Independent Media and renowned marketer to host South Africa’s first brand building through public relations masterclass series for SMEs

Bonnke Shipalana, the CEO of Tag. | Supplied

Bonnke Shipalana, the CEO of Tag. | Supplied

Published May 17, 2024


The increasing adoption of social media platforms over the past decade has created a new avenue for brands to build their profiles. However, this does not negate the importance of public relations (PR) as a viable tool to create brand awareness, enhance its reputation and foster public affinity.

Mindful of the importance of PR as a vehicle to build brands, Johannesburg reputation management company, The Allure Group (Tag), in partnership with Independent Media, will be hosting a series of pioneering events, Building a Brand Through PR Masterclass, where a panel of industry gurus will empower those attending with the insights, tools and strategies on how to effectively use PR to build their brands.

The groundbreaking masterclass, which is the first of its kind in South Africa, is the brainchild of Bonnke Shipalana, the CEO of Tag. He is an accomplished marketer and seasoned PR professional who has developed and successfully run notable publicity campaigns, such as the inaugural launch of Nelson Mandela banknotes on behalf of the South African Reserve Bank.

During his tenure as marketing manager for Cell C, Shipalana spearheaded the famed Hola 7 campaign that was named after kwaito star Zola 7. Later, he launched the successful “So You Think You Are Funny Talent Show”, in partnership with Fanta and Barloworld’s Mbewu programme, an initiative that funds and nurtures social entrepreneurs.

“The masterclass aims to offer participants a thorough grasp of how PR can greatly enhance the building, growth and success of enterprises, particularly focusing on the South African setting. Participants will acquire knowledge on how to strategically use PR to improve brand awareness, manage reputation and engage stakeholders through a combination of academic frameworks, practical case studies and interactive conversations,” says Shipalana.

He notes that the practise of PR is more relevant than ever in light of the ferocious economic headwinds that small and medium businesses (SMEs) are facing. The challenge facing many SMEs, Shipalana explains, is to redefine their go-to-market strategies and identify their unique selling point in a crowded market. He points out that many businesses have defaulted to opting for above-the-line advertising as a means to create brand awareness.

“While the importance of advertising cannot be undermined, PR has an edge as its regarded as more credible and trustworthy as editorial space is not paid for. For cash-sensitive SMEs, PR has an added appeal as it is less expensive than advertising, its more formidable and creates a sustained vision about a company.

“In this regard, the media is a strong partner for businesses in their growth path. They provide opportunities for businesses to be seen, be believed, be involved and work together which, in turn, helps businesses attract customers, build relationships and reach their goals.

“Considering the sheer number of SMEs that are falling by the wayside and swelling the unemployment ranks, with thousands of workers laid-off, Tag and Independent Media felt that it was opportune to educate and empower the SME sector on the importance of PR and how they can effective leverage this craft to build their brands,” says Shipalana.

Taking a leaf from successful international brands, Shipalana points out that many household marques, such as Apple, Coca-Cola and Nike, have leveraged PR to build and improve their brands.

Citing Apple as a prime example of a brand that has effectively used PR to enhance the allure of its products, Shipalana says the brand has always created hype and mystique on new and upcoming products and has used speculation to whet the appetite of its customers.

Coca-Cola has also used PR effectively to heighten awareness about environmental conservation. Its campaign of reducing plastic bottling, recovering them through recycling and renewing old bottles has endeared it to its customers and reinforced the perception that the brand is a socially responsible corporate citizen.

Shipalana says PR is more important now than ever before, particularly for cash-strapped SMEs that are facing liquidations at an alarming rate.

“Public relations gives us a window of opportunity to give a new lease of life to this struggling and yet important backbone of the economy. Notwithstanding the important role that SMEs play in the economy, the masterclass seeks to unlock the latent potential of this sector of the economy and enable it to scale up significantly to ramp up its contribution to the gross domestic product, in line with other developing countries,” says Shipalana.

The inaugural Building a Brand Through PR Masterclass series will kick off at Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg on July 3, 2024. Participants have an option to attend physically and/or participate in the session virtually.

A panel of experts will be unveiled in the run-up to the event.

Eligible participants to the Building a Brand Through PR Masterclass series can purchase their tickets from

The Star