by Herman Manson (@marklives) Today we reveal which agency is believed by fellow ad execs to be the “one to watch” in 2017 — the agency from which they expect great things in the year ahead!

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. First we announced the 2016 regional results from Cape Town, and last week we announced the 2016 regional results from Johannesburg. This week is dedicated to national results.

2016 regional polls recap

  • Cape Town: Here the vote has gone to VML and Y&R Africa Group. No runner-up was named.
  • Johannesburg: The ones to watch in 2017 in Jozi are both R\VERBED and The Odd Number. The runner-up is AVATAR.


The one to watch in 2017!

OFYT with Chris Gotz


This year, our one to watch for 2017 is a close three-way race between OFYT, AVATAR and The Odd Number. A mere one vote separated OFYT from its two competitors, but it was enough to push the agency into the lead.

OFYT merged with Bletchley Park in 2015 in a bid to catapult the combined business into a more-substantial agency play. In September 2016, it announced that Chris Gotz, former co-chief creative officer of Ogilvy & Mather South Africa and who has featured heavily in our Agency Leaders polls over the years, had joined the agency as its newly appointed national creative director after a short stint at Ogilvy & Mather Chicago. Sonke Dandala joined the team to lead the Joburg office.

OFYT picked up a number of accounts last year, including Airbnb, Metropolitan (BTL and internal), AutoPedigree, and projects from Bidvest Car Rental as well as KWV Wines (PR). “[We] had a strong growth of almost 20% [last] year, mainly in the last six months, which we were very pleased about in a tough year for the industry,” says OFYT strategic director, Jonty Fisher.

“…[T]he prospects for the new year look incredibly bright, both for Old Friends Young Talent and Kasi Friends Kasi Talent [a new agency operating in the township space — ed.],” he continues. “We’re developing a tight-knit team of eager young talent and multi-disciplinary highly experienced old heads that is itching to get stuck into 2017. We do feel that 2017 is our year to break out!”


Promise and Y&R Group tied as our One to Watch in 2015. In 2014, it was Publicis Machine. In 2013, it was MACHINE (which merged with Publicis Worldwide in 2014 to become Publicis Machine).


The runners-up (tied)

AVATAR and The Odd Number had the same number of nominations, so are named our joint runners-up this year.

AVATAR logo The Odd Number logo


The Odd Number

AVATAR experiencing rapid growth over the course of 2016, picking up significant business, doubling revenue, increasing profitability by 300% and staff count by 33%. It also agency opened an office in Cape Town, headed by Mthunzi Plaatjie, as well as a new online video production studio as part of a creative studio. The FM AdFocus Awards announced it as its medium-sized agency for 2016. In January 2017, it was announced that its founders had acquired a significant minority stake in M&C Saatchi’s SA agency network. This has allowed M&C Saatchi PLC to acquire a 20% stake in AVATAR from Avatar Investment Holdings. Since launching in 2015, the agency has grown from the two founding partners, Xola Nouse and Sibusiso “Sbu” Sitole, to a team of 18. Existing clients include BBC Worldwide, VIP, MSQ Health, Multichoice and Health Systems Trust. It most-recent account wins include Brand SA, the official custodians of Brand South Africa (one of two ATL agencies), and Heineken (TTL agency for one of its innovation brands, Sol). The agency won a Bronze and Gold Loeries, a Gold Pendoring and shared the Pendoring Umpetha Award last year.



In 2014, Ogilvy Johannesburg/Gloo and FCB South Africa (now FCB Africa) tied as runners-up.


The contender

Promise agency staff


Promise announced an empowerment deal in late 2016 which saw Verushen Reddy acquire a 26% equity holding in the Promise Group; it saw the agency’s BBBEE rating improve from Level 5 to Level 2 on the new codes. Promise launched in 2005 and approximately 90 Promise staffers make up the team in Johannesburg currently. The agency’s client base includes brands from AB InBev, Edcon, AfriSam, Renault SA and Virgin.


In 2015, the contenders were King James Group, King James II, M&C Saatchi Abel, 34, NATIVE VML and FoxP2 Group, with a special mention to Kilmer & Cruise.


How the poll works

Towards the end of 2016, South Africa’s agency leaders were invited to nominate their most-admired agency in SA, the most-admired creative leader in SA and the most-admired agency boss in SA. 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. 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 South Africa:


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

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