by Carey Finn (@carey_finn) Johannesburg-based full-service communications agency, Riverbed, has set high targets for 2018, in a bid to take the business to what CEO Monalisa Sibongile Zwambila calls “the next level”. Emerging from what was a challenging year for many in the industry, Riverbed is leveraging new wins and hires to bolster both its creativity and position in the market.

Monalisa Zwambila
Monalisa Zwambila

Advertising added on

“We started very much as an activation and PR agency, and then we added on our advertising competency,” she says. “What we really want to be in a position to do is make a difference in terms of creativity.”

Zwambila is confident that the recent onboarding of industry heavyweight Adrian Miller as ECD will give the creative side of the business a boost. “Over the years, we’ve always focused on being ideas-led, but we believe this appointment will really cement that and help us take things to the next level,” she says.

The addition of Catherine Blomkamp as head of design, to help shape and improve the craft coming out of the studio, is another move that Zwambila sees as strategic. “We’ve also beefed up our team in terms of design, and strengthened our operations division, which is key in terms of delivery and execution,” she says. The agency is identifying opportunities internally, and will be looking to start entering awards, such as The Loeries, to build its brand in the creative space.

Black-female-owned and -managed

Riverbed remains both independent and one of the largest black-female-owned and -managed agencies in the country. Over the past decade, it has made a name for itself as a leader in the transformation sphere and has snagged numerous industry accolades, including finalist for the 2016 AdFocus Small Agency of the Year award, runner-up agency to watch in South Africa in the 2017 MarkLives Agency Leaders’ Most Admired Poll, and Joburg agency to watch for two years running. Zwambila also took home the Business Achiever for Gauteng award in 2017.

A key challenge, she says, is sustaining growth while retaining the ability to offer an agile, nimble solution to clients. With client attention increasingly on the bottom line, against a backdrop of rapidly changing technologies, Riverbed has found these attributes to be key to success.

As the market shifts further towards brand experiences, clients are seeking agencies that provide them with cost-effective, integrated solutions. Zwambila believes that this is something Riverbed is ideally positioned to provide. “We believe an agency that can create brand experiences across platforms in a compelling way is where things are moving towards,” she says. This is something she feels has differentiated the agency in many of its current campaigns, notably its work with to change perceptions and behaviour around responsible drinking.

Account wins

The Association for Alcohol Responsibility and Education (AWARE) partnered with Riverbed towards the end of 2017. Other recent boons for the agency include accounts for Bridgestone and the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), as well as a large chunk of Unilever’s Sunlight and Surf business. This has helped it rebound from the loss of Unisa’s TTL account last year. Agency revenue tops R70m.

Riverbed has seen its fair share of offers from multinational companies but has no plans to accept them. “We’ve kept the global agencies at bay because we’re focused on delivering our vision, and we believe the time to enable that is now,” she says. “We’ve always been focused on building an independent agency, one of the most-renowned in the country, and that’s the journey we are on.”

Transformation and making an impact as a leader, too, remain front and centre for Zwambila, who is set to complete an MBA through Henley Business School later this year. “There’s a business case in our customers understanding the value of transformation beyond just a tick-box item. I believe that the transformation narrative has to go beyond BEE and sit in a space where brands completely understand the value of working with a transformed agency, because of the insights and understanding of the market that comes with, and the value that can be garnered from that,” she explains.

Riverbed logo • Ramify Premium

  • Office locations: Johannesburg
  • Revenue band: R70m+ (FY2017)
  • Staff count: 32
  • Key clients: Association for Alcohol Responsibility and Education(, Unilever, PPC, Bridgestone, Supa Quick, Nestle, Industrial Development Corporation (IDC)
  • Services: ATL, BTL, digital, activations, PR


Carey FinnCarey Finn (@carey_finn) is a writer and editor with a decade and a half of industry experience, having covered everything from ethical sushi in Japan to the technicalities of roofing, agriculture, medical stuff and more. She’s also taught English and journalism, and dabbled in various other communications ventures along the way, including risk reporting. As a contributing writer to, her new column “#AgencyFocus” is an ongoing weekly series updating the market on agency performance, including business performance, innovation, initiatives, the work, awards and people.

— One subscription form, three newsletters: sign up now for the MarkLives newsletter, including Ramify headlines; The Interlocker, our new monthly comms-focused mailer; and Brands & Branding, launching soon!

Online CPD Courses Psychology Online CPD Courses Marketing analytics software Marketing analytics software for small business Business management software Business accounting software Gearbox repair company Makeup artist