SMILE OF SUCCESS: John Edwin Danze of Fireworks Brainchild-Burson advertising agency

As we grow older we realise a few things along the way that make us regret ‘growing up so fast’. This is because no one told us that this comes with life and having to face the dastardly thing.

Facing life has really shown most of us ‘millennials’ fire, with some stuck in permanent ‘kawu’ and reminiscing the number of things we took for granted, like our parents care and their countless sacrifices.

Now life has kicked so many of us about to the point we suffer amnesia at such an early age (I think it’s only in Uganda where the youth riot claiming retirement packages whilst still at university). Seriously though, even birthdays cannot be forgotten now thanks to social media apps like Facebook and Twitter. And for crying out loud, I’d forgotten my birthday this year up until I logged in.

The challenges of growing up in the modern day are numerous, with afflictions like unemployment, inflation, drugs and alcohol, all leading to recurring poverty, hunger, unhealthy competition with peers, debt…the list goes on.

So, out of sheer desperation, over the last couple of months I’ve made it a point to interact with the select few who’ve managed to make it in life and thus enjoy the true benefits of the independent life in the hope that they might pass me the anecdote. Mind you these types of individuals are very rare, particularly those who have a background story worth writing about, and not one that starts off with the usual boring ‘I was lucky’ cliché.

No, those ones I avoided. Instead, I mean those who’ve worked hard and applied all that they have learned to ensure they make it in life. John Edwin Danze is one such person.

Twenty-eight year old Danze is the average Ugandan lad with an affinity for the digital world and its gadgets with a very distinct all-white Colgate ad smile that indicates a fun-educational rapport and tags him as one of the good people. With little to no political affiliations whatsoever, as is often the case with most of us, seeing as the system has failed the youth countless times, Danze is more inclined to discuss the pros and cons of managing Dr. Kizza Besigye’s Facebook account than his stance on democracy.

Nonetheless, this does not leave Danze with a great sense of loss as he manages to make up for it by contributing to the quality development of the media industry in Uganda. We’ve seen the recent colorful and energetic Pepsi Sala Puleesa advert featuring local artistes MunG and Nwagi and I think it is safe to say that we have come a long way and vastly improved from our ‘Chai garden tea’, ‘Hedex’ or even ‘Vicks Kingo’ adverts from back in the day.

COLLECTIVE SUCCESS: The Fireworks team shows off the awards won at the just-concluded Public Relations Association of Uganda (PRAU) awards ceremony.

This is all thanks to creative individuals who have taken time, energy and innovation to improve not only the quality of media used by millions in Uganda but also to promote the various platforms that allow and encourage creativity and invention. So, it came as no surprise when Danze and his colleagues at Fireworks-Brainchild Burson dominated the recent PRAU awards, taking with them a number of awards. EagleOnline caught up with Danze for an interview and below are excerpts.

EagleOnline: Congratulations! How do you do it?

(Laughs) I guess its hard work and networks … but I am groomed through struggle so I do not waste opportunity.

Eagle: Are where you are because you had someone help?

Help of course. I also had mob kiboko (caning) and mistakes allowed me to improve. The fact is that I owe so much to my family; friends and God above all, got me here. Also I had to fend for myself especially around campus because my parents retired and I’m the first born son so I had to do my part.

Eagle: Who is Danze? How would you describe yourself?

Danze is really just a guy! (laughs heartily) I think I’m a self-believer, designed by circumstances and fortunate enough to be in the space that I am. I believe in self-expression and ideas especially those from my friends but my life still has a story, I feel I haven’t gotten there. Plus, I dont want to get there alone.

Eagle: Tell us about your work? What is Fireworks? Was it your idea and what do you guys do?

Fireworks is an advertising agency. We deal with public relations, media, creative and client service. In fact we handle Pepsi, Total, NSSF, Centenary Bank, Etihad among other companies here in Uganda. On the second question, no, Fireworks wasn’t my idea, I just work there personally with digital media like social media, web pages, events etc.

Eagle: Have you always worked towards this career path or did it just occur to you eventually?

I like to think it was inevitable because before that I was into art. But then art evolved into digital so I met so many people that work in places that required it. However, managing Sylvia Owori’s public profiles and Global Connections is what really introduced me to the digital world, as well as my love for games and movies which allowed me to explore the digital world some more.

Eagle: I notice you guys deal with major companies here in Kampala. What is it like?

Yes, very high bar. By the time I joined Fireworks I wasn’t that ‘professional’ until after some many boardroom moments and client interactions. I had a very supportive team and of course the correct training thanks to my boss. Also, the culture at Fireworks is that they invest so much in their employees.

Eagle: Fireworks recently scored big at the PRAU awards. Why did you win and which advert made the trick for you?

