by Herman Manson (@marklives) Today we reveal, as part of our annual Agency Leaders poll, which agency bosses were most admired by their peers in South Africa during the course of 2018!

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.

The most-admired agency boss in South Africa

James Barty
Co-founder & CEO
King James Group SA

Jame Barty 2019James Barty heads this list again after a break of two years. 2018 was a big year for the group: it celebrated its 20th year in business, with significant revenue growth over the previous year and various new clients added, including Netflix, Cell C, McDonald’s and even Orlando Pirates.

The group consists of five companies — Atmosphere (PR), King James Group CT, King James Group Jhb (formerly King James II), King James Digital and Hammer Live Brands (events) — but share a single creative department for conceptualisation, which is then executed by the expert units.

“Management challenges remain around ‘short-termism’ on the part of marketers; it is also harder to be brave when corporate culture doesn’t reward it — the increasing power of procurement specialists to reduce our differentiation to that of just common units of output,” says Barty on management challenges and opportunities over the course of 2018. “We remain an overtraded market; however, digital services provide good growth beyond pure communications as we intersect business process and customer experience, together with good brand understanding.” He also notes a limited and competitive experience resource pool as an industry challenge.

Previously: In both 2016 and in 2017 Brett Morris, FCB Africa GCEO and GCCO, took top honours. In 2015, Barty was our most-admired agency leader for SA. In 2014, Gareth Leck (see below) and Morris tied for joint honours. In 2013, it was Gavin Levinsohn, then MD of Ogilvy Cape Town. In 2012, our inaugural poll, it was Barty.


The runner-up

Gareth Leck
Co-founder & CEO
Joe Public United

Gareth LeckJoe Public United’s co-founder and CEO continues to rank among the most-admired agency bosses in the SA advertising industry’s primary market. In spite of what many would describe as one of the most-challenging years faced by the industry in a long time, Joe Public still managed to grow both its revenue and staff count on a year-to-year basis, off an already high base. The agency also won a wide range of new accounts, including business from SABMiller and Revlon.

“With the challenging economic conditions in 2018 and the increased pressure by our clients to deliver more-efficient, -integrated campaigns at speed, the key challenge has been ensuring our entire team remain[s] resolute in delivering the highest levels of creative excellence, as this is the only way we believe we will continue to help grow our clients and, in so doing, ensure our own success and sustainability,” says Leck.

Previously: In 2017 it was Alistair Mokoena, Ogilvy & Mather South Africa CEO, and Barty (see above). In 2016, it was Barty and, in 2015, Leck tied with Mike Abel, M&C Saatchi Abel chief executive partner and co-founder. In 2014, the runner-up was Barty. Leck was runner-up both in 2012 and 2013.


The contender

Veli Ngubane
Co-founder & group MD

Veli NgubaneNgubane is better known as the former CCO of ad agency, AVATAR, but during 2018 he took over the hot seat as managing director of the Johannesburg office, after co-founder Zibusiso Mkhwanazi moved into a group CEO position; Grant Sithole took over as CCO. Ngubane is now group MD.*

“We needed someone to impact on the Joburg office and to grow it as aggressively as the Cape Town office has under Mthunzi Plaatjie’s leadership,” notes Mkhwanazi.

Previously: In 2017 Nathan Reddy, GRID Worldwide founder and CCO, was named as contender. In 2016, it was Mkhwanazi, then Avatar CEO and co-founder, and Mike Abel, M&C Saatci Abel co-founder and chief executive partner. In 2015, the contenders were Graham Warsop, The Jupiter Drawing Room founder and chairman and Le Patron of Utopia; Charl Thom, FoxP2 GCEO; and Ahmed Tilly, then Black River FC ECD.


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

*Updated on 21 February 2019.


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

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