by Herman Manson (@marklives) Ad agency Black has undergone a strategic rebrand and repositioning as Black Africa Group — a creative business partner focused upon creating brand value and exponential growth.

The agency is entering its 11th year as an independent agency, employees 35 people and has offices in Johannesburg, Port Louis (Mauritius), Nairobi (Kenya) and Kampala (Uganda). It enjoys Level 1 BEE status, revenue sits between R30–R40m and clients include Absa, Barclays Africa, Life HealthCare, Bonitas, the JSE, MultiChoice, Kenya Airways and a host of other brands.

Black Africa Group logoExecutive director, Veejay Archary, launched Black, Brand Strategy & Design out of the design component of Herdbuoys McCann-Erickson, of which he was a founding partner (and where he designed the ballot paper for the first democratic elections).


McCann had incubated the business in 2003 and 2004, offering support and infrastructure while Archary built out the new agency, which was soon working on the corporate identity for South African Airways.

But, by 2005, Black still found itself under the shadow of the Herdbuoys McCann brand, even as it was operating as an entirely independent agency (it is still 100% independently owned). The agency moved into its own premises to establish an identity of its own in the market. Chief executive, Marisa Holley, also joined the business in 2005. In 2011, there was a short-lived merger with Interbrand Sampson, which didn’t end happily for either party.

Veejay Archary
Veejay Archary

The agency has slowly been rebuilding and Black received its own renewed brand identity earlier in 2015 following, recognition by Archary and Holley that the business needed a new and clear driving purpose. “We asked ourselves what vale are we creating,” says Holley of the process. “It wasn’t about money — that is simply an outcome; our purpose is value creation for clients.”

Triangle of value

That value, she says, is created by combining brand strategy, business strategy and creative strategy into “a triangle of creative strategic intelligence that drives growth”.

The name Black, of course, also refers to adding to the bottom line and keeping business in the black. The agency needed time to prove, once again, its place in the market, something Holley feels it’s achieved.

In 2016, the agency will move offices to a new creative hub being built in Rosebank and plans to continue growing its industry engagement and profile.

The agency has made a shift into a more-strategic, creative mindset, away from just design. Holley says seven staffers are continuing their studies this year, including Holley herself — an MBA at the Berlin School of Creative Leadership.

Marisa Holley
Marisa Holley

Brand to Life

It is also in the process bringing to market a new service tool called Brand to Life that focuses upon internal brand engagement and service standards training.

“We believe that here are HR interventions and there are brand internal engagement tools but where is the integration?” asks Holley. “This product aims to connect with a company’s most-valuable assets — its employees — and to awaken a sense of collective purpose between an employer’s objectives and the employees, creating a sense of self-purpose with the goal of achieving value both for the employer and the employee.”

Black Africa Group will continue to expand its African footprint through a partnership approach; it already works in Kenya and Uganda on this basis. It’s important to have feet on the ground in different markets, says Archary.


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

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