by Herman Manson (@marklives) Today we reveal, as part of our annual Agency Leaders poll, which agency is considered to have contributed the most to agency diversity and transformation in the minds of their peers in South Africa during 2018!

This agency, in the minds of its regional peers, made the most-significant contribution to agency diversity and transformation in SA. While many of our voters would have focused on BBBEE as a primary criteria informing their votes, a positive contribution to gender and LGBTQI diversity came into play in some votes. While many of those polled noted BBBEE and gender equality as key metrics, they also noted a lack of information into LGBTQI diversity at agencies.

Instead of only naming the agency here, we invited it to share with us what agency diversity and transformation means to it — the business, its people and its clients.

Every year since 2012, MarkLives has been polling South Africa’s top ad 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. The first week we ran our Cape Town results, last week our Joburg results, and next week will be our remaining categories.

Agency diversity & transformation (South Africa)

Joe Public United

Pepe Marais August 2018
Pepe Marais, Joe Public United GCCO.

by Pepe Marais (@pepemaraisFor Joe Public United, sustainable transformation is both the heartbeat that powers every aspect of our business and the fuel that feeds our purpose — which is “to be the fertile soil that grows our people, our clients and our country”. And, as part of our greater industry, we believe we have a collective responsibility to grow our country by cultivating that fertile soil in which future generations will thrive.

Led by our growth purpose, we recognise the ever-increasing need in both our industry and our organisation to embrace diversity, particularly if our creative work is to resonate with our markets. For us, this is one of our key strategic objectives and has become a navigating factor in creating an environment in which people of all races, genders and diverse backgrounds are able to flourish.

We are also keenly aware that, as shapers of popular culture, leaders in the advertising and marketing industry cannot underestimate the role that we play in either promoting transformation — or hampering it — through the work we create on behalf of our clients; the narratives we perpetuate; the causes we elevate; and the heroes we hold up to our society.

Our recent collaboration with our client, Nedbank, to promote the Nedbank Money App, echoes this sentiment through a TV ad that celebrates SA diversity by unpacking the ‘see money differently’ brand narrative through the eyes of a transgendered individual, through a person living with albinism, and through a differently-abled individual, among others. All these stories mirror personal experiences of people within our own agency group and aim to uplift marginalised groups in a broader SA landscape.

Perhaps the most-significant aspect of our approach to transformation is that it has been, and is, so integral to the fulfilment of our growth purpose. This has meant that, fortunately, our own employment equity targets were already well under way before MAC Sector BBBEE codes became an imperative.

At present, 60% of our staff is comprised of black talent, while 50% of the seats on our board is occupied by black senior management. In 2018, we also had the pleasure of announcing a new partnership between Khuthala Gala Holten, MD, and Xolisa Dyeshana, ATL CCO,  as they head up the group’s new digitised above-the-line entity.

Our commitment to gender transformation is also evident in the fact that seven of our specialist agencies are led by female MDs, and 51% of our overall staff complement is female.

Internally, we promote growth through internships, training and mentorship programmes, nurturing upcoming young talents and enabling them to gain valuable hands-on industry experience within the agency environment. We have also created our own JoeGrow tool,which highlights and develops unique talents, producing remarkable individual results, while our School of Growth maximises individual strength-sets, taking into account emotional, spiritual and resilience quotients rather than only intelligence quotient, in order to grow effective, creative thinkers.

Externally, we support emerging black businesses and undertake CSI/pro bono work for clients including POWA, the Apartheid Museum and One School at a Time (OSAAT) — three organisations that we believe are fundamental to meaningful transformation and the positive growth of our country.

OSAAT is Joe Public’s own NGO, aimed at ultimately creating a better SA education system. At present, it serves to uplift two under-resourced and disadvantaged schools, in the process creating a pipeline for talented individuals to enter the industry, should they choose to do so.

In conclusion, we are proud to be recognised for our dedication to transformation as it continues to motivate us. Through our constant drive to do better than our best, and then better still, transformation reflects our commitment to pioneering meaningful solutions that inspire personal, industry and countrywide change — or, as we like to call it — Growth.

Pepe Marais is group chief creative officer of Joe Public United, which is also our 2018 Runner-Up Most Admired Ad Agency in South Africa.


Previously: In 2017, the first time we ran this specific category, it was Avatar.


How the poll works

In November 2018, we invited a panel of 120 agency executives — creative and management, and ranging over a wide spectrum from small- and medium-sized to network agencies — to nominate their most-admired agency and agency leaders regionally (for Johannesburg or Cape Town) and nationally (South Africa). 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 held 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.

See also


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

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