by MarkLives (@marklives) For 2019, Fran Luckin (@effluck) has been voted by South African agency executives as their woman of the year in South Africa, with Steph van Niekerk (@twelvestephs) as runner-up. This is the second year this category has run.

Female executives aren’t competing on a level playing field — the majority of senior agency executives in SA are male and most men participating in our poll tend to nominate other men. Our challenge to them, and the women execs who vote in our annual poll, is to give serious thought to the women who play a pivotal role in our industry, who are admired, and who should be recognised and celebrated for their contributions to our industry. We hope that the profile generated by this poll category will contribute some small part to evening that out.

Until we achieve gender parity at senior management level, and in those invited to participate in our poll, #AgencyLeaders Women of the Year will play a role in punching out the glass ceiling women shouldn’t be subjected to in the first place.

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. These are the results for 2019 and this week we are running the following categories.

Woman of the Year

Fran Luckin
Chief creative officer
Grey Africa

Fran LuckinIndustry stalwart Fran Luckin (@effluck) has earned top honours in our poll, after being featured in the runner-up slot in 2018. She started 2019 with a bang by setting up bespoke WPP agency, Liquid, to service Distell’s top-tier brands.

Housed within Grey Africa and co-led by Luckin and Paul Jackson last year [Felix Kessel is now creative lead — ed-at-large], Liquid pulls together specialist agencies to deliver integrated work. “Setting it up was a really enjoyable challenge and a valuable learning experience,” says Luckin. “Building a team, doing the work of consciously and mindfully building a culture, while at the same time getting to know the business and all of the brands, really stretched me — and I’m proud of what we’ve built.”

In addition to the work done on — and by —Liquid in 2019, Luckin is particularly proud of the “Nozizwe” campaign Grey Johannesburg produced for Gillette, in collaboration with the late Siphiwe “SJ” Myeza-Mhlambi of 7Films. “I loved that it was a global brand executing against a unique local insight, and that it was a brand that celebrates healthy masculinity, honouring all the South African women who are raising male children single-handedly. It was a story that needed to be told.”

To Luckin, excellence in creativity is “the divine trinity of originality, relevance and superb execution”, and to achieve this requires continuous reflection and flexibility. “The game has become so complex and pressurised that I think it’s actually almost impossible to do all of your job 100% well all of the time, and still be an empathetic, kind, whole, healthy human being who lives in harmonious community with others,” she says.

“So, it requires one to be very aware of what’s needed most in the moment, and make adjustments. Do I need to be more of a manager now, or more of a leader? Does this season require me to be more practical, or more strategic? Do I need to be more hands-on now or do I need to withdraw a little from being available to everyone and put some time into planning and thinking?”

— Profile by Carey Finn.

Previously: Monalisa Sibongile Zwambila, Riverbed founder and CEO, was our inaugural Woman of the Year in 2018.


The runner-up

Steph van Niekerk
Creative director
Grey Africa

Steph van NiekerkTaking the runner-up spot, Steph van Niekerk (@twelvestephs) redefined personal success in 2019. Though she modestly describes last year as “very good”, Van Niekerk shone at both Cannes Lions and The Loeries. At the latter, she took home a dazzling number of awards for work done on TBWA\Hunt Lascaris Johannesburg and Ogilvy Johannesburg client accounts [she left Ogilvy for TBWA in October 2018 and joined Grey in May 2019 — ed-at-large]. She also scooped the top writer and creative director spots in the Loeries annual rankings.

“If I had to choose two highlights [of 2019], it would definitely be winning a campaign Gold, Silver and Bronze at Cannes,” she says. “Normally, we get to go to Cannes the year following the win, as a reward. Being there to collect the awards and carrying the SA flag on stage was a great honour. Second has to be The Loeries [last] year. I didn’t get to stay in my seat much; I think I went up like 17 times. We worked incredibly hard and it was a bigger ROI than I could ever have imagined.”

Van Niekerk describes the performance at Loeries as “a bit of a freak show”, saying: “I had 38 finalists across two agencies that converted into two Grands Prix, 13 Golds, two Silver and two Bronze. How did it feel? Totally overwhelming. Sometimes you can’t fully be present in a moment, because there is just way too much adrenaline coursing through your body. Looking back, it feels good. It still feels a little surreal. I just got very lucky with all the work coinciding in one year. Most of those campaigns took about 18 months to pull together, so after months and months of slogging away in the trenches without any tangible rewards, it was just the encouragement I needed to keep on keeping on.”

Another key moment for her in 2019 was moving to Grey to help build Liquid. “Joining a fledgling unit is incredibly exciting but it comes with its challenges,” she says. “It has helped me understand my strengths and my weaknesses, both as a creative and a creative leader. I am growing every day — and I’m lucky enough to be able to do that in the presence of some incredibly smart and talented people.”

— Profile by Carey Finn.

Previously: Last year’s inaugural runner-up was Luckin and the contender was Mariana O’Kelly, former Ogilvy Johannesburg ECD and now an Ogilvy global executive director.

How the poll works

In late October 2019, we invited a panel of handpicked agency executives — in creative and management, and ranging over a wide spectrum from small- and medium-sized to network agencies — to nominate their most-admired companies and company leaders of various types of agencies. This year we conducted only a national poll, doing away with the two regional polls for Johannesburg and Cape Town. 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 and could choose not to apply these in tight races.

Note: Runner-up(s) are only named if they achieved a good nomination tally, relative to the winner’s position. Contenders are named if they stood 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


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