by Herman Manson (@marklives) Today we reveal, as part of our annual Agency Leaders poll, which ad agencies 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 ad agency in South Africa

Alistair King and James Barty outside King James Group Cape Town building

King James Group SA

King James Group is South Africa’s most-admired agency for a third year running. Year-on-year revenue growth stood at 19%, the total number of staff at 275 as of November 2018 and revenue at R220m per annum at the start of 2018.

New clients signed in 2018 included TymeBank, Netflix, Cell C, McDonald’s, BBC Worldwide, G-Star RAW, Sunglass Hu, Luxottica, USB-Executive Development, Trematon Capital, Stellenbosch Graduate Institute, Masterstart, Bob Martin, Sasfin, Bluewater, Orlando Pirates, Rawson, Inverroche and Trace TV.

Significant achievements in 2018 included co-founder and CCO, Alistair King — our 2018 Most Admired Creative Leader in South Africa — being inducted into the Creative Circle Hall of Fame and Lesego Kotane being promoted to MD of King James Group Jhb.

The agency group ranked third at the 2018 Loeries in the overall ranking by agency, as well as topping the table for executive creative directors, with Devin Kennedy and Dan Pinch ranking first and second respectively. Client Sanlam was the top brand, having won 16 Loeries, including a Grand Prix.

Previously: King James Group won in 2016 and in 2017, while Joe Public United took top honours in 2015. From 2012 up to and including 2014, Ogilvy & Mather Cape Town was the top-rated agency in SA for three years running.


The runner-up

Joe Public United website carousel image Feb 2019

Joe Public United

New business gained during the course of 2018 included Altron, Edcon Active, SABMiller (Flying Fish and Castle Free), CTM, Converse, Tour Vest and Revlon. Group grew revenue grew by 5% for the period Jan–Nov 2018 (compared to Jan–Dec 2017). Group staff numbers grew from 275 to 298 (8.5%), compared to Jan–Dec 2017.

The above-the-line agency, Joe Public, is supported by four separate but complementary agencies, namely Joe Public Connect (digital), Joe Public Engage (PR), Joe Public Ignite (BTL) and Joe Public Shift (brand design). Joe Public United led the creative stakes as it took top spot at the 2018 Loeries, Assegais, New Generation and Pendorings.

“The work that most stands out for me from the agency in 2018 are the campaigns we did for Chicken Licken,” says Gareth Leck, co-founder and GCEO and our 2018 Runner-Up Most Admired Ad Agency Boss in SA. “It was not only incredibly well-received by the consumer, but it also achieved fantastic business results for our client in a very flat market. We are also very proud of the Jet work we have been doing for the last year or so, as it is brave and highly disruptive for the retail category and it has achieved some very positive shifts in Jet’s overall brand health and sales performance.”

Previously: In 2017 Joe Public United tied with Ogilvy South Africa. In 2016, FCB Africa was the runner-up and, in 2015, it was King James Group. In 2014, results replicated 2013 exactly — with Joe Public Group as runner-up and joint second runners-up being FoxP2 and King James. In 2012, our inaugural poll, the runner-up was King James Group.


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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