by Herman Manson (@marklives) Today we reveal, as part of our annual Agency Leaders poll, which PR agency South Africa’s agency execs most admire — another brand-new category.

MarkLives logoEvery 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, the second week our Joburg results, and last week our South African results. This week, we run our remaining categories.

The most-admired PR agency

Atmosphere Communications

Atmosphere Communications logoWith new clients Cell C, BBC Studios and Lufthansa, combined with existing clients Capitec, Sanlam, Cotton On, Pepsico, Santam and Pepsico, a 17% revenue growth in total income in 2018 and the most-awarded PR agency in 20 years of the PRISMs (having brought home nine awards last year), Atmosphere Communications is our inaugural Most Admired PR Agency.

The industry at large felt the challenges and pressure that 2018 delivered and Atmosphere was no stranger to these. “2018 was a rollercoaster year for agencies as the economic environment created uncertainty and some of our local and global clients took a wait-and-see attitude, with bigger projects being put on hold. Margins were under pressure and the conversion between marketing disciplines created confusion — and of course, for some of us, opportunities, too,” says Megann Outram, Atmosphere regional director.

2018 challenges also included an increasingly sceptical consumer using multiple communication channels, forcing the industry to stay ahead of the curve and keep its finger on the proverbial pulse. Sentiment and brand reputation remained key for all brands, no matter their size or industry. “PR specialists are now more important than ever before, giving frank counsel on the need to assist brands to keep communications upfront, simple, consistent, and authentic. There is also a lesson to be learnt and that pandering to popular public dialogue to further a brand’s agenda could backfire,” Outram adds, making mention of Gillette’s new ad with its #metoo edge that was met with both outrage and support. “The public can spot superficiality a mile away,” she says

The agency is most proud of the work it produced in 2018 for Siemens, called Fabric, partnering with sister agency, King James Group Jhb, on this campaign. “We cleverly took data from African cities and made patterns from these [that] we wove into traditional African prints which three designers interpreted into a fashion range. This was used to showcase Siemen’s AfroDigital project — data that enables Siemens to build SMART cities across Africa in the near future. This video shows it all,” she says.

Outram shares her top 2019 PR trends she believes will shape the industry going forward. The first is the importance of real experiences: “Consumer skepticism and consumption fatigue mean that brand owners needs to work very hard to gain loyalty. Consumers are favouring brands that provide immersive, personalised experiences — virtual and physical — across all touchpoints.”

Another is that bigger is not necessarily better anymore. Brands have noticed value in communication directly to a niche, micro-group. According to Outram, it ensures greater loyalty and engagement. Then there’s the ever-decreasing print cycle of our magazine industry. “Marie Claire was one of quite a few to end its print edition. With these titles disappearing, brands will need to explore different mediums for storytelling, such as WhatsApp,” she adds.

The PR industry exists to build trust for Outram and her final trend is fighting the inevitable rise of scepticism: “Fake news, lying politicians, and corrupt CEOs dictated the local and international news agenda last year — placing a serious dampener in our ability to trust anyone, including traditional media and social media. Building trust remains a priority, and corporate leaders and brands have to convince us of their ethics and realness.”

The theme of trust and transparency will overflow into this year and, for Outram, 2019 will be tricky and complex; PR specialists will need to assist brands and corporates to remain trustworthy and honest in the year ahead.

— Profile by Sabrina Forbes. Atmosphere Communications is part of King James Group SA, our 2018 Most Admired Ad Agency in South Africa.

Updated at 1.24pm on 27 February 2019 and at 3.31pm on 1 March 2019.


The runner-up

Clockwork Media

Clockwork Media logo“2018 was the most-dynamic and -challenging year we’ve faced as an agency,” says Tom Manners, Clockwork Media MD. “Although we managed to grow headcount and revenue, macro factors such as the political environment and economic stagnation definitely had an impact on the overall market. That being said, we’ve witnessed a rapid and exciting turn from niche players to a more-integrated approach. This has always been our model and it’s been extremely rewarding for clients to have put their trust in us and award us through-the-line briefs that have allowed our team to be less restrictive in terms of our approach. [We’ve been] looking forward to 2019 and everything it will hold for us.”

The agency saw 90% growth in revenue from 2016 to 2017. In 2018, it expected revenue growth to have been approximately 25%. At the end of 2016, approximately 45 people were employed; at the time of writing, there are over 90.

New client wins for 2018 included Exxaro (TTL), Gautrain (TTL), Emirates (PR), T-Systems (TTL), CTICC (strategy) and L’Oreal (digital).

— Profile by Herman Manson.


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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