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Getting to Know: Rob Hoatson

The THIRSTI name has popped up in the sponsorship pages a fair amount recently, with the KZN water brand concluding deals with the likes of the Comrades Marathon, Sharks Rugby and the AfricanX trail run. So, just who are they and who is the man driving their sponsorship activity?

Q: What’s the story behind the origins of the THIRSTI water business?
A: Our story is as unique as our water. It began in the early 90’s – a woman named Anneriet Van Niekerk discovered a special kind of water from a natural spring, nestled amongst the indigenous forests on the slopes of the Klein Drakensberg. This water was untouched and contained a taste that only nature could master. Fast forward many years and production started in 2015 with our natural and sparkling spring waters, with a quest to share our wonderful thirst-quenching spring water far and wide. Using all the very best that Mother Nature has to offer, we’ve extended our product range to include the Flavours range as well as the energy drink Isofit+. Our philosophy, Drink Clean. Real Goodness, means that our water contains no preservatives, no artificial sweeteners, no artificial colourants – no artificial anything! Just real goodness in every drop.

Q: Prior to setting up THIRSTI, what were you doing?
A: I was in forestry and saw milling – our business on the farm. We farmed beef, timber and nuts. In fact, at least once a week, you’d find me with my hand in the rear end of a cow, checking her pregnancy progress!

Q: As the Director of THIRSTI, what do you consider your primary areas of responsibility?
A: Firstly, our staff. Without them, we wouldn’t have a product to begin with. There’s a large amount of the THIRSTI crew that are still with us five years in and for that I cannot fully express my gratitude. Then our customers, because without them we’d be nothing. Simple as that. Lastly, would be to protect our source, because the mountains are where our water comes from. In this regard, we registered our source as a private nature reserve, so that no-one can touch it for 100 years.

Q: When did you first consider taking the THIRSTI brand into the sports marketing space and what was your motivation for doing so?
A: Sport is an incredible unifier – it truly has a way of bringing South Africans together. When we started out, it was always our objective to get into sport, but these things do tend to take time. Then, our product, which is genuine and 100% pure goodness. Athletes resonate with health, because being kind to your body is the greatest advantage you can give yourself and certainly a necessity when it comes to competitive sport. We love everything that sport stands for – the love of the game, the competitive nature, and the determination needed to succeed. Personally, I love sport – F1, tennis, rugby, cricket and hockey. I can’t say I excelled at any of it, having played school fifth team cricket and second team hockey at Maritzburg College. But I had, and always will have, like so many South Africans, an unrivalled passion for all sports.

Q: As a former timber farmer, what do you know about sports marketing?
A: Absolutely nothing! I love sport – that’s one thing I do know! And we love having a brand that can assist in the sports space and whereby genuine parallels can be drawn in terms of the health side of performance. Where we have lacked the skills, we have engaged with the right partners and expertise who have assisted us in the sports marketing space.

Q: What was the first sports property you partnered with and what did THIRSTI get out of it?
A: It was in 2015 called the Bundu Bash – a triathlon at my kids’ school. It gave us a taste of what being on the ground in the sports space was all about in terms of handing out our product, having a brand presence, watching competitors compete, and loving (almost) every minute. Make no mistake, whether it’s a local 5k fun run or as title sponsor of the world championships, the feeling is the same – being present and in the game is a tremendous honour and every participating athlete genuinely wants to excel. Wherever possible, we want to love what we do, because that is the only way you stand a chance of topping the scoreboard.

Q: You’ve since partnered – in a short space of time – with the likes of the Comrades Marathon, Sharks Rugby and the AfricanX trail run. That’s, seemingly, a fairly aggressive approach to sponsorship acquisition. What would you say your objectives are?
A: It is an aggressive approach in our opinion. But we’re here to drive the brand hard. We love our brand and we know that we have a premium product. In fact, when it comes to our Isofit+ drink, you can combine all the goodness from the two other best-selling sports drinks in SA and still you would not match up to the goodness that’s packed into our Isofits. We believe in our product and we want to win. Our objectives include brand awareness and brand growth, as well as to drive sales. I suppose it’s all about brand salience too – making sure that our consumers make the active choice to purchase our products ahead of any others because they’re aware of the nutritional benefits and competitive pricing.

Q: What’s the THIRSTI approach to effectively leveraging its sponsorships and ensuring you get good ‘bang for your buck’?
A: First and foremost, it’s about having skin in the game. We get involved and build good relationships. We partner with sponsorship properties where we have shared values and vision, and we do our best to add real value to that property. Of course, it’s also about integrating all of the marketing mix elements and engaging across all the platforms, so that we effectively and efficiently utilise our resources on hand, as well as our sponsorship rights.

Q: Are there other areas of the SA sports industry where you see a fit for the THIRSTI brand and an opportunity for potential partnerships?
A: The schools base has huge potential – just incubating or nurturing that talent so that we can get the best out of our youngsters. But Covid has placed all this on hold for now, unfortunately. We’re aware that you can’t be all things to all people, so we’ll continue to strictly assess all opportunities that cross our paths.

Q: What’s your view on the state of the SA sports sponsorship space, in the wake of the impact of Covid-19?
A: It’s been severely interrupted and this last year has been extremely hard, but this will pass and we will return to normal. Because of these times, we are cautious when making commitments and are very aware of who we partner with. We want partners with similar values, people who are hungry and adaptable and want to win as much as we do. At the end of the day, you have to pick which pony you want to ride.

Q: Where would you like to see the THIRSTI brand in 10 years’ time?
A: Watch this space! All we know at this present moment is that we love our brand, our product and our people. So, we’ll see. The THIRSTI brand is like an athlete – grinding hard and smart, whilst loving what he or she does and giving every session, every match their absolute all. Because, at the end of the day, hard work does pay off. Hard work and passion.

Dylan Rogers
Dylan Rogers

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