All hail the DMMA: SA’s new digital oversight body

South Africa’s digital industry is a thriving world of creativity, innovation, engineering, design and media, and its importance in the world of marketing and media is growing daily. Inevitably, someone was going to ask the question: don’t we need a body that can represent and assist in growing the industry?

This thought has occurred a few times over the past decade and a half. In the 90s, there was DIMA – the Digital Interactive Media Association – which gained some traction among the 90s digital agencies, but faltered when most of them did.

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In the early noughties, the Digital Forum (DF) emerged out of Cape Town agency Mnemonic, and was spearheaded by the likes of Stonewall+. Primarily creative in focus, this organisation became largely defunct as creatives busied themselves with doing work and agencies grew too quickly to spare too much time. That said, the DF did assist with the creation of a far better Loeries category for digital, something DIMA had wrestled with in earlier years.

In parallel, the digital publishing world formed the Online Publisher’s Association (the OPA), an initiative of’s now-CEO JP Farinha. This organisation had slightly more financially-oriented goals than their creative cousins, particularly in nailing down how to measure audience numbers and — by extension — standardise CPM and other revenue streams.

The OPA has been an unmitigated success. With most major publishers being members, they also took the time to stage The Bookmarks — the pre-eminent digital awards in the country — and commission valuable industry research. The trick, of course, was charging membership fees so as to be able to fund a professional organisation.

The OPA was (and is) not without its critics, but as with many critics, few had any better ideas.

Under the leadership of Adrian Hewlett, the OPA has now ambitiously transformed into the DMMA – the Digital Media and Marketing Association. With Ben Wagner from Stonewall+ and Pete Case from Gloo on the Exco along with representatives from big publishers like and, can the DMMA find its way to being a truly representative body for the digital industry at large?

The early signs are positive.

According to the DMMA, many digital agencies have already signed-up including Gloo, Cambrient (that’s us), Stonewall+ and many others.  They’ve launched a quarterly creative award and the Bookmarks organising committee this year includes people from Quirk, Acceleration and Afrigator.

There are those who question the existence and relevance of such an organisation. And those who argue its role should be more as a lobbyist, the way that ISPA (the Internet Service Provider’s Association) is.

For me, it’s too early to judge. It’s hard enough getting a group of competitors around the same table trying to achieve anything for the greater good. And within that, for any of them to actually commit the time to deliver on the inevitable big ideas that emerge from these groups. These kinds of committees are prone to infighting and scrambling for position.

But the culture set by the DMMA’s predecessor in the OPA seems to be one of getting things done. And this, more than anything else, is why my organisation and I personally am supporting them.

Here are some things I believe should be on DMMA’s agenda in the next 12 months:

  1. Educating clients on digital marketing. This is a vital role that is shared by agencies and publishers themselves, but could certainly be supported from an industry group.
  2. Setting a culture of accountability within agencies for the work they do and the fees they charge. Digital is a measurable medium. The DMMA should be singing that song.
  3. Endorsing agencies who are particularly skilled in certain areas. Could we introduce accreditations so that customers know they are dealing with an agency who has proven expertise in mobile application development for example? Or has developed serious marketing strategies for major clients?
  4. Researching and making plain what the digital marketing landscape looks like in South Africa. What size is the market? Who are the major players? And what is the most effective digital channel?
  5. Networking and assisting agencies and development companies to find collaborations. I’m a huge believer in this since last year’s Geek Retreat, and the DMMA really needs to do more regular events to encourage dialogue.

These are just some ideas and perhaps we can use this forum to generate some more.

The DMMA isn’t a body to represent startups, and it doesn’t replace (for example) the Mobile Media Association. But whereas the startup scene feels almost over-represented, the real money, the R800-million of media spend plus the production budgets that fuelled that, are where the real money is. And I for one think it’s high time we got behind an organisation that can help us grow South Africa’s digital interests rather than simply our own.

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