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Advertising group M&C Saatchi launched Razor as its South African PR firm in January 2020, bringing in respected industry veterans Dustin Chick and Kalay Maistry to build a new business in the midst of a recession and just as the pandemic was starting to take hold. Despite (or perhaps because of) the market conditions, Razor is the fastest growing startup in M&C Saatchi’s venerable history, with its senior-level focus and expertise in financial services, technology, public advocacy and measurement helping to underpin a very 21st century reputation management firm, bolstered by expanded investment in creative strategy and corporate storytelling.
Razor is headquartered in Johannesburg and also operates in Cape Town but, like most South African firms, is capable of continental coverage.
2021 must rank as a landmark year in Razor’s short history, with the firm surging by 230% to post ZAR$25.4m in fee income and headcount more than doubling to 26. The quality of the firm’s client roster continues to shine with new additions, Anglo American, The Beverage Company, Investec and Innovation African joining existing accounts such as Tiger Brands, Audi, Dimension Data, BDO and Discovery Life. Notably, much of Razor’s work involves strategic counsel, corporate positioning and ESG storytelling.
Chick and Maistry are joined by partner/ECD Chris Lazley on the leadership team, with the firm continuing to focus on senior-level talent, bolstered by a ZAR$1m culture budget. The latter includes specific training in such areas as stress and conflict management, while Razor’s prioritisation of culture above all else has seen the firm resign one of its biggest clients as it emphasises opportunity and quality, rather than growth and busyness. Razor is currently undergoing its first BEE certification, in which the firm will achieve the level 1 rating. It has invested in bursaries for high school students, hired graduate talent (with bursaries which allow them to graduate) and invested in additional tertiary level training for all black/female talent. In addition, the firm sponsored communities post a series of riots in the country.
Razor’s investment in creative has paid off to stunning effect in recent months, including five SABRE Africa awards, and six finalists at the EMEA SABRE Awards. Particularly acclaimed was reputation and public education work for Tiger Brands, along with consumer communication for Virgin Active and Audi, and some classy campaigning for the NSPCA.
— Arun Sudhaman
BCW Africa’s indomitable spirit got it through 2021, a year which began with great change as founder and industry pioneer Robyn de Villiers – one of the first agency leaders to recognise the need for local representation in every market – stepped down as CEO after 33 years at the helm. Under the new leadership of co-managing directors Bridget von Holdt and Karl Haechler, the firm not only stayed steady but has entered a new phase of growth. During the year, the agency fine-tuned its proprietary approach to developing communications strategy collaboratively with clients via deep-dive workshops, and increased its focus on issues management and crisis communications for a growing list of public sector and private clients across multiple sectors and countries.
BCW has a total of 36 branded offices across Africa, including owned offices in South Africa (Johannesburg, Cape Town) and Kenya (Nairobi).
In 2021 BCW Africa grew revenue by 61% on 2020, and referred 184 new business opportunities into the network, 88% of which were converted into wins. Over 30% of revenue in 2021 came from work beyond South Africa’s borders. New clients won in 2021 included AstraZeneca, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, tech company BCX, insurance firm Hollard, Bloomberg and Kimberly-Clarke. Including its affiliate partners, more than 500 people work across the BCW Africa network, servicing clients including CNN, Warner Media, Vedanta, Facebook, Danone Nutricia Côte d’Ivoire, Del Monte Kenya, Toyota Kenya, Kenya Civil Aviation Authority, Mastercard Foundation, Bank of Africa and Airtel Nigeria.
BCW Africa strives to have a staff that is representative of country demographics and to include both men and women in an industry which is largely dominated in the region by women. Today the South Africa team is 78% people of colour and 71% women, of whom 80% are women of colour. Through the BCW Africa Training Academy, the agency provides communications skills training to young up-and-coming communications professionals, staff and partners and bespoke training for clients and the broader industry, including on reputation management, crisis management and crisis communications, media and spokesperson preparedness, storytelling and message development, presentation skills and personal branding. The virtual Starting Blocks internship programme is now in its third year, and 187 participants from 17 African countries have completed the programme to date. Last year Yomi Badejo-Okusanya, group managing director of CMC Connect BCW in Nigeria and president of the African Public Relations Association (APRA), was the first African to be inducted into the ICCO Hall of Fame.
BCW Africa again partnered with the Ichikowitz Family Foundation on the second African Youth Survey, the largest survey of its kind to measure the pulse of 4,500 African young people across sub-Saharan African countries. The #ItsUpToUS campaign for the Mastercard Foundation led by Engage BCW in Kenya is one of five campaigns shortlisted for the platinum ‘best in show’ award at the Africa SABREs. Other outstanding work over the year included the Climate Champions campaign for WarnerMedia brand Cartoon Network, developed with global environmental organisations, which gave children across Africa the chance to accept challenges to tackle climate change.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
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 US$3.7m 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. And BHM’s geographic growth shows no signs of slowing, either, including expansion into the UK, Ghana and Kenya.
