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Founded in 1989 by Aubrey Sussens and Peter Mann, Meropa’s longstanding commitment to clients is reflected by continued growth, up 5% despite a difficult economy in 2018 to $5.5m, powered as much by a vibrant staff culture as by its ability to build long-lasting, profitable relationships. The firm employs 90 people across wholly-owned offices in Johannesburg, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, supported by its own pioneering AfricaOne affiliate network, which spans 18, mainly sub-Saharan, markets.
Under the leadership of Mann and CEO Patrick Gearing, Meropa has built a reputation for client quality, particularly in the public affairs, healthcare and transport sectors. This is illustrated by a roster that includes the South African National Roads Agency, Ford, Jaguar Land Rover, British Airways (the only regional agency to retain the business), WesBank, Mauritius Tourism, Bankserv Africa, Black & Veatch, AdVtech and Boeing. In 2018, there was also new business from Boehringer Ingelheim, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa, South Africa Energy Coal – South32, the National Automobile Dealers Association, Danone, Indlulamithi, and Madagascar Presidential candidate Marc Ravalomanana.
In addition, Meropa continued to expand its offering, hiring Jacques Kichenbrand as head of digital. Unfortunately, the firm does not enter awards, denying its work the opportunity to shine in a peer-reviewed environment. Despite that, there was notable issues management work for SANRAL; supporting the HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN) in collaboration with the US Institutes for Health, the Medical Research Council; and, campaign highlights for British Airways. — AS
Atmosphere Communications (King James Group)
As the public relations subsidiary of locally-headquartered integrated marketing communications business King James Group, Atmosphere is one of the largest indigenous PR firms in the South African market, and certainly one of the most creative, with a track record in awards competitions that locals and global agencies alike struggle to match. The firm has four winners in the 2019 African SABRE Awards competition, including best-in-show nominee “Fabric,” a campaign for Siemens that showcases how future technologies can have a positive impact on the African continent and its people in a relatable and truly African way: through fashion. The firm is also recognized for its corporate reputation work on behalf of Capitec as it fought off short-seller Viceroy and for educating South Africans about the “pink tax” on female consumers for Sanlam.
Founded in 2001 by managing director Nicola Nel, Atmosphere employs about 40 professionals across two office (Johannesburg and Cape Town), providing a range of services that includes strategic consulting, corporate pr, media relations, content creation, crisis communication, influencer relations, creative brand building and social media campaigns. Clients are some of Africa’s leading corporates and brands, including Santam, Capitec, MWEB, Sanlam and international retail brand Cotton On, as well as global players such as BBC Studios, Luxottica, Cisco, Hasbro, and Spotify, which worked with Atmosphere on its 2018 launch in South Africa.
A recognized innovator and thought leader, Atmosphere was named Best Midsized Agency at the PRISM Awards earlier this month. Through its relationship with international agency network PROI, the firm now has affiliates throughout Africa, including offices in Nairobi, Accra, Casablanca, Cairo and Yaoundé.—PH
Thirty years ago, Robyn de Villiers took the first steps to build a network of in-country affiliates and partners to provide communications to clients across Africa, underpinned by local insights and media and stakeholder relationships, with integrated delivery out of South Africa. Under her leadership, BCW Africa now has the most comprehensive network of offices on the continent, operating in more than 50 countries, 36 of them BCW branded. The 500-strong firm has made a major contribution to the development of the PR profession across Africa: in South Africa alone, 60 interns have now graduated from the firm’s internship programme, and Kenyan, Angolan and Mauritian partners run similar programmes.
Last year de Villiers, who previously led Africa for Burson-Marsteller, was appointed as BCW’s lead in Africa after the global merger with Cohn & Wolfe, while her business director Bridget von Holdt won the 2018 Prism Life Achievement Award for her contribution to the industry, an honour awarded to de Villiers this year. The firm also began a partnership with reputation research firm Reputation Matters, leading to the first Africa-wide survey on ethics and reputation in partnership with trade association APRA. Nicholas Williams joined the extended team as senior counsel, bringing 20 years of African and international experience in investor relations and capital markets.
The team’s work over the year included driving a pan-African anti-bullying campaign, Be a Buddy and not a Bully, for Cartoon Network, and brand building across 15 African countries for Luxembourg-based satellite company SES. Other key clients range from technology and payments company Net1, to CNN (a client in South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria for eight years) and Turner (TimeWarner), to the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority and the Economic Development Board of Mauritius. Recent client wins include Siemens Gamesa, for which BCW is providing PR support across the continent. – MPS
Edelman (DJE Holdings)
Edelman entered the African market relatively recently, with its 2013 acquisition of longtime South African affiliate Baird's Renaissance, a 20-person firm that worked throughout the region. Three years later, Jordan Rittenberry moved from Edelman Chicago to become managing director in South Africa, and since that move the firm has been on an impressive growth trajectory—after rapid expansion in 2017 and a strong single-digit revenue increase last year, Edelman now has 60 people in South Africa, placing it among the market leaders. It is also working with affiliate agencies in Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt and Morocco, executing programs in more than 30 African markets over the past couple of years.
The firm boasts a balanced portfolio across corporate and consumer practices, with impressive sector expertise in technology and an in-house Creative Studio that includes designers, writers, strategic planners and digital talent, and provides a suite of services including native advertising and website design, video production and full-scale brand development. In the consulting arena, meanwhile, there is a an advisory team that provides high-level crisis and issues management expertise, broad stakeholder engagement capabilities, and a growing employee engagement and investor relations offer.
There was new business in 2018 from the likes of ABB, Comic Con, JLL, Liberty, Royal Canin, and Kenya-based SportPesa, while highlights of the work included African SABRE Award winning campaigns focusing on fraud awareness for Telkom and the “100 Colors” campaign for Unilever’s Dove brand, as well as additional Unilever work for Shield Men and media relations support for the debut of Comic Con Africa.—PH
Ogilvy’s origins in South Africa go back to hot advertising shop Rightford Searle-Trip & Makin, founded in Cape Town in 1976. After merging with Ogilvy in 1984, the firm dominated the local creative scene and flourished under the leadership of Robyn Putter (1950-2010), who went on to become the global creative head of WPP. Today, Ogilvy South Africa employs more than 900 staff across all marketing disciplines, in its three offices in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. South Africa represents Ogilvy’s second-largest PR team in EMEA after London; overall the firm is headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, and has offices in 24 countries across Central, East and West Africa, including an award-winning team in Ghana and a new office in Nigeria.
PR is now a key part of the firm’s integrated offer and its leadership: chief operating officer Joanna Oosthuizen, who is also the firm’s national managing director of PR & Influence, has built the PR offer over the past 15 years into one of South Africa’s leading reputation and communications teams.
One of Ogilvy South Africa’s differentiators in the local PR arena is its investment in dedicated teams of strategists and research/insights analysts. Last year also saw the launch of the firm’s influencer offering, as well as a new cultural relevance strategic framework. The South African team was shortlisted in the SABRE awards this year for its cross-channel #ShaveToRemember campaign for Philips and the Nelson Mandela Foundation to mark Mandela’s centenary, and last year it won a coveted Diamond SABRE for measurement and evaluation for its Life Uncensored work with Pfizer. In addition, the Ghana team has been shortlisted its work with Kosmos Energy and the Ghanaians Against Child Abuse campaign for UNICEF and the Government of Ghana.— MPS
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