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After a difficult period that sparked a restructuring of its senior team, one of South Africa's largest PR consultancies appeared back to its best in 2015, even as growth proved elusive thanks to broader economic conditions. CEO Vincent Magwenya oversees an approach that is heavy on new thinking and new products, including a particularly focus on opportunities in the broader African region, along with a separate 'media house' service that focuses on content production, and a range of higher-margin reputation management services such as policy and regulatory advocacy.
New business in 2015 included Land Bank, Redefine, Allan Gray, Blue Diamond Growers Incobrands, and Waih Management Services, helping Magna Carta navigate budget cuts by one its biggest clients, Eskom. Other key accounts include Standard Bank, Deloitte & Touche, Emirates, Engen, Datsun, Clicks, Adidas, Rhodes Food Group and Shangai Zendai. Campaign highlights included the launch of the Western Cape Funding Fair with Deloitte and the Department of Economic Development of Tourism; a commemorative stamp for Oxford University Press’ 100th year in Southern Africa; the Living Africa blog for Standard Bank Group; and helping Eskom’s efforts to discourage the illegal use of electricity. Much of the work is driven by an approach to content and influencer marketing that is among the best in the market. — AS
Atmosphere (King James Group)
Atmosphere is one of the firms at the vanguard of South Africa's progression into a sophisticated public relations market. The 14-year old firm now employs 40 consultants and blends strategic insight and creative savvy to exceptional effect at times, bolstering its reputation as one of the country's more innovative PR firms. In common with many of its rivals, growth was difficult amid tough market conditions in 2015. The firm now reports around $1.7m in fee income, and continues to showcase an aptitude for highly creative, compelling work, on behalf of such clients as Sanlam, Santam, Capitec Bank, Windhoek Beer, Unilever, Pepsico, Burger King and Swift. In 2015, furthermore, there was new business from Boschendal Wines, Commercial Bank of Mauritius, Taj Hotel, P&G, Hasbro, CottonOn, Medtronic and Brita.
CEO Nicola Nel is supported by directors Lauren Volmink and Megann Outram, oversees a firm that continues to develop some groundbreaking campaigns, such as a major effort to build awareness for Cape Town’s free drug rehabilitation programme. There has also been innovation in its products, particularly the Atmosphere Media Index, which aims to bring higher level of sophistication to media measurement through a customised scoring system. Also worth noting is Atmosphere's staff culture, which it describes as flat and consensus-driven and includes a strong focus on training and development. —AS
Burson-Marsteller has been a finalist in all six years that the African Consultancy of the Year award has been presented (and a winner twice) and this is not the year for that streak to come to an end. The focal point of the firm’s African network is of course the Arcay Burson-Marsteller operation in South Africa, led by chairman Robyn de Villiers, but the firm has a network of 350 professionals in 53 nations across the continent (more than 30 of them now bearing the Burson-Marsteller brand) and several of them are industry leaders in their own right: Desiree Gomes of Engage Burson-Marsteller in Kenya, recipient of the PRSK Lifetime Achievement Golden Honours: Yomi Badejo-Okusanya of CMC Connect Burson-Marsteller in Nigeria and secretary general of APRA; and Alain Amoussoukpevi of Prime Media Burson-Marsteller in Benin.
The firm has been handled public relations for Turner Broadcasting and its CNN, TCM, Cartoon Network and Boomerang channels, with a focus on South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya; helping the Carlson-Rezidor Hotel Group differentiate its brands across South Africa and several sub-Saharan markets; partnering with SES, the Luxembourg-based satellite company, to roll out services and engage with key stakeholders; providing top-tier media relations support to Huawei as it launched its P8 smartphone; and delivering pro bono support for the Project Everyone campaign, raising awareness of sustainable development goals. Meanwhile, Blast Communications—the firm’s affiliate for the Indian Ocean islands—won a Gold SABRE for its ebola fund raising campaign on behalf of client ABAX. — PH
Djembe Communications (Independent)
Named after the West African drum, Djembe is one of the best of the new generation of African PR firms, combining high-level strategic consultancy with a rigourous understanding of local market conditions across the continent. Dubai-based managing director Mitchell Prather previously led Grayling's and Golin's operations in the region and also worked as a senior manager at Mubadala Development Company, giving him plenty of experience of the region's key markets. Prather is supported by regional director Nicole Anwer, and together the duo oversee a firm that has grown to 45 people in just over three years, already reporting $6m in fee income across Dubai, Luanda, Lagos, London, Maputo, Rabat, Accra, New York, Washington DC and Zurich.
Djembe's positioning, which focuses on reputation management and local insight, has proved popular, particularly with Angolan government vehicles that require a more sophisticated public relations approach. Key clients include the country's Sovereign Wealth Fund; its Venture Capital Fund; the country's first investment bank; the Porto de Caio port project; and the Academia de Gestão Hoteleira Angolana hospitality academy. Beyond Angola, there is business from Tomé International and Uniqua Consulting, along with new business from NiFund in Nigeria and Morocco’s Ministry of Communications. Djembe’s approach is further underpinned by some excellent thought leadership, a new research platform that aims to analyse Africa’s socio-economic growth, and roundtable events on job creation across sub-Saharan Africa. Also worth noting is the firm’s commitment to its communities, demonstrated by the My Dream initiative to help Angolan children broaden their arts education. —AS
MSLGroup (Publicis Groupe)
MSLGroup made a dramatic entry into the African market in February of last year when it acquired South Africa’s Epic Communications—at the time The Holmes Report’s reigning African Consultancy oif the Year. Epic, with 50 consultants across its Johannesburg and Cape Town offices—enough to rank among the top five in the market—and more than 40 retainer clients including Samsung, Nedbank, DHL, Cipla and Old Mutual, offered traditional media and investor relations, reputation management, activations, e-PR and digital expertise. The firm was founded and led by Elian Wiener, a former FleishmanHillard executive, and was already beginning to eye a more regional approach. So it was no surprise a year later when MSL parent Publicis Groupe acquired a "significant minority stake" in Nigeria's Troyka Group, which includes PR firm The Quadrant Company—our African PR Consultancy of the Year in 2012. The firm, led by managing director Bolaji Okusaga and with a team of 40, is now known as Quadrant MSLGroup. It has strong corporate communications capabilities as well as digital and social media capabilities that include QuiDig, a proprietary social listening tool. The two highly-regarded acquisitions give MSL instant credibility in what many observers expect to be two of the world’s fastest-growing PR markets. — PH
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