By Charndré Emma Kippie
Desirée Gullan is a seasoned executive who has had the privilege of working for the ‘Big Three’ advertising agencies in SA, and has even showcased her creative spirit abroad. Desirée has won multiple local and international awards for her work, which includes the Cannes Lions and Clios accolade. She has grounded herself in the creative field, always emphasising the importance of craftsmanship. For Desirée, good craftsmanship is not merely found in the design of things, but in the redesigning; not in the writing, but in the rewriting.
Today, Desirée Gullan is slaying the digital marketing landscape in South Africa. In 2006, she co-founded what is now G&G Digital – the fastest growing digital agency in SA. Gullan&Gullan (G&G) Digital is an innovative Digital, Web PR and Social Media agency. Founded in 2003, we help some of South Africa’s – and the world’s – most successful brands create engaging experiences with their customers in the online space.
What are your main career objectives? How do you hope to make a difference?
My business partner and I founded G&G Digital 15 years ago and over more than a decade have grown the business into a reputable and trusted agency brand. Our next goal in terms of our ‘business evolution’ is to vertically grow related businesses that we’ve identified as exciting opportunities in South Africa – and the world. Covid has taught us just how much we can achieve by harnessing technology. We see massive opportunities for growth using new technology services and new regions.
Personally, I want to make a massive positive impact on the South African economy, by assisting businesses with their digital, communications, marketing performance and learning needs. I also see it as my responsibility to lead and mentor younger generations to have a mindset of innovation and excellence.
Please could you tell us a bit about your background.
I have degrees in Literature and Psychology with post graduate qualification in Marketing. After studying I worked for the top ad agencies in South Africa. When I met my business partner we founded Gullan&Gullan, a full service advertising agency. A few years later we focussed on our digital offering and rebranded the business to G&G Digital (we still offer full 360 communications services).
We recently founded G&G Advocacy which is focussed on online training and learning aimed at assisting South Africa’s top 100 organisations with highly strategic, deeply insightful online learning and training solutions and consultation. We have built a robust front-of-wave technology solution and a high-performance team. G&G Advocacy is unlike anything in the world. We’re super excited about it and our clients are too. They’re reaping the benefits of pivoting their learning and training online, and transforming their employees into high performing assets equipped to achieve their business goals.
What excites you the most about the work that you do?
No day is ever the same. No brief is alike. No campaign is identical. I love that every day our clients present us with new challenges. Creative problem solving – or rather creative solution seeking – gets me leaping out of bed in the morning.
We are also lucky to be surrounded by a team of stars who are passionate about what they do. I believe that people who love what they do will manifest excellence, which is a recipe for success.
What life mantra do you live by?
“Be the change that you want to see in the world.” I live by this quote by Gandhi, as it inspires me to take responsibility for my every thought, word and action to bring about positive change in all aspects of life, business, relationships and my contribution to society.
What 3 tips do you have when it comes to implementing solutions in your field?
- Clear brief: Understand your objectives, target market and competitors clearly. Without this you will not come close to achieving your goals.
- Immerse in your subject matter: You cannot add value or be innovative if you don’t deeply understand all aspects of your client’s brand, brief and broader landscape. Deep immersion leads to breakthrough solutions, which adds value to clients and their customers.
- Craft, craft and craft again: The best outcomes happen when you have reviewed and layered your strategies and solutions – whether it’s a performance media strategy, a digital campaign, or a learning solution. Quality doesn’t happen by pushing out mediocre work to meet a deadline. It takes time and requires commitment to reviewing and revising and making sure that everything is clearly considered and refined.
Have you read any books or listened to any podcasts that have inspired you and your career thus far?
As my work involves creative solutions, I love to read outside of my industry. This means I can do more than just regurgitate what other agencies and brands are going to do. I read about art, literature, philosophy. The Paris Review quarterly magazine and podcast series are my favourites. I also have a subscription with the How To Academy where I lap up interviews and talks by many innovative thinkers, from Nobel laureates to Pulitzer Prize winners, to the world’s most influential artists and business thinkers.
What is your ‘why’ i.e. Bottom line?
Excellence. As a Creative Director, it’s my primary responsibility to ensure we produce outstanding quality solutions, based on deep insights. Creating and producing work that’s the best it can be – whether exquisitely crafted copy or beautiful purposeful design, high-performance websites or learning solutions – crafting excellence is the most satisfying way to spend my time.
The process of conceptualising, producing and crafting exquisite work, that moves the needle for our clients, really floats my boat.
Outside of work, are you involved in any extracurricular activities and/or community outreach?
Yes! I have just started my third novel in a series of fiction, soon to be published in the US. The series is called The Great Way Series, and is best described as, ‘Page turning adventure fiction with a spiritual heart. For seekers of all ages.’
The series will only be available after the third book is in production in a rapid release strategy. You can find out more here: www.desireegullan.com
Who or what inspires you on a daily basis?
All South Africans inspire me. Despite the challenges we are facing as a country, I am always uplifted by our people. As a nation we embrace love, tolerance, compassion and forgiveness and it’s truly inspiring. To be clear, I’m talking about regular people, not politicians with an agenda or captains of industry, but everyday women, men and children who live with grace and love in their hearts.
We’re still such a young democracy and yet we’re showing the rest of the world – the so-called “developed first world”– how it’s done. We’re always looking deeper, acknowledging our mistakes and imperfections and working hard to grow and evolve as a community. Here’s a shout out to my people – YOU ALL ROCK!
What advice do you have for future generations who aspire to work in your industry?
Put on some comfortable shoes and start kicking down doors. Even in South Africa that actively works to give women a fair chance, there still exist mental barriers. Lamenting and moaning about them will not get you anywhere. Be the change. Kick down philosophical doors and stomp on them and then make it your business to uplift other women around you.
I don’t believe that women should be jealous of each other’s success. We have to hunt as a pack, uplift and inspire each other. Take the lead at times, get in line at other times. We also can’t ignore the extra pressures women face, as so often we are the matriarchs and the care-givers. There are so many single mothers in South Africa who get out there and thrive. We have to have each other’s backs. That way we will nurture strong, healthy and loved children into society. With that foundation, there’s nothing we can’t achieve as a nation. We have to be the matriarchs of our nation and put South Africa back on the global map, where it so richly deserves to be.
*Interested in discovering more inspiring stores about Top Women? Check out the 16th edition of the Standard Bank Top Women Leaders publication on Issuu – Digital Publishing Platform – here.