by Herman Manson (@marklives) A new boutique media agency has seen the light and hopes to steal the show as it promises clients a more-strategic approach and staff a dynamic work environment. It’s calling itself Limelight Media Consulting and has been launched by Ross Sergeant, a former OMD group director of strategy — South Africa, and Joanna Baikoff, coming from Mindshare (JHB).

Ross Sergeant
Ross Sergeant

The two currently work with 11 consultants (including a professor in marketing statistics at Wits) while they establish the new business.

Five-way pitch win

Limelight recently won a a five-way pitch against OMD, PHD, Tin Fish, and Carat for the Mentholatum account. Mentholatum owns brands Deep Heat, Natural Beauty, Soft Lips and Oxy. Limelight will be doing all media strategy, planning and buying for the company.

Other clients include the Soweto Wine Festival and the Department of Arts and Culture. The agency does pro-bono work for CANSA.

According to Sergeant, South Africa needs more independent hot-shop boutique strategy and planning houses for media. “Too many large buying shops don’t have the time and/or the inclination to give clients heavy-weight strategy and planning,” he says.

Sergeant has plenty of experience in media, having worked client side at FNB, Brandhouse Beverages and Diageo, and on the media agency side at Mediacom and OMD.

Primary focus

Limelight will work with existing media agencies, or with it own media partner, on bookings, but primarily its focus is (through-the-line) planning and strategy.

Joanna Baikoff
Joanna Baikoff

Large media agencies in SA, says Sergeant, have become focused upon bookings and offer little in terms of strategy. The work environments they have created aren’t conducive to creativity, and their employees are overworked. As a result, talent jumps between jobs, or leaves for client side. The industry in general offers little to young strategists who are forced into bookings before they are allowed up to planning and then strategy. Interns don’t stay, the people who don’t enjoy a great work environment, says Sergeant.

Mostly, these companies stay afloat by keeping billings in their own bank accounts as long as possible and surviving off the interest (with as much as R500 million in the bank at any time, you can see why they would) — so much so that, while he was at Diageo, that company paid its media-planning agencies 90 days later as money wasn’t trickling down to media, and the business was already paying retainers.

It’s a dim picture of the industry by somebody who has been closely involved in it for a long time. With, Limelight Sergeant promises to make strategy the centre of its service and to maintain a high level of industry integrity.

“Start with the consumer

“Media research needs to start with the consumer at the centre of everything,” says Sergeant . “Then the brand, then the media opportunity.”

The agency has access to all the industry media tools: AdEx, Telmar, AMPS, TGI, AdEx and RAMS. It is also picking talent whom Sergeant believes are dynamic and with a strong strategic orientation. He wants the office to feel more like that of an ad agency and less than a “glorified smoking-room”.

While global alignments are an issue for an independent, Limelight offers to work with existing media buyers while handling client strategy. Sergeant says the company will take on project work — he doesn’t believe in rewriting strategies every year — preferring more long-term thinking.

Criticism of media-planning agencies and their business models and offerings is nothing new. It’s certainly a positive indication that leaders within the trade are trying to turn it around, whether it’s a new generation of young leaders at the big shops or new independents coming to the fore.

If clients vote with their budgets, media planning will become more strategic, more valuable to brands and workplaces to those in its employ.


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

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