2021 Africa PR Consultancies of the Year | PRovoke

2021 Africa Consultancies of the Year

The 2021 EMEA PR Consultancies of the Year are the result of an exhaustive research process involving more than 200 submissions and meetings with the best PR firms across the UK, Europe the Middle East and Africa. Analysis of each of the finalists across 20 geographic and specialist categories can be accessed via the navigation menu to the right or below. Winners were unveiled at the 2021 EMEA SABRE Awards on 9 June.

You can find the 2021 SABRE Awards EMEA winners here.

Winner: Clockwork (South Africa/Independent)

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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, Clockwork has since expanded to the UK and continues to benefit from an entrepreneurial mindset that focuses on strategy, creativity and measurement across technology, gaming, entertainment and financial services. 

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The bulk of Clockwork’s 100-odd staffers are based at its Johannesburg HQ, but the firm also recently added an office in London. 

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2020 was another strong year for Clockwork, which grew 37% to £3.7m, capping a decade in which it expanded by 26%, on average, annually. Much of the growth was powered by organic client expansion, for such clients as Microsoft, Standard Bank, Netflix, LG, Exxaro, Seacom, Hyunday, Acer, La Liga and Emirates. New wins included Netflix's creative account for South Africa, BASF, Beam Suntory, LG's PR business for South Africa and BMW. 

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At just 14%, staff turnover remains well below the industry average, reflecting the culture of trust and autonomy that Manner and Simmonds have instilled, along with increased investment in management and leadership training. The firm is also creating a young Black leaders forum as it attempts to transform its senior leadership structure towards something more diverse; it currently retains BEE level 2 status, which requires significant investment in a wide variety of initiatives, including ongoing staff training, learnerships, and the funding of a non-profit organization which supports the training and education of black females in marketing. Alongside these initiatives, Black shareholding in the business increased from 10% to 18% in 2020. 

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Clockwork’s client portfolio, including integrated creative assignments, digital mandates and editorial work, reflects the firm’s innovation beyond the market’s traditional focus on media relations. That has been bolstered by expanded crisis management capabilities, particularly for Standard Bank, while Clockwork has also invested more time in thought leadership, around such issues as Black Lives Matter and digital commerce. The latter focus is expected to expand in 2021 with the introduction of a strategic content hub led by head of strategy (South Africa) Daniela White and chief strategy officer (UK) Marcus Reynolds. The work bears out the success of these initiatives, including SABRE nominated efforts for Acer, Netflix (successfully launching ‘Blood and Water’ without a physical premiere) and Microsoft (creating the Xbox Hall of Fame). 

Arun Sudhaman



Finalists

BCW (WPP)

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A pioneer at heart, Robyn de Villiers, now chairman of BCW Africa, was one of the first communications professionals to see the potential of the African continent for building brands, and has spent the past 32 years building a leading network across the continent, building enduring partnerships with clients and affiliates along the way. As well as its full-service offer, over the past year BCW Africa has a growing list of clients in the areas of issues management and crisis communications. Early in lockdown, the team came up with the ‘Uncancelled’ offering to continue building brands and reputation against a backdrop of cancellations and postponements. This secured projects from existing and new clients and accounted for 10% of revenue in 2020. The agency also fine-tuned its approach to developing communications strategy collaboratively with clients.

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BCW has a total of 36 branded offices across Africa, including owned offices in South Africa (Johannesburg, Cape Town) and Kenya (Nairobi). 

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In 2020, despite the challenges of the pandemic, BCW Africa referred 33 new business opportunities into its network; 64% were converted into wins. New clients included the IMF, Facebook, Kaspersky, DAZN, Dow Chemical, Swissport and Vedanta. There was also growth from existing clients such as Cambridge International. BCW Africa now has more than 500 people working across its owned and branded offices, serving a client base across the network including CNN, WarnerMedia, Facebook, Viettel Group, Danone Nutricia Côte d’Ivoire, Del Monte Kenya, Toyota Kenya, Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA), Bank of Africa and Airtel Nigeria.

