Interview with Managing Director of Kaitoma Creatives, Paul Moeng
Recalling some of the biggest companies in the world and how they were formed; Steve Jobs founded Apple out of his parents’ garage while Larry Page and Sergey Brin created Google while they were PhD students at Stanford University. Kaitoma Creatives possesses similar humble beginnings. In 2004 Paul Moeng, fresh from completing his degree in Visual Communication, left home to pursue his vision.
Paul acknowledges that being a student and a freelancer was tough, especially when it came to juggling student and freelance projects. It taught him quite a number of valuable lessons. “It wasn’t easy at first, but it gave me some much-needed exposure in terms of clients and what they are looking for. Sometimes I would lose clients based on the fact that I was a freelancer and still using public transport”, Paul reveals.
But he didn’t waver. Fast-forward to 2006, Paul noticed that clients were uneasy about dealing with freelancers, so a decision was made to take the leap and register the company. Coming up with a name proved more challenging than they had initially thought. They drew inspiration from the Japanese work culture and ethics. “We wanted a name that very much sounds Japanese and wanted to base it on the Japanese philosophy of 90-10 (90% preparation, 10 % work)”, he explains.
“Kai” is from the Japanese karate organisation, Wado Kai, which purports that knowledge and skill require concentrated effort. In Africa, “Kai” has always been a symbol of creativity because it is very much unrestricted, unpredictable and full of surprises. It is a tree in Africa and thus a symbol of creativity as no two trees grow the same. So, It’s pretty much a metaphor for creativity.”
The second part of the name comes from scotoma, which is an eye defect that causes light blurriness with vision. While you blink on that, rest assured that there was definitely a deep seeded reason for this too. The metaphorical definition of scotoma speaks to the gap in visual function that leaves room for perception and/or cognition (illusion).
Paul felt combining the “Kai” and “toma” summed up advertising and communication because things are not always as they seem. “Creativity and advertising elevate things to a new position. I mean, in South Africa we sort of believe that Coke tastes better than Pepsi. But there is no scientific proof that it’s actually better. It’s because they’ve used a lot of effective advertising and communication that now, you’re suffering from a serious case of “scotoma”,” Paul pointed out with a smile.
When Kaitoma first started, the agency focused on branding, branding and more branding. But an opportunity from a client changed all of that. They asked Kaitoma to run an entire 360° communications portfolio for them; from strategy, copy, email marketing and social media. From that point on Kaitoma has never looked back and has become a full communications agency.
From an internal standpoint, Paul wants to ensure work-life balance for all of his employees. He admits that it’s not just about chasing dollar signs but building something bigger than that. “We don’t want an environment that’s highly stressed and focused just purely on profit. We believe that the balance of having fun and loving what we do also allows us to challenge ourselves to do great things.”
It bothers him to see talented black creatives being sidelined in the industry. “A lot of talented, young black creatives continue to struggle in finding their place in big agencies and get stuck in junior and mid-level positions. Even those that make it to senior positions barely get to exercise their responsibilities of being a senior and remain underpaid. This leads to high stress-levels and in greater cases, depression. We are creating a space of growth and extraordinary resources – almost like a safe haven, especially if the talent can’t find their place in other agencies”.
Ultimately, Paul wants to be able to occupy a building in the Sandton skyline, establishing Kaitoma as a bigger creative agency as more talented creatives are employed into. He wants the agency to be able to do more proactive jobs, pro-bono work and have enough resources and financial reserves to push the envelope. “You find that there are too many boisterous companies that are on radio and everywhere else. But a year later they’re no longer in business because they spend too much time having fun and being a cool company. We were never about building a cool company; instead our mission was always to be a solid company.”
Kaitoma has admirable clients too. From Greenpeace, McCain to RH Bophelo. Paul believes they’ve managed to maintain relationships with these companies because they treat them like family. “We genuinely care about the companies because we understand that if our work is good, then our clients’ brands will grow. This care that we extend to our clients is not just about our bottom line, but theirs too. I think mainly what keeps them with us is that we always try to bring a positive change to their brands,” said Paul with pride.
Quality work is something high on Paul’s priority list. As a young, black-owned agency, they want to create value for clients while fulfilling a creative spirit. When he originally started Kaitoma, it was all about creativity. He gradually learned more about the business side of creativity. Now, he believes there’s an equilibrium between the craft and the commercial aspects.
To sum up his journey and the next phase for Kaitoma, Paul draws on inspiration from one of the world’s greatest creative minds. It personifies his enduring love and passion for the company and the creative process.
“If you really look at the ones that ended up, you know, being ‘successful’ in the eyes of society and the ones that didn’t, oftentimes, it’s the ones who were successful and loved what they did so they could persevere, you know, when it got really tough. And the ones that didn’t love it quit because they’re sane, right? Who would want to put up with this stuff if you don’t love it?” – Steve Jobs.