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A pioneer at heart, Robyn de Villiers, chairman and CEO of BCW Africa, left a successful career in corporate South Africa to found Arcay Communications in 1989. She was a first-mover in seeing the potential of the African continent for building brands, and has spent the past 30 years building a leading communications network across the continent. Her dedication has paid off: BCW Africa now has more than 500 people delivering services in 36 BCW-branded offices, and in 2019, its revenue grew by more than 25%.
BCW Africa has worked for some of the world’s most admired brands, from the World Health Organization in its very early days, to Kenya Airways, Warner Media and Facebook. During 2019, BCW Africa referred 55 new business opportunities into its network, with 60% converted into wins, including Siemens Gamesa, Pyxus, Hydromine, Vivo Energy and Cipla. Organic growth came from clients such as CNN, Cambridge International, Sony, Thyssenkrupp, Atlantic American Partners and Total, with the scope of work ranging from media relations to communications strategy development and crisis training. Last year, teams from Blast BCW (Indian Ocean Islands), D1 Maroc BCW (Morocco) and Engage BCW (Kenya) all won Gold SABRE awards for their client work.
By 2019, 62 interns had passed through the firm’s Starting Blocks programme in South Africa, and a further 50 interns are currently enrolled across the network. Thought leadership included the Ugandan team hosting its third Innovation Series event with PRAU, the local PR association, under the theme, Game-changing Creativity: The Road to Hypergrowth in Hospitality, while ICONProd BCW (Cameroon)celebrated its 10th anniversary, growing from a micro-enterprise in the DRC to become an integrated agency working in five Central African countries. — MPS
Founded in 2011 by ex-journalist Tom Manners and Nic Simmonds, Clockwork’s name might reference the Stanley Kubrick film, but this communications firm is rather more optimistic than that dystopian image might suggest. Winner of African Agency of the Year honours in 2017 and 2018, thanks to a pioneering focus on digital, which set it apart from many of its peers in South Africa’s competitive PR market. The firm chose to take stock in 2018, introducing a more insight and data-focused approach to complement its existing stregnths in create and production. Those investments paid off in 2019, when the firm grew 20% to $4.8m, bolstered by new clients such as the fiercely-contested Standard Bank consumer PR account, Hyundai’s digital portfolio, Emirates, ViacomCBS and Netflix’s digital editorial account, which join a roster that features a global remit for Microsoft and lengthy relationships with LG, Seacom, Exxaro and La Liga.
The new business, notably Standard Bank and Hyundai, reflect Clockwork’s innovation beyond the market’s traditional focus on media relations. A team of ten has used consumer insight to redefine Standard Bank’s communications narrative, while live news and social dashboards are used to define the user journey for Hyundai and other clients. Meanwhile, the firm also produces short videos and documentaries for Netflix, while also delivering online projects for such clients as ABInbev, Expedia and Seacom. And its remit for Microsoft, across 46 markets, has included headline projects in such markets as France, Germany, Brazil, Japan and Canada, helping it land recognition at Cannes in 2019. In 2020, Clockworkd’s remit will expand to include community management for 18 key markets. — AS
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—the Johannesburg office has quadruped in size over the past four years to more than 80 people. The firm boasts a balanced portfolio across corporate and consumer practices, with an in-house creative studio that includes designers, writers, and digital talent, as well as high-level crisis and issues management expertise, broad stakeholder engagement capabilities, and a growing employee engagement and investor relations offer.
Like most South African agencies, Edelman has seen a steady increase in the number of RFPs with a pan-continental focus, and last year it responded to the trend by acquiring Gina Din Corporate Communications, one of Kenya’s oldest and most respected public relations firms, an affiliate for three years with a team of 10 professionals delivering client across Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and—increasingly important—Ethiopia, which is home to the African Union. The firm is also looking to expand into West Africa (most likely Nigeria) and works with partners in Egypt and Morocco to executing programs in more than 30 African markets.
There was new business in 2019 from big global brands such as Hilton, KFC, and Roche (the firm’s first major piece of pharma business). The firm’s creative work, meanwhile, earned it four African SABRE trophies, including a Best in Show nomination for “Shield: Sbonis’IDiski” for Unilever South Africa’s Shield brand; and Gold awards for “Dove 100 Colours of Africa,” also for Unilever, “KFC Proposal” for KFC South Africa.—PH
The strength of its Africa leadership led Ogilvy to promote its national managing director of PR & influence, Joanna Oosthuizen, to the EMEA leadership role in December 2019. Oosthuizen had built the PR offer over the past 15 years into one of South Africa’s leading reputation and communications teams, putting PR at the heart of the agency’s integrated offer, and growing the PR team from 16 employees into an operation of more than 100 across three offices.
The PR & influence discipline at Ogilvy Africa is now headed by another long-time Ogilvy leader on the continent: Catherine Karanja, who joined Ogilvy Public Relations in Nairobi – the group’s African headquarters – at its inception in 2000. The firm has offices in 24 countries across Sub-Saharan Africa, with South Africa representing Ogilvy’s second-largest PR team in EMEA after London.
Ogilvy Africa’s “Wings To Fly” campaign for Equity Bank won this year’s Platinum award for Best in Show at the Africa SABRE awards, with the firm also winning Gold in the financial and professional services category for Safaricom’s first mobile overdraft and Gold in the marketing to consumer (new product) category for its #LiveInTheNow campaign for Audi South Africa. The Equity and Safaricom campaigns are also both shortlisted for the EMEA SABRE awards. — MPS
Weber Shandwick (Interpublic)
Jill Hamilton—who founded her firm ZK Public Relations in Tanzania in 2003, became Weber Shandwick’s first managing director for Africa in 2010 and was made Africa CEO in 2018—stepped down in early 2020 after building Weber Shandwick into a credible force on the fast-developing continent, with a team of 25 in the Johannesburg headquarters, a start-up operation (already profitable) in Nairobi, and a network of 14 affiliates delivering pan-African campaigns across 30 markets.
Indeed, 95% of the firm’s work is cross-border with longstanding clients such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (eight years, six markets), GSMA (eight years, 15 markets), GSK (eight years, 15 markets), Eutelsat (six years, 10 markets), Abbott (five years, 10 markets), IBM (two years, eight markets), and WorldRemit (two years, eight markets). New additions in 2019 included Mastercard (a 14-market assignment) and a pair of South African leaders: chemicals and energy company SASOL and financial services group Sanlam.
The firm has expertise across business-to-business, corporate and crisis communications, fintech, healthcare, social impact and travel and tourism, and is poised to continue its growth trajectory under new leadership. Deloitte veteran Ipi Thibedi was named CEO last month after leading the consulting firm’s Greenhouse Innovation Hub and is charged with expanding the regional footprint. Also new is Ashleigh Burton, who joined as head of social media from Cheil South Africa (part of Samsung) last year.—PH
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