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Earlier this year, de Villiers stepped back from day-to-day leadership as CEO into a full-time role as chair; Karl Haechler and Bridget von Holdt, both BCW Africa directors, are now co-market leaders of BCW South Africa, reporting to BCW Europe & Africa president Scott Wilson. BCW quickly equipped all its people to work from home in March last year, briefing clients on the changing media environment and why lockdown should not means a comms shutdown, and taking the initiative to launch the impressive #stayINreachOUT campaign encouraging everyone across Africa to reach out to friends, colleagues and contacts and check how they were doing in lockdown. This went viral, with 4m hashtag impressions in 30 countries. In November, the firm concluded the final transaction that brings its Black shareholding to 51% for the first time, against the government requirement of 26%.

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The agency is well known for its contribution to the communications industry in Africa, including through its Training Academy. At the end of September, BCW launched the first virtual BCW Africa Starting Blocks programme, working with partners across the continent and building on the heritage of its South African internship programme, with 50 participants from 10 countries. The team also developed and launched the #BuyAfricaBuildAfrica initiative, in partnership with Brand Africa, Kantar and Geopol, and partnered with the Ichikowitz Family Foundation on the launch of a survey to measure the pulse of African youth across 14 sub-Saharan African countries, yielding one of the firm’s wins at the Africa SABRE awards 2021.

Maja Pawinska Sims

BlackHouse Media (Nigeria/Independent)

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In 2006, Ayeni Adekunle, who was a journalist at the time, launched Nigeria’s BlackHouse Media with the goal of building Africa’s first truly global PR firm by leveraging insights into different markets, relationships, industry expertise and technology. Since then, BHM has grown into a €1.9 million operation offering clients a range of services — reputation management and corporate comms, media relations and training, research, and social media among others. The firm produces an annual PR industry report, created a BHM App (a resource for media and journalists) and digital agency ID Africa, as well as Plaqad.com, an influencer marketing platform launched in 2020. This year, BHM grew geographically, too, with the March opening of offices in the UK.

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BlackHouse Media is headquartered in Lagos, Nigeria, and has offices in London and Edinburgh.

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In 2020, BlackHouse Media was a thriving operation, whose 58-person team supported about €1.9 million in business over the year. New business came from Wema Bank, First City Monument Bank, Project Management Institute and Cars 45, joining existing key clients MTN Nigeria Communications, Nigerian Breweries, The Coca Cola Company, Reckitt Benckiser, MultiChoice and Livespot. And BHM remained bullish about business even when it was contracting due to Covid-19, prompting the launch of influencer marketing platform Plaqad and expansion into the UK. 

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BHM’s motto is putting people over profit, which was exemplified by the way the firm handled curtailing the effects of the Covid pandemic on its staff before forging ahead with conducting business. With safety in mind, BHM went remote before government orders, providing team members support from technology to therapy. Adekunle, who serves as CEO, was the only person who took a pay cut, forgoing 70% of his salary for six months. Other than Adekunle, all BHM senior leaders are women, including the firm’s CFO. Bracing for its 2021 expansion intot he UK, BHM started building out its regional support. Comms agency advisor Stephen Waddington and Magna Carta South Africa managing director Moliehi Molekoa both were named members of the BHM UK board. 

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While much of the world was hunkering down, BHM used 2020 to grow its business through bold moves — launching Plaqad.com, an influencer marketing platform, and investing in BHM Qomms, which the firm’s new UK operation will start offering clients to help with training, hiring, measurement and collaboration. BHM published its fifth edition of the Nigeria PR report as well as three thought leadership papers — Concept of Virality, Influencer Compensation Report and A Look into the Future. 2020’s hallmark work includes supporting the release of the first animated feature film made by and for Nigerians, a multi-tiered campaign to raise awareness of Covid in the southwest part of the country and promoting the popular reality show BBNaija as reason to stay home during the pandemic.

Diana Marszalek

Edelman (DJE Holdings)

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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 and picked up our African Consultancy of the Year award in 2020.

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Like many global agencies, Edelman hubs a good deal of its pan-African work out of South Africa, but in 2019 it took an important step to establishing a broader footprint, 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. While plans for an western Africa acquisition did not come to fruition last year, a major expansion is still on the cards.

