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All-rounder Nurock wins top ad-industry award

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Ann Nurock, the winner of the Financial Mail Adfocus Lifetime Achievement Award, described it as “an affirmation of close to 40 years of work within the advertising and marketing industry”.

Nurock said the award, given to someone whose impact on the industry has been profoundly positive, was “completely unexpected” and therefore “pretty overwhelming and I’m humbled by it”.

The FM Adfocus Awards recognise agencies and individuals, not just for creative and marketing skills, but for all-round business acumen.

Nurock worked her way up the ranks in the advertising industry until she became first managing director of Grey Advertising in 2000, and then chief executive and head of the Africa region in 2003. “I went into advertising because I love creativity and I love the interaction with diverse clients and doing the creative work that sells brands and makes an impact,” she said. Together with her team, she managed to double the size of the agency, which then became one of the top three agencies, not only in South Africa, but in the Grey global network as a whole.

In 2008, she was transferred to Toronto, where she became president and chief executive of Grey Canada. “I was offered this global position, and I felt I had reached a plateau at Grey South Africa. I’d achieved what I wanted us to achieve in terms of our revenue and standing in the South African market. And I felt like I needed a new challenge.”

Nurock stayed in Canada for three years, a period that she doesn’t consider to be a high point in her career. “They weren’t the best three years of my life,” she said. “I didn’t really understand the Canadian culture, they didn’t understand me, and it was a defining moment of time in my life because for the first time, I really didn’t succeed. I experienced failure, which was life changing for me, because it brought me back to South Africa.”

Nurock was also offered a position in New York, but decided that she wanted to come home. Not only had she previously experienced great success in South Africa, but she was also feeling increasingly homesick. “I’ve been back now for 12 years. And even with all the problems here, I haven’t ever regretted the move back. Not for a second.”

Nurock believes her perceived failure at Grey Canada made her a better person. “It made me a lot more humble,” she said. “I’d moved from being a very big fish in a small pond in South Africa to being a very tiny fish in a big sea in Canada. And I made mistakes because I needed to adapt.”

After returning to Cape Town, she took a sabbatical for a year, and was then approached by Relationship Audits and Management (RAM) to open the Africa office. “I analyse and optimise strategic business-to-business relationships with specific emphasis on clients and agencies because of my background in advertising,” Nurock said.

Eleven years later, Nurock is contracted by more than 25 corporate clients around the world and interacts with more than 100 advertising agencies. “My objective is to optimise the relationships between corporates and advertising agencies,” she said. She does this using RADAR, a proprietary online tool of relationship audits which “measures the health of business-to-business relationships. It has about 10 quantitative key performance indicators [KPIs] and three qualitative KPIs,” she said.

These RADAR surveys “help clients and agencies to improve their relationships and provide them with key trends in terms of advertising and marketing”, Nurock said. “My purpose is to have an impact on advertising and marketing as well as to make a difference to their lives. I feel that I have achieved that.

“Coming back from Canada to live in Cape Town and starting this business, getting out of a traditional corporate role and going into something that was more entrepreneurial, albeit representing a global company, I’ve really been able to make a difference,” she said. “I have global clients as well as local clients across Africa. I represent clients such as South African Breweries, MTN, Tiger Brands, Pernod Ricard, and most banks in South Africa.”

While Nurock considers RAM to be her “day job”, her “sideline job” is representing the South African Creative Circle and Bizcommunity at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, the largest festival of creativity in the world. “It’s like the Oscars of advertising,” she said. “I’ve been doing that for the past eight years. I gather the trends and bring them back and present them to all sectors of business. Not just in South Africa, but around the world.”

Along with this Lifetime Achievement Award and being inducted into the Hall of Fame, another career highlight for Nurock was winning the Absa Jewish Achiever Award for Business in 2004. She was also the first female recipient of this award.

Nurock said her goal is to continue growing the business. “I’ve spent nearly 12 years building this business and it keeps growing,” she said. “People ask me, ‘When are you going to retire?’ Well, I’m going to retire only when I’m not able to work anymore because my work fuels me. It’s my purpose. I want to keep making a difference.”

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