at West Hollywood’s well-known Ha Ha Café. “Stand-up comedy and marketing are linked, so that training stood me in good stead. I am passionate about brand presentation, and I love speaking and performance. It’s like my church”, he says. He’s also travelled extensively – “travel is my guilty passion”, he smiles. Sharman returned to South Africa in 2006, then wrote a one-man show and took it to the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, but ultimately decided to immerse himself into the career path he set out on at RAU. He worked for start-up PR agencies, and did a stint with an agency in London between 2008 and 2010, which he says was vital to developing his business acumen and honing his skills as a marketer in the digital space. “Through working for other agencies, I got to experiment in a team, on big accounts, and tapped into a network of the right people”, he says. Retroviral was launched in 2010 and quickly carved a niche for
Mike Sharman is the co-founder of Retroviral, an award-winning digital communications agency that creates online word-of-mouth spread for cutting edge brands, using bespoke strategy, social media and web tactics. A high energy, loquacious 35-year old, Sharman is also co-founder of Webfluential, a platform that establishes relationships between consumers and brands through influencers. He was named one of the Mail & Guardian’s top 200 young (under 35) South Africans in 2013. With more than 12 years of marketing agency experience, Sharman has worked on brands such as Nando’s, RocoMamas, Kreepy Krauly Wrangler, Castle Lager BraaiPhone, Russell Hobbs and Beeno, to name a few. “I love making stuff go viral”, says Sharman, who had his debut business book, The Best Dick published last year (2017). Brilliant at self branding, and famed for dressing up in eye- popping costumes for the brands he’s working on, Sharman has appeared on TV, radio and print media numerous times, and is described by his friend, radio personality Gareth Cliff – in the foreword to his book – as one of those “pioneering, fearless entrepreneurs, with a frontier quality to them that often propels them into the stratosphere internationally”. Sharman matriculated at King Edward School in Houghton in 2001, then enrolled for a marketing communications degree at UJ (then RAU) in 2002, completing it in 2004. It was the “right degree”, he says, even though he initially had his heart set on acting and more creative pursuits. “I liked the mixture of communications and business. I got to dabble in the audio-visual, in politics, business management and marketing, and picked up solid business principles along the way”. After graduating, Sharman decided to go to acting school in Los Angeles, enrolling in an eight-week stand-up comedy course that culminated in a show
In 2015, Bidvest Media, a division of Bidvest Group Limited, purchased a majority stake in Retroviral, though Sharman still retains an interest in the company and continues to lead its nine-strong team in his typical, disruptive, entrepreneurial way, in offices in Sandton. “My day starts at 7.45 am and I work until 5 pm. I was full-on in the early days, working late at night, but it’s important to have balance. In my spare time I’m with my family, and I love listening to podcasts and reading everything to do with tech start-ups”, he says. In his book, Sharman entwines business insights and universal premises of first hires, cash flow challenges, brand building, networking and pitches, with his storytelling approach, delivering a compelling read complete with armed robberies and fancy-dress competitions, while partnering with some of the world’s best known brands. Sharman writes in the preface “From scribbling logos and formulating some semblance of a new agency model – that combined PR, digital and activation – on napkins at multiple London Starbucks, to starting Retroviral with no business plan and not a solitary client, this is my personal entrepreneurial odyssey”. Sharman is married, and has two children with a third on the way.
itself as an agency that gets people talking about brands,
through tactics like design, blogger relations, community management and viral video production and distribution. Among his first briefs were Absa’s digital channels, and SAB’s campaign for Miller beer. A huge highlight was producing digital content for Nando’s. “Retroviral seeded various Nando’s campaigns, including its ‘Last Dictator Standing’ campaign, depicting Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe in a video playing with dictators such as Colonel Gaddafi. It was the first marketing campaign in South Africa to attract one million YouTube views in less than one week”, says Sharman. More recently, Retroviral executed the online communications for all the #5GumExperience parties and was the seeding agency behind the Douwe Egberts yawn- activated coffee vending machine. “We work with bloggers and online influencers, and of course I’m big on Twitter (he has over 16 200 followers). I’m very tech driven”, says Sharman.
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