by Sabrina Forbes. In a landscape where the way we connect changes daily, the need to engage with each other has ignited the reinvention of one of South Africa’s largest 100% independently owned agencies. Enter Joe Public 2.0, which has evolved from a traditional ATL agency to one with digital at its core and is equipped to deliver cross-platform campaigns to all clients, through all the lines.


The term “growth” is meant to be synonymous with Joe Public United. Everything it does feeds back to the purpose of growth, which in turns underpins its understanding of the need to embrace diversity, and the leaders at Joe Public United stand steadfast in their aim to provide a rich, supportive foundation for all races and genders. By providing this guidance and impartial mentorship, the leadership team is able to watch its crop grow and weather the industry’s storms. Without pushing the metaphor too far, anyone who’s tried to grow something from seed to seedling will understand how much nurturing this takes.

The premise of growth lies in its ripple effect. As you grow your people, they help your clients to grow, which helps the country, which gives more opportunity for growth to the people, which allows them to help your clients grow, which helps grow the country… you get the point.

In January 2018, Joe Public United launched the School of Growth, taking the purpose of growth internally with a separate entity created to facilitate the personal and professional developments of the group’s staff. This SETA-accredited academy is starting small with internal upskilling of staff but aims to extend its services externally to graduates, clients, and other selected industry learners. The plan to create a school that educates the industry with coaches who’ve learned from real-life experiences of the environment and culture they operate in fulfils the founding purpose of the agency.

Growing greatness

Pepe Marais, group chief creative officer and co-founder, says that it’s his “deepest belief that human growth surpasses the development of only the intelligent quotient, and that the development of the emotional and spiritual quotients are critical to growing effective, creative beings.” He adds, “Growth is in itself a creative process [and] the School of Growth is a big idea that will ripple across our business from the inside out.

Growing Greatness book coverBook Extract 1: Growing Greatness — Pepe Marais tells us his story
Book Extract 2: Growing Greatness — Pepe Marais cuts his teeth on booze
Book Extract 3: Growing Greatness — Pepe Marais on meeting Gareth Leck
Book Extract 4: Growing Greatness — Pepe Marais on the worst is the best
Book Extract 5: Growing Greatness — Pepe Marais on business = being, too

Founded 20 years ago by Marais and Gareth Leck, Joe Public has gone from selling traditional advertising services by way of a takeaway-inspired menu to an agency group offering full services in advertising and communication through a number of specialist companies. The above-the-line agency, Joe Public, is supported by four separate but complementary agencies:

  • Joe Public Connect — digital innovation
  • Joe Public Engage — public relations
  • Joe Public Ignite — below-the-line
  • Joe Public Shift — strategic brand

Industry shift

The last couple of years, and perhaps leading up to the last decade, has seen a shift in the way this industry works. Clients are looking for increasingly creative ways to push their decreasing budgets further, while strategies have moved from traditional paid advertising media to digitally focused earned media. Many traditional agencies have acquired digital expertise and slotted them into their offering. Instead, the Joe Public United leadership team has chosen to evolve the offerings of Joe Public to include more digital-minded thinking while expanding and strengthening the existing digital expertise of Joe Public Connect. This way, who the company is and what it stands for don’t have to change.

What has changed, though, is the group’s full-service offering, which now includes an expanded repertoire with data, technology, and innovation as part of its core, along with a heavily digital mindset.

Xolisa Dyeshana and Khuthala Gala-Holten
Xolisa Dyeshana and Khuthala Gala-Holten

The evolution of Joe Public United has brought with it a new set of leaders. Each company, although supported by the group, is run by a separate team and this has given growth opportunities to some key staff members. It was announced in September this year that Joe Public deputy MD Khuthala Gala-Holten had been promoted to MD and, together with Xolisa Dyeshana, the ATL CCO, has taken full leadership of the ‘newly digitised’ Joe Public. Marais, Leck and Laurent Marty (group strategic director) have moved laterally across into group roles.

Expertise & collaboration

Each arm in the group works independently of each other, with some client-overlap, looking at each brand holistically. This allows a focus on expertise but also opens things up for collaboration, with every team having the best interests of the group in mind.

The work speaks for itself, and the awards this independent agency has racked up just this year alone only add to it — a total of 30 Loeries plus being crowned Loeries Agency of the Year 2018 is one way of showing Joe Public’s ability to consistently deliver creative excellence while pursuing a constant and uncompromising growth journey.

In September 2018, Joe Public Connect was announced as the Digital Agency of the Year at the New Generation Digital and Social Media Awards, following its success of being 2017’s most-awarded agency. It’s not only the agency which has been noticed and awarded. Industry stalwarts Marais and Leck were recently awarded the Medium Business Entrepreneur of the Year Award in the 2018 Entrepreneur of the Year competition sponsored by Sanlam and Business/Partners. The duo were also runners-up in the 2018 Business Category of Conscious Companies 2018, an award that identifies organisations which align people, planet, and profit in service of all stakeholders and seeks to celebrate leaders who’re committed to business as a force for good.

Real change

Growth can be a powerful tool to effect real change and, for Joe Public 2.0, creating a ‘fertile soil that grows its people, clients, and country.’

MarkLives YouTube playlist

Joe Public United logo 2018 Premium


Sabrina ForbesSabrina Forbes (IG) is an experienced and published writer covering the food, health, lifestyle, beverage, marketing and media industries. She runs her own full-stack web/app development and digital-first content creation company. For more, go to She is a contributing writer to

“#AgencyFocus” is an ongoing weekly series updating the market on ad 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