We have actually won for the last three years and we won because we are a ‘result-oriented’ agency: evidence based strategies and public relations gurus. The campaigns that did it were: Pepsi Uefa champions league, a campaign we did for Crisis Management and #SalaPuleesa for the value added media strategy. I believe we focused on the clients key objectives like sales and conversions; most agencies give good ads, fancy jingles and nice posters but they don’t do campaigns in ways that will effect growth of their brands or consumer love.

Eagle: What is it like making these adverts? Are the artists easy to work with? How much time and energy goes into these things?

It never gets easy. But if you work smart, apply research and the correct strategy especially if it’s been tried and tested or measurable and relevant to your market and the correct processes, you achieve the perfect advert and campaign. Of course, not forgetting the right platforms where to place it.

Eagle: Why would someone with a strong brand say like Coca-Cola still need your contact? How and what do you think PR contributes or has to offer an individual or society in general?

Well… a brand like Coca-Cola would still have the contact because for big brands it’s not a luxury to have an agency, it’s a must. PR contributes to brand awareness, crisis management and communication whether corporate or thematic. PR is basically how your image is presented to your consumers, target audience or other brands.

Eagle: Do you think PR management plays a role in development of any given society?

Yes it does. PR is basically telling your story: How you tell it and how it is received by different audiences through different platforms with effectiveness.

Eagle: Communication is key for development; speaking of which, Kiswahili was passed as one of East African Community’s official languages, so how do you think this will affect business and life here in Uganda?

I don’t think it will affect much; business works in all languages and besides Kiswahili is more or less the East African language after English and our mother tongues. Infact it will create a sense of unity. PR will work in any language, it’s the message you are transmitting through that Swahili that matters.

Eagle: What are some of the challenges you guys encounter on the job?

The tools to use to pull off exceptional campaigns in Uganda are still developing, so the better your tools the better quality of your results. Also, clients killing ideas and not wanting to take risks. Time is another major factor because plans and campaigns need enough time to reach their target audience. These are major issues in almost all agencies and competition is steep so it’s a ‘do or die’ situation. Although the birth of social media made things easier, it also made it harder because now content is consumed at a very high rate so you have to be every creative in order to capture the attention of any consumer in this fast paced world. Social media makes PR become a 24/7 job with so many opinions shared across platforms; a tweet or blog can affect an entire campaign or change the mindset of your consumers; it’s a diverse community now.

Eagle: Social media is a strong tool and can be used for both good and bad, to spread truth or propaganda. What is your take on the Kasese killings and these grotesque images circulating on social media?

Well, I am not that into politics but what I see is unrest and what the rest of the world takes home is that in Uganda there is political turmoil. We can’t stop the content spreading unless they censor it like during the elections.

Eagle: True. Other than PR what else are you involved in?

I am heavily into digital media; I’m just in the PR department because it is in all communication practices. Other than work (Fireworks) I do a lot of youth mentorship where I help those with young ideas as well as do some trainings for small new ideas. I do a lot of gaming and I’m very keen on Cinema under #TalkingMoviesUg where I do movie reviews, promotions etc.

Eagle: I am an avid follower of yours on Facebook and I have realised you make even the simplest of subjects interesting. But here in Uganda we are still lagging far behind when it comes to the digital sphere compared to other nations like Kenya and Nigeria. What do you think is needed here in order for us to get to those standards?

We just need to apply cultures from across the globe. Kenya for instance accepts so many cultures and has a booming tourism industry so it helps a lot. We simply need to be more expressive, research more and participate in global trends.

Eagle: You mentor people; what is the key thing you impart that you feel will motivate them to achieve? And is it the same principle you live by?

I tell them the truth; I tell them how to achieve what they want by showing them ‘how’ instead of telling them what links to visit or what books to read; show them how their businesses can successfully be promoted online.

Eagle: Are you single? Where do you see yourself in a few years from now? What is your ultimate goal?

Not single. I see myself in a better part of my career with my own company and still doing youth empowerment of course.

Eagle: The government is currently telling the youth all about wealth creation. How would you as a PR practitioner help the government go about it?

Like I’d said, I have very little political opinions, actually do all but stay away from them. But for an institution that impacts a nation they need to invest in better PR especially when it comes to response time and crisis management processes. Wealth creation would be better bolstered by actually rethinking the education system and money allocation in youth ventures.

Eagle: Thanks a lot Danze. We really appreciate your time and effort. Is there anyone you would like to thank for helping in your journey to success?

God

Eagle: Okay. Just God?

I mentioned the others in the beginning.

Eagle: Alright. And how can people reach you? What handles or names do you use on social media?

@deejahn on Twitter and Instagram & @danzedeejahn on Facebook and Snapchat.

Eagle: Something else you think the reader out there ought to know?

Well, people should know that until you try you won’t succeed and until you try new things, even those that scare you, you will always remain in the ‘what if phase’.

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