Holmes Report Blog

The Holmes Report blog focuses on news and issues of interest to public relations professionals. Our main site can be found at www.holmesreport.com.

Friday, May 26, 2006

South African Victory: The big winner at our Berlin dinner was a program from South Africa, conducted by Fleishman-Hillard’s Johannesburg office on behalf of the Banking Association of South Africa.

More than 13 million South Africans have been excluded from the formal banking system over generations, quite literally storing their money under their mattress. In 2004, the South African government launched a financial services charter that required banks to create a model to overcome the problem of limited access. Five major institutions, including the four major commercial banks and the South African Post Office, joined forces under the auspices of the Banking Association of South Africa to create and “take banking to the people.”

In September 2004, six weeks prior to the launch, Fleishman-Hillard South Africa was called on to create awareness and acceptance of the Mzansi initiative among stakeholders including government, organised labor, consumer groups, employers, the media and the public at large.

The initial reaction was cynical: the financial editor of one of the nation’s leading daily newspaper wrote: “Until there is a Big Brother monitoring Mzansi, I can’t see how the people are going to benefit.” The plan was “another way for the banks to benefit—a gravy train from the township to the banks.”

FH identified key opinion leaders and arranged one-on-one meetings between them and the spokesperson for the association, securing their endorsements. The main launch in Johannesburg took place at the largest mini-bus “taxi-rank” in Soweto. With mini-buses as the principal form of transport for the unbanked, thousands of early morning commuters witnessed an industrial theatre presentation illustrating the features and benefits of the Mzansi accounts.

Despite the initial skepticism, within 12 months of launch two million South Africans had opened Mzansi accounts, and nine out of every 10 of these customers had opened bank accounts for the first time.

Judges were impressed with the creativity of the approach, particularly the Soweto event; the business results; and the fact that this was an effort that not only added value to the clients but demonstrated the ability of the public relations business to promote socially-beneficial activity.

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