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In just two years since she assumed her role as group head of marketing and corporate affairs at Hollard Ghana Holdings, Cynthia Ofori-Dwumfuo has brought her award-winning brand communications experience at Ogilvy in West Africa to disrupt a conservative industry with her local translation of an international insurance brand, while instigating a vibrant company culture and spurring excitement, growth and competition. Regularly recognised as one of the most influential African PR practitioners, Ofori-Dwumfuo’s innovative approach has helped to position the insurer as an innovator itself, in a market where less than 30% of the population has insurance. She has transformed the traditional firm’s internal and external communications activities and campaigns, encourages the team to look beyond the expected, and has shown how creative strategy and execution can deliver impact despite regulatory and budgetary constraints. And she’s not averse to getting stuck in herself: Ofori-Dwumfuo is involved in all aspects of the business, including support for business development, product development and distribution, and takes a leading role in Ghana’s wider communications industry through mentoring young PR professionals.
How would you describe the communications/PR industry's level of innovation compared to other marketing disciplines?
Do you think the global pandemic has made the industry more innovative
Absolutely. It sounds clichéd, but the pandemic has forced us to rethink everything. It loosened the boundaries of traditional storytelling practice by making it acceptable to go against the grain. I love that our drawing boards have lost their boxy frames. We’re eagerly answering the question, “how else can we do this given current limitations and opportunities?” Covid-19 has offered us the perfect case study for the concept of “Beautiful Constraints” (by Adam Morgan). At the height of the pandemic, with everyone a captive audience online, we saw how brands rode the wave of collective empathy to establish themselves as progressive. In my world, the pandemic was the tipping point that leapfrogged digital to the forefront of stakeholder engagement. During this time, we launched the first virtual insurer, a WhatsApp chatbot with a personality that captured the hearts of Ghanaians newly accepting of digital-first commercial engagements. The pandemic is terrible, yet its silver linings are clear to see.
Where is the PR industry's greatest opportunity for taking the lead on innovation?
Who most influences how innovative a brand's engagement is?
How do you define innovation?
Innovation is the ability to provide an agile approach to an existing solution. Through creativity or simply via process tweaks, innovation is how we’re working today. Although times are changing, the fundamentals of communications delivery remain the same, so being innovative is non-negotiable. In my experience, innovation is that sweet spot between doing things “differently enough” to sustain stakeholder interest and maintaining relatability by “not being too different”.
What is the most innovative comms/marketing initiative you've seen in the last 12 months?
“Big Ads for Small Businesses” is an ongoing campaign by Hollard South Africa to promote 12 small businesses using the company’s own ad spaces, i.e., billboards, street pole ads, radio spots, digital ad spaces and TV spots. I love the concept of the big guy ceding space to the little guy to help them along. The corporation’s prime ad slots and campaign properties have made a phenomenal impact on the small businesses who couldn’t have afforded those placements especially during the pandemic. Judging by public reactions online, the campaign resonated with locals enamoured by the selfless nature of the initiative.
In your opinion, what brands and/or agencies are most innovative around PR and marketing?
“Glocal” agencies like Ogilvy Africa and corporates like Hollard are approaching PR and marketing from an integrated outlook, having recognised that the two are complementary when set against the background of African idiosyncracies. You can’t ignore the story to focus on the shiny stuff here. If you scope social media commentary you realise that African audiences like all others, increasingly expect companies to be inclusive. They appreciate the agency to interact on their own terms. Leading with branded PR, the two are pushing the best campaigns but also crafting the most authentic narratives that matter to Africans without losing sight of their brand promises. They get that right. For instance, in a typically conservative insurance industry with low national coverage (29%), Hollard is on a charge to make insurance a Ghanaian culture by telling vibrant stories about what could go right, not what could wrong (as is usually done). In acknowledging the nuances of the market we’ve focused on unearthing new customer bases via insurance education. We’re using locally relevant but unexpected partners/channels to insert our colourful brand in their daily lives. With the pervasiveness of content-driven digital lifestyles, it’s an innovative strategy that keeps our patrons positively engaged across all platforms.
Describe a moment in your career that you would consider 'innovative.'