BlackHouse Media is headquartered in Lagos, Nigeria, where it also operates four other offices across the country. Beyond Nigeria, there are operations in the UK (London and Edinburgh), Kenya, Ghana and Lesotho, all of which adds up to 78 staffers.
Growth of 37% in USD terms would satisfy most people, but do not tell the full story of BHM’s expansion, which actually reached 87% on a constant currency basis. Driving that performance is the firm’s broad range of capabilities, which includes in-house content, software engineering, media brands, digital analytics and regional advisory. There was new business from Honeywell, Shoprite, ALAT, BMGF, Project Management Institute, Showmax and Jumia, joining a client roster that features MultiChoice DSTV, MTN Nigeria, Coca-Cola Nigeria, Reckitt, X3M Ideas, Livespot 360, Nigerian Breweries, Lori Systems and Betway.
Adekunle’s leadership team also includes Femi Falodun, Enitan Kehinde, Oladotun Ayeni and Omolade Opanuga, who together have instilled a culture that aims to value people over profits. That has helped the firm win numerous workplace accolades in Nigeria, thanks to such benefits as premium private healthcare, fully flexible working and unlimited leave. The firm’s workforce is 70% female.
BHM launched the Africa PR and Comms report this year, in partnership with the CIPR, PRCA and ICCO — reflecting the firm’s focus on building a strong knowledge base for public relations in its home continent. The firm’s analytics capabilities paid off with the Diamond SABRE for MTN’s stakeholder engagement efforts at this year’s SABRE Africa Awards, while there was also eye-catching work for Coca-Cola’s World Without Waste initiative, Big Brother Naija, the Global Day of Influence and Project Safe-Up.
— Arun Sudhaman
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 three of the past five years, 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.
The bulk of Clockwork’s 130-odd staffers are based in South Africa, where the firm operates offices in Johannesburg and Cape Town. Clockwork’s London operation, meanwhile, has overcome a slow start to bring in significant new business.
The pandemic does not appear to have slowed Clockwork’s progress to any noticeable extent, with the firm returning growth of 23% and 27% in 2021 and 2020, respectively. Successful diversification beyond its core global social/digital relationship with Microsoft Xbox has helped considerably, with its digital capabilities driving new business for Pernod Ricard and Hotter, while content marketing expertise underpinned new assignments from Informa, Discovery and Peroni. Meanwhile, Clockwork’s consumer and influencer relations skills helped bring in Meta and BMW in South Africa, alongside integrated briefs for new clients such as Life Healthcare, Inverroche and Michelin. All of which join an existing client roster that features Standard Bank, Netflix, LG, KultraLab, Red Hat, Acer and Beam Suntory.
A new ‘semigration’ policy has opened up the option of relocation and hybrid work for all employees, reflecting the culture of trust and autonomy that Manner and Simmonds have instilled at Clockwork. While executive head of client serviceLynne Krawchuk departed, Clockwork bolstered its leadership team with the appointments of PR director Penny Potsamai and client service director Mathabo Diale while, in the UK, MD Richard Dutton and chief strategy officer Marcus Reynolds have played a major role in the firm’s evolution into a global agency. In 2021, furthermore, Clockwork improved its Black Economic Empowerment rating to level 1, 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 South African operation is now 18%.
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. The firm’s research focus includes proprietary insights focusing on such areas as Gen Z channel preferences, CTO trends in enterprise tech, and gaming, while Simmonds’ EMBA thesis focused on the key drivers of successful creative leadership. Campaign highlights included the #RewriteOurProverbs to #WriteOffGBV for Green Door, along with work for Meta, Netflix and Acer.
— Arun Sudhaman
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.
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.
One of a handful of markets that did not suffer a revenue decline as a result of the pandemic in 2020, Edelman followed that year’s 13% increase with another 31% growth year in 2022—consolidating its position as one of the preeminent multinationals on the African market, with a team of about 90 split between South Africa and Kenya. There was new business from the likes of Woolworths, Coca-Cola, Heineken, the Mastercard Foundation, Spotify, Africa-based international investment firm Naspers, and Women Deliver.
With a strong leadership team spearheaded by Jordan Rittenberry (now responsible for Africa and the Middle-East), Edelman has been adding talent over the past 12 months, with Corazon Sefu, former group communications manager of Open Capital Advisors, as managing director in Kenya; Tony Taverna-Turisan as sustainability lead; and Brunswick veteran Rache Quigley as head of corporate. The EMEA region’s renewed emphasis on inter-office collaboration has provided learning opportunities for developing talent in Africa.
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—like the support it provided to Kenya Airlines as the company sought to protect and enhance its reputation during the Covid pandemic. Elsewhere, the firm’s work for Unilever continues to stand out, from the “Brut Virtual Elevator Pitch,” supporting small business owners in South Africa to the #BeautyAtHomeWithU campaign focused on the broad issue of personal care for those at home during the pandemic.
— Paul Holmes
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