by Herman Manson (@marklives) Every year since 2012, MarkLives has been polling South Africa’s top agency leaders to find out what they think of their competitors, whom they see as effective managers and great creative leaders, and where they believe their future competition is likely to come from. Today, we reveal which agency leaders were most admired by their peers in Cape Town during 2016!

Next week, we announce the 2016 results from Johannesburg. National results will be announced in two weeks’ time.

The most-admired agency boss in Cape Town

James BartyJames Barty
Co-founder & chief executive
King James Group

For the second year running, and for the third time since the poll was initiated, King James Group co-founder and chief executive, James Barty, has been voted the most-admired agency boss by his peers in the city. Barty also won in 2015 and tied for first spot with Claire Cobbledick in 2013.

Barty has continued to successfully lead his agency group through a number of massive account wins in recent years, including Pick n Pay in early 2016, which moved from Y&R after spending 48 years with that agency. King James won the giant Sanlam account in early 2014. The group have grown by 34% (GP/Revenue) versus last year (only 6 months of PnP revenue).


As mentioned, Barty took the top spot in 2015, too. In 2014, it was Adrian Hewlett, CEO of Publicis Machine; in 2013, it was Gavin Levinsohn, ex-MD of Ogilvy Cape Town and, in 2012, our inaugural poll, Claire Cobbledick (then MD of The Jupiter Drawing Room Cape Town) and Barty tied for the top spot.


The runner-up

Mike AbelMike Abel
Co-founder & chief executive partner
M&C Saatchi Abel

M&C Saatchi Abel chief executive partner, Mike Abel, came a close second in our poll for Cape Town’s most-admired agency boss. What could have been a terrible year for the agency, through the loss of the giant Edcon account, turned into a win when the agency took the Sun International advertising account.

It also won, Lancewood Cheese, Twinsaver and additional work from Heineken (including the launch of the world’s biggest apple cider brand, Strongbow, into the South African market). As a result, only two or three people — all with specialist skills — have been directly affected by the Edcon account loss. New business revenue gained R35m annualised and year-on-year growth came in at 7.4%, including the loss of Edgars. The group acquired two agencies, Creative Spark and Dalmatian.

Abel was also instrumental in the deal, announced in January 2017, for Avatar Investment Holdings, owned by Zibusiso Mkhwanazi and Veli Ngubane, to acquire a significant minority stake in M&C Saatchi’s South African agency network. This allowed M&C Saatchi PLC to acquire a 20% stake in fast growing agency AVATAR from Avatar Investment Holdings.

Abel expects the economic environment to remain tough in the year ahead. “Socio-political instability will continue to stunt growth through poor confidence. Fortunately, we opened our agency during a downturned economy and have never had the benefit of the tailwinds of a prospering economy. So, from the get go, we have had to look for smarter solution for our clients that will create significant impact on their business,” he says.

Abel describes his leadership style through the following quote: “A candle loses nothing by lighting another.”


There were no runner up in 2014 or 2015. In 2013, Barty was runner-up; in 2012, it was Levinsohn.

How the poll works

Towards the end of 2016, Cape Town’s agency leaders were invited to nominate their most-admired agency in Cape Town, the most-admired creative leader in Cape Town and the most-admired agency boss in Cape Town. We also asked them which agency did the best at digital integration and which agency they saw as the one to watch in the future. Nobody could nominate his or her own agency or staff members, and only agencies or execs who work out of the Mother City could be voted for. All the nominations were then tallied up for the final result. The editors of MarkLives had a single vote in the poll. The most-admired agency of the year is disqualified from the One to Watch category; votes cast in its favour in this category is discarded.

Note: Runner-up(s) will only be named if they achieved a good nomination tally relative to the winner’s position. Contenders are named if they stood out significantly above other nominees, but weren’t able to close in on the winner’s tally.

See previous poll results for Cape Town:


Herman MansonHerman Manson (@marklives) is the founder and editor of

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