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The coronavirus notwithstanding, Edelman’s African operations enjoyed 13% growth in 2020, which means that over the past five years the firm has enjoyed 23% per annum growth. In South Africa, the establishment of a studio in Johannesburg has helped the firm move beyond traditional PR into broader creative work for clients such as IKEA and Shell, while in Kenya the firm’s reputation helped it pick up crisis-related work for blue-chip brands like Kenya Airlines and Nestle. Existing clients such as Unilever and Standard Bank also expanded their work in the region.

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The emphasis on greater collaboration that accompanied Ed Williams’ promotion to CEO of EMEA manifested itself in the merger of Edelman’s Africa and Middle East operations, creating a new operation—with Rittenberry as chairman and former Middle East CEO Omar Qirem as chief strategy officer for the two regions. That gives the young, fast-growing Africa team access to some established senior talent in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

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Edelman’s flagship thought leadership piece, the Trust Barometer, has expanded into Africa over the past couple of years, providing it with an intellectual platform for its corporate work. At the same time, the firm’s creative output has been impressive: the firm’s work rebuilding stakeholder trust in Kenya Airlines is a finalist for Best in Show at the African SABRE Awards, and there was an additional trophy for the firm’s work on behalf of Unilever’s Brut brand.

Paul Holmes

Image Merchants (Nigeria/Independent)

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Twenty years after Yushau Shuaib launched the firm, Nigeria’s Image Merchants Promotions (IMPR) has grown into a public affairs powerhouse, with a client roster populated by the likes of the country’s military, drug enforcement agency and central bank. The firm also has a robust crisis communications offering and, equally impressive, is IMPR leadership, topped by individuals who have served in government roles, authored books and run digital publications and TV stations. Yet despite its institutional ties, neither the firm, nor its output, is staid. Rather, IMPR prides itself on a staff that’s well-equipped to help protect the integrity and reputation of the firm’s institutional clients, but also young and dynamic enough to push the envelope just enough into realms from social media to digital publishing.

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IMPR is based in Nigeria’s capital Abuja and has an office in the northern city Kano. 

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Going into 2020, IMPR already had a lock on many of Nigeria’s premier government accounts, and still managed to add more last year despite the swath of challenges the industry grappled with. New business from the Nigerian Communications Commission, National Information Technology Development Agency, Army, Tertiary Education Trust Fund and National Youth Service Corps among others expanded a roster of existing clients including Nigeria’s Airforce, Navy, Police, Customs Service, Prison Service and Defence Headquarters and Central Bank. All of which is a testament to IMPR’s effort, and ability, to remain active and engaged despite Covid restrictions, quickly moving everything from day-to-day internal activities to client-related interviews, press conferences and reports online. Little changed beyond in-person interactions. 

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IMPR’s success stems from the strength of its top leaders, who are not only astute communicators but bring government, academic and digital expertise — and know how to leverage it to emerge as one of the industry’s most creative PR firms. Founder and managing director Yushau Shuaib is a highly regarded commentator on national and international issues and author, including among his credit the book Boko Haram Media War: An Encounter with the Spymaster. Board chairman Sule Yau Sule is a Nigerian Institute of Public Relations fellow and brings insight into the inner workings of IMPR clients, having spent eight years in government communications. IMPR’s newest leader, special project manager, joined the firm last year and has since launched TechDigest.ng, adding the ICT and digital economy-focused platform to IMPR’s other publications such as PRNigeria.com, which publishes government news releases.

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IMPR moved ahead at full force in 2020, rolling out resources to support its clients in addition to crafting campaigns that sparked movement on their behalf. Well-versed in digital publishing (IMPR’s PRNigeria.com is a major news distribution site for Nigeria’s military, and security and intelligence agencies among others), the firm launched a new site, TechDigest.ng, covering the ICT sector and digital economy. The firm’s work garnered recognitions including a 2021 PRovoke SABRE Certificate of Excellence and IPRA Golden World Awards. Last year’s hallmark work included helping the Kaduna State Government create a peace summit aimed at stopping the ethnic and religious violence plaguing the area. The firm also worked with the National Information Technology Development Agency creating a tech innovation challenge that resulted in roughly 1,500 young Nigerians submitting their tech-based ideas for containing Covid 19 and easing the pandemic’s blows. 

Diana Marszalek