we do daily,” says Business Director Roshnee Pillay. “More than any other aspect of the business, our team embodies what we have created over time.”
The company has been doing business throughout Africa for more than a decade. It recently signed memorandums of understanding (MOU) with four African communications agencies, expanding Vuma’s footprint on the continent as part of its strategy to become a truly African reputation management specialist. “I am excited to be a part of Vuma’s growth story, particularly when it comes to enhancing brand reputation in Africa, working with dynamic clients and a passionate team,” says Nonye Omotola, the company’s Africa Business Director.
“With economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa projected by the World Bank to rebound over the next three years, we want to be part of this growth story and contribute to the advancement of our beautiful continent,” says Hills.
“Looking to the future, our objectives are to continue to grow, while retaining our existing quality clients which are a source of immense pride for us, as are every one of those we have worked with over the past 12 years. I am beyond grateful for the work we have been given and it is thanks to them that we are celebrating this milestone. Our clients – including individuals, professionals, brands and companies of all sizes – have helped us build a South African company that is respected, and that has been responsible for many projects that have had a major impact on our society and country.”
About Vuma Reputation Management
Vuma Reputation Management are experts in reputation management within South Africa and Africa. We specialise in building an organisation’s reputation from the inside out. Our focus areas are crisis communication, media relationship management, government protocol, public relations, media training, and stakeholder relationship management. We have an extensive track record and have implemented work for at least 50 JSE listed companies and operated in10 African countries. We live by the approach of Africans working for Africa and have four affiliate partners in Africa; Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia and Zambia after working extensively throughout Africa over the past 12 years.
For more information on Vuma Reputation Management visit: https://vumareputation.com/
Issued by Vuma Reputation Management
Janine Hills, Founder and CEO of Vuma Reputation Management
Vuma Reputation Management, founded a decade ago by CEO Janine Hills, recently won the prestigious Employer of Choice: Small to Medium Organisation award at Topco Media’s 2016 Future of HR Awards. Another accolade for Janine is that the book Expert Maverick, to which she has contributed a chapter, has reached the top of the Amazon.com best-seller list. The book explores 13 business leaders’ journeys to success.
Janine’s knowledge, skills and intricate understanding of reputation management across various sectors has brought her more than a dozen awards, nominations and honours over the past decade, particularly in the fields of entrepreneurship, women’s empowerment and leadership. She started Vuma Reputation Management with an unwavering belief that integrity and trust were the foundations on which companies could build and improve their business relationships. It has been on that basis that she has developed one of the most successful and respected reputation management companies in South Africa.
“Trust is about being consistent, sincere, responsible, reliable, committed, clear and steady. It is supported and enhanced by integrity in business practices, which includes transparency, discipline, accountability and fairness,” says Janine. “It is about maintaining effective communications with all stakeholders at all levels.”
She shares with clients her nearly three decades of business experience and understanding of the principles of sound reputation management and good corporate governance, helping companies manage their reputations and crisis-control communications.
She has built a culturally diverse team of experts, 90% of which are women. Her strong belief in gender equality was recognised in 2015 when Vuma won the Women Empowerment in the Workplace award (non-JSE listed organisations) at the 2015 Gender Mainstreaming Awards.
Janine sees Vuma as an African company with global potential. She is regularly invited by global institutions to speak about reputation management. “Wherever organisations operate in the world, their key to success is building trust,” she says.
Before starting Vuma Reputation Management, she was Head of Group Communications at First National Bank, and was an integral part of the team that launched eBucks.com, First Rand’s highly successful strategic e-commerce initiative.
• Member, Board of Trustees of the Brand South Africa Trust, appointed April 2016
• Member, Board of Directors of International Women’s Forum South Africa (IWFSA)
• Member, advisory board for International Brand and Reputation Communities (INBREC), appointed November 2014
• Wrote and published a white paper on Gender Diversity and the impact on a Boards Reputation (Deakin University, 2015)