Ten things I learned in Cape Town

DavidCumpston_headshot_Oct2013By David Cumpston, Director, LCI
One of the things I like about working at a PR agency is the exposure you get to many different kinds of businesses. From the world’s largest retailer (Walmart) to the world’s largest search engine for vacation rentals (Tripping.com), the opportunities to spread your wings and learn something new at LCI every day are endless. One of the things I like about working at LCI in particular is our involvement and partnership with other agencies though the Public Relations Global Network (PRGN).
I just returned from a life-changing visit to the PRGN agency partner in Cape Town, South Africa – HWB Communications – as part of the group’s employee exchange program. As one of the leading strategic communications and PR agencies in the country, HWB is at the forefront of change taking place there. Businesses large and small look to HWB to not only help them protect and enhance their public profile, but to also increase market share and build business. Although my time in Cape Town and with HWB was brief, I returned home with new insight into a partner agency as well as a suitcase full of memories. Here’s a look at the 10 things I learned during my visit to the southernmost country on the African continent, in no particular order:

  • The distance from home: Good Lord, the time it takes to get from America’s West Coast to Africa’s southern tip is 24 hours…and that’s just counting the time spent in your airline seat! No matter how you shake it, there’s no faster way to get there. Nevertheless, the loooong journey was well worth it.
  • The exchange rate: During my visit, one U.S. Dollar converted into 15-18 South African Rand, depending on the day. This more-than-favorable exchange rate made my visit a comfortable one. Compared with San Francisco prices, I hardly had to think about what I was spending on dinners out, wine bottles to drink in, and…
  • Uber: Though my ride-sharing company of choice at home is Lyft, they don’t yet operate outside the U.S. Uber, however, is now prevalent in Cape Town and many of the rides I took around the CBD were no more than $2US. That’s less expensive than a bus ride at home!
  • The noon gun: Just as I made myself comfortable in HWB’s Cape Quarter offices on Monday morning, an earth-shattering BOOM startled me out of my chair at 12 p.m. sharp. Thankfully, we weren’t under attack and no car or building had exploded. It was just the daily blast that takes place atop Signal Hill, which was historically used as a time signal and to communicate with nearby ships. The noon gun even has its own Twitter account – check it out here for a chuckle.
  • The media landscape: It was very interesting – and disheartening – to learn that the number of media outlets (as well as journalists working at those outlets) is shrinking fast just as it is stateside. No matter where you live, it seems all PR professionals are challenged with the same issue: working harder to score ink in a dwindling number of places.


  • PR/digital/social/marketing continues to blend: Another similarity I found interesting is how traditional pitch-and-place PR agencies are becoming as scarce as the typewriter did from daily use. Fortunately, both HWB and LCI are working hard to solve our clients’ everyday needs – everything from placing that front-page business story in the daily newspaper to ensuring clients understand how and when to leverage their social media channels as part of daily engagement with customers and stakeholders.
  • The food and wine scene: Even if the exchange rate didn’t play a factor in my visit, I still would have gorged myself through South Africa’s culinary scene. Thankfully, I’m not a vegetarian…otherwise, I would never have been able to try such wonderful meats as ostrich, springbok and many different types of biltong – dried and salted meat from a variety of animals that’s similar to (but much better than) American jerky. Then don’t even get me started on the wine! A nice bottle can be had for just $4US, so you can rest assured that I tried many, many different varietals.


  • The people: I’ve been fortunate enough to visit nearly four dozen countries across six continents, but never had I been to a place with the kind of unique diversity that exists in South Africa. This is too in-depth of a topic to go info for this posting, so if you’d like to know more, I recommend spending some time researching the history of this great land so you’re able to fully understand and comprehend the complexities that exist here.
  • The history: Although every place on earth has a long history behind it, few have impacted me as much as Cape Town did. Again, I’d need to write a book to explain all that I learned during my visit. Suffice it to say that South Africa (like many places) is still struggling to recover from what was an intense and storied history. Fortunately, I feel like it’s on the right track for the future and I’m hopeful progress will continue to be made for the benefit of everyone who lives there.
  • Nature: I was fortunate to get to spend two full weeks in Cape Town, but I could have easily spent two more. There is just so much to see and do – from gazing upon the southernmost tip of Africa, where the Indian Ocean unofficially meets the Atlantic, to the plethora of lions, tigers and bears giraffes roaming the countryside (well, kind of), I was never at a loss for something fun to see or do.

Have you been to Cape Town before and have a story to share? Or is this city on your bucket list and you’d like some advice from a world traveler who’s just returned? Leave a comment below or send me a note at [email protected] and let’s talk.

7 thoughts on “Ten things I learned in Cape Town

  1. Great insight into an important market, David. And the noon gun reminds me of the 9:00pm cannon in Vancouver – Pow!

  2. David – so glad you were able to visit HWB and South Africa. Being a part of our Public Relations Global Network really does have its benefits, doesn’t it? My favorite South African memory was the day we spent helping to build a house in a township outside of Cape Town. Quite eye-opening, especially when the new owner of the house exclaimed, “Oh, goodness! Now, I have hot running water.” It kind of puts everything into perspective. All the best, David Landis

  3. Great Blog David. Delighted that you enjoyed your visit – thanks to PRGN and Lands PR. Cape Town and San Francisco share a great deal, not least the hospitality, the sea, the landscape ,bookshops. culinary treats and great PR. I hope to see you here again one day soon. Your visit demonstrates, once again the benefit to be enjoyed from membership of the PRGN , networking, knowledge exchange, networking and, not least, friendship – Evelyn

  4. David, a great testimony to a wonderful trip. What an incredible thing to be part of a global network to share ideas, exchange best practices, meet new colleagues, learn about a different media market, and travel the world! Thanks for sharing.

  5. David – it sounds like Cape Town made quite the impression on you. As someone who is so well traveled that is no small feat. A friend of mine is traveling there later this year and I will be sure to share your insights. Also, the Noon Gun Twitter account is hysterical – BANG! haha

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