Two years ago, I accepted the daunting challenge to make a recently introduced, foreign-sounding insurance group Ghana’s favourite insurer. Then, the insurance industry was conventional, with low penetration (under 1%) and coverage (29%) rates. Today, it’s still emerging but undoubtedly competitive because the innovative work we’ve accomplished with the Hollard brand has spurred competitor liveliness. My innovative career moment occurred when I had to sit, analyse the industry, our stakeholder universe, and brand attributes/promise. Armed with the hindsight of extensive agency experience consulting for various companies, I understood that in a market of sameness, we could only differentiate by being bold in our brand’s eccentricity. My luck was the gift of a vibrant brand, a progressive business and visionary leadership. The hard work was innovatively localising this international brand, establishing our strategy, and going to market prudently while ensuring bottom-line traction. Our marcomms innovations have spanned product development to distribution, insurance advocacy, digital, employee engagement, outdoor advertising, and more. Ask about Hollard. You’ll hear of Araba Hollard, the virtual insurer, emoji bus-shelters, mobile USSD life insurance, insurance on-the-go, cool, age-ambiguous shareable content, and even insurance education. It’s been a journey. In our on-demand world of fleeting trends, it’s easy to become yesterday’s cool kid. So we keep things fresh by shifting gears along the way, changing direction as necessitated by events – from Covid-19 to regulatory mandates. Yet, through it all, we’ve been careful to maintain the positive story of our purpose to enable more people to create and secure a better future. I’m excited to see how much further we’ll go. I believe we’re gradually making insurance a part of the Ghanaian lifestyle, and I’m honoured to lead the charge.
Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation?
Rihanna. The former artiste successfully reinvented herself by diversifying an existing cosmetics and fashion business model. Regardless of who pioneered it, Rihanna will go down in history as the person who revolutionised the makeup industry with her 40, now 50 shades of Fenty makeup foundation. With her Savage x Fenty lingerie line, she’s celebrating nonconformity. Her inclusiveness has garnered her the billionaire status she enjoys today. Legendary.
How do you get out of a creativity rut?
If there’s little time to spare, I relocate to an airy and bright place. Sometimes I stop to chat, take a quick walk through the building or phone someone smart. That usually helps. With no deadlines in sight, I grab a bag, find friends, and take a road trip. Nothing beats getting away from it all when you’re stuck. Those mindful escapes often trigger a reset for me; a chance to ruminate over creative challenges without pressure. In between hikes, laughs, or rides, my rut eases and the ideas flow. I return feeling pumped with renewed verve!
What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
Brand-owners must intentionally shape their brand’s presence with micro-storytelling targeted at specific communities. Audiences expect this iterative effort, whether via influencer marketing, branded PR, or some mishmash of tactics. The dynamics of our 21st-century life require this strategy because our audiences are over-stimulated by multidimensional content. As an industry, we must recognise that innovation is a competency to acquire and a mindset to apply to succeed in these virality-chasing times. It’s hard to keep up yet detrimental to be left behind because it’s insufficient for practitioners to be highly networked or craft great write-ups. So we must do more, differently. We’ve broken the boundaries of traditional marcomms, and I’m excited to see how much more revolutionary things get.
What would you be doing if you weren't doing your current job?
I would be a journalist telling African stories. Although I pursued marcomms as my first love, I previously dabbled in radio, so journalism is the one that got away. Alternatively, I’d make a great travel curator, given my love of travel, exploration, and delicious food.
Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has helped you get through this year or provided inspiration?
I’m a podcast fanatic who loves a range of genres. In the past year, I was comforted by our shared human experiences as podcasters delved into everything pandemic-related. My favourites are The Moth, Freakonomics Radio, Death, Sex and Money, 99% Invisible, Revisionist History, Reply-all, The Cut, No Stupid Questions, Ear Hustle, Jesus and Jollof. I could go on. It’s remarkable how audio content is increasingly relevant at a highly visual time.
What's your favourite time of day and why?
I love late evenings. After a shower, I settle down with a nightcap of hot cocoa. I’m most reflective during these wind-down moments when I review the day’s accomplishments while contemplating the next day’s actions. It’s also an excellent time to catch up with family or check out the day’s social media gossip.
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