Interview with Rob Stokes, CEO of Quirk

Rob is the Founder and CEO of Quirk, one of the largest marketing services groups on the African continent. Born from humble roots (Rob’s bedroom) as a digital marketing agency in 1999, Quirk has evolved to offer a full marketing service to its clients operating in what is now a digital world.  Rob credits Quirk’s success with the fact that they are driven by creativity yet disciplined by results.

Rob studied a Business Science Degree at UCT in the 90s, where his love for both technology and marketing merged in his Marketing Honours Thesis which focused on the topic of Email Marketing.   This seeded his vision for taking online marketing to the world and was the beginning of Quirk as we know it today.

Rob has always been driven by his love for people, technology and education. He is constantly searching for innovative, fresh ideas and as a result Quirk has also started and bought a number of technology and education businesses including BrandsEye, Idea Bounty, Quirk Education and famed advertising school, The Red & Yellow School of Logic and Magic.

Rob is passionate about education as a force to change the world and has been lecturing in marketing and business since 2001. In 2008, Rob co-authored the Quirk textbook: eMarketing, the essential guide to marketing in a digital world. This book was created to improve the digital industry’s standards by educating marketing students and professionals. Licensed under the Creative Commons, the book can be downloaded for free online. Now in its 5th Edition, it is currently used by over 1000 universities and learning institutions around the world.

In 2009 the Bookmarks Awards presented Rob with the award for the Greatest Individual Contribution to Online Media and Marketing industry in South Africa. In 2012 the Computer Society named him as South Africa’s 34th annual IT Personality of the Year, an award he shares with some of the greatest names in our industry. In 2013 the All Africa Business Leader Awards named him Southern Africa’s Young Business Leader of the year and a month later he was named as South Africa’s Emerging Entrepreneur of the year.

To help grow a culture of entrepreneurship, from 2009 to 2012 Rob was the founding Chairman of Silicon Cape, an initiative created to nurture technology businesses in the Western Cape and beyond. He recently joined the Young President’s Organisation (YPO), a well-regarded global network of Chief Executives, as the youngest member of their Cape Town Chapter.

He is a cricket fan, fishing nut and firm believer in good times.

1.    What innovative services does Quirk offer to its clients in Africa?

Our innovation lies in our unique approach to solving marketing problems for clients. Where Quirk is different is that we are born digital. Where most agencies have been trying to adjust to the realities of a digital world, Quirk was born for it. We started life as a digital agency which has baked technology into our culture as a business, but at the end of the day we believe in good marketing irrespective of how and where it’s executed. As we expand into a full service offering, our digital DNA allows us to offer clients the most effective solution to their marketing problems.

2.  What African countries are the most attractive for your business at the moment?

East Africa spearheaded by Kenya is very attractive to us as is Nigeria in the West. That said, at present we are being very entrepreneurial about Africa and exploring client opportunities wherever they may crop up across the continent. This means looking at a broad range of markets including Botswana, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Uganda and Mozambique

3.  What development prospects and problems can you specify in the Internet marketing in Africa (South Africa, for example)?

The biggest challenge we see throughout the African market is skills. Unfortunately with the marketing landscape changing so fast in a digital world, it has been almost impossible for skills development to keep pace and this represents a real problem for both clients and agencies alike. The only choice we have in the short term is to address this challenge ourselves and in the long term we need to play a role in driving changes within the broader education system as a whole.

4.   What are the distinctive features of African Internet advertising market (for example, the Internet advertising market in South Africa)?

Being a mobile first market is clearly the biggest point of difference in Africa. Whilst for most of the internet world mobile is often called the “second screen” in Africa it is not only the first screen, but in most instances the only one. Whilst this doesn’t alter the fundamentals of marketing, it does have an impact on our communication and engagement tools. In my opinion  it also creates a huge opportunity to engage meaningfully with a huge number of people who historically have only been marketed to through above the line and non interactive channels.

5. What benefits do you expect after Quirk joins leading global communications group, WPP?

As a business we still have much to learn so access to intellectual property and people with experience will be invaluable to us. Furthermore the WPP network in Africa is the most established and we anticipate great benefit for our clients in being able to leverage this.




Quirk will be joining leading global communications group, WPP