by Herman Manson (@marklives) Today, we reveal which Joburg agency fellow ad execs feel is the “one to watch” in 2018 — the agency from which they expect great things in the year ahead! This is part of this week’s announcement of the 2017 MarkLives Agency Leaders’ Most Admired Poll results for Johannesburg. Next week will be the national results; last week we revealed the Cape Town results.

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. We ask them who’s got digital integration right and — for the first time — who’s done best on transformation.


The one to watch in Johannesburg!

Riverbed logoR\VERBED

In 2017, R\VERBED celebrated its 10th year in business; it’s also been voted as our Joburg agency to watch in 2018 — the second time it’s clinched the title. It remains one of the few black-woman-owned and -lead ad agencies of scale in the country. Key accounts include KFC, Old Mutual, iWYZE, Fundi (previously Eduloan), Microsoft, Diageo, PPC and UNISA.

Monalisa Sibongile Zwambila
Monalisa Sibongile Zwambila

In 2017, it won new through-the-line business from the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), Industry Association for Responsible Alcohol Use (ARA), Bankmed and Diageo Empowerment Trust. It also won PR business from Bayer and Standard Chartered. CEO Monalisa Zwambila won the Business Achiever for Gauteng award in 2017.

“Our vision as we enter our second decade is to become the greatest, independent creative agency in Africa out of South Africa,” says Zwambila. “Riverbed will continue to conceive campaigns that go beyond the brand, to tell stories that help people realise their potential, earning not just share of market, but share of heart.”




The runner-up

The Make Beautiful Agency logo

The Make Beautiful Agency

Zwelakhe “Zee” Tshabangu launched The Make Beautiful agency in June 2016. After 17 years in the ad game and having worked on some of the most-loved and-awarded brands across the continent, he says, he kept on noticing something about the work he was seeing. It was ugly. So he did the only logical thing; he started an agency to produce only beautiful work — which he aptly named The Make Beautiful Agency.

Zwelakhe Tshabangu
Zwelakhe Tshabangu

For the moment, Tshabangu is the only permanent staffer at Make Beautiful but he taps into a broad network of talent, including photographers, writers, stage and TV actors, to produce the work.

“We were very fortunate to even go beyond one year,” he says. “Most startups don’t plus; unlike my friend Kev, I’m not a trust-fund baby so everything you see is all us — literally. No loan. No funder. No BEE. Just a crazy creative black kid who woke up and said, “Ef it. I’m gonna go it alone.” And, boy, was I wrong. It turns out there were other cleverer black talented kids who said, ‘Wait, you doing what? We in!’

“A couple of months later, we had a total of seven award nominations/finalists across prestigious award shows like The Loerie Awards, [Pendoring] and Promax BDA Africa. These would result in a Silver in the highly contested Television category at [Pendoring] and the coveted Gold at the Promax Awards, all in one glorious year for one of our most prized clients, Channel O.”

The agency does work for DStv (Mzansi Magic, Channel O and SuperSport), Hollard and the Gauteng Department of Health.

“As with any other business, we’ve had our ups and downs but we stay resolute, we stay hungry, we stay black and we’ll keep doing what we do best right into 2018 and beyond — creating beautiful work that works beautifully,” says Tshabangu.



R\VERBED and The Odd Number tied in 2016; Avatar was named runner-up that same year. Promise was named as the one to watch in 2015 and King James II was our runner-up. No agency was named in 2014. Quirk took the honours in 2013.


How the poll works

Towards the end of 2017, we invited agency executives to nominate their most-admired agency, creative leader and most-admired agency both in their region (Johannesburg or Cape Town) and nationally. We also asked them which agency did the best at digital integration and at transformation (a new question), and which agency they saw as the one to watch in the future. Execs couldn’t nominate their own agencies or staff members. All the nominations were then tallied up for the final result. The editors of MarkLives had two votes in the final poll.

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 stand out significantly above other nominees but weren’t able to close in on the winner’s tally. The most-admired agency of the year is disqualified from the One to Watch category; votes cast in its favour in this category are discarded.

Previous Jozi results


Herman Manson 2017Herman Manson (@marklives) is the founder and editor of

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