by Herman Manson (@marklives) Today we reveal, as part of our annual Agency Leaders poll, which South African agency fellow ad execs feel is the “one to watch” in 2019 — the agency from which they expect great things in the year ahead!

Every 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. The first week were the Cape Town results, last week the Joburg results, and next week will be our remaining categories.

The one to watch in South Africa!

Avatar exterior building shot February 2019Avatar

“We’ve grown revenue by 87% from 2017 to 2018, due to increased spend and scope from existing clients and new business wins that included H&M, SKYY Vodka, GCIS and Wits,” says Zibusiso Mkhwanazi, Avatar group CEO and co-founder. “We expect that revenue will more than double in the 2019 financial year, due to a new client win (the size of which has made [it] the agency’s biggest client as of December 2018).”

The agency employed 78 people in November 2018, and this figure is expected to increase to over 100 people in 2019, thanks to growth related to the new business acquisition in November. Apart from the new account wins mentioned above, project work was also done for BAT, Pendoring Awards, JoJo Tanks, Montblanc, De Beers Botswana, SANParks and Mail & Guardian.

“There [were] some big, disruptive wins [last] year: from SKYY Vodka to Chevron to H&M,” says Mkhwanazi. “We wanted to increase our private-sector clients to balance our client base and also up the creative work. We have very strategically set about what type of business we want and need, and where we could perform and deliver best.

“The first big win of the year was H&M. What started as a conversation to help this Swedish brand navigate the local space became a world-first: a TVC conceptualised and shot on African soil. Our team [has] been flown to Sweden to share insights and learnings at executive level. The next huge win was SKYY Vodka — a coveted account that set the industry aflutter. Followed by the Caltex ATL win. We had been their digital agency for two years, so to add the ATL work was a real coup. Both our Johannesburg and Cape Town agencies have moved to new buildings as a result of the growth. Another growth area has been the addition of our PR offering, which has won work for for JoJo Tanks, The Pendoring Awards, Montblanc, De Beers Botswana, BAT, SANParks and Mail & Guardian.”

Collage of Avatar workThe agency also made a number of important appointments to its management team. Co-founder and partner, Veli Ngubane moved from a chief creative officer position to that of group MD. Grant Sithole was promoted to CCO.

Further additions to the team include Heather Smith (ex McCann), who has been appointed deputy MD; Varsha Ghandi (ex McCann) as group chief financial officer; Temba Mazingi (ex M&G) as chief technology officer; Cindy van der Vorst (ex Zoom Advertising) as business unit director in Cape Town; Tammy Lehnberg (ex Y&R) as head of HR and Keri-Ann Stanton (ex Joe Public United) as head of PR. The new appointments have resulted in the Avatar exco being majority-female and ensures gender diversity firmly at exco level.

On the year ahead, says Mkhwanazi: “There is no slowing down. We [kicked] off a massive project 1 December [2018]. As we shift and expand, and move from disruptor to leader — no, let’s scratch that, game changer — so we will continue to drive the conversation about diversity. We are ready to move out of medium-sized into large territory in 2019 — 100% black owned. And while we seem patient, let’s be very clear: we are not.”

Previously: The Odd Number took this title for 2018. OFyt was our agency to watch for 2017; Promise and Y&R Group tied for 2016; for 2015, it was Publicis Machine and, for 2014, it was MACHINE (which merged with Publicis Worldwide in 2014 to become Publicis Machine). (2013 was the first year this category ran.)


The runner-up

No runner-up has been named for 2019. For 2018, Riverbed was the runner-up and, for 2017, AVATAR and The Odd Number tied as runners-up. For 2016, there were no runners-up but six contenders and one special mention. For 2015, Ogilvy Johannesburg/Gloo and FCB South Africa (now FCB Africa) tied as runners-up. For 2014, there was no runner-up (2013 was the first year this category ran).


How the poll works

In November 2018, we invited a panel of 120 agency executives — creative and management, and ranging over a wide spectrum from small- and medium-sized to network agencies — to nominate their most-admired agency and agency leaders regionally (for Johannesburg or Cape Town) and nationally (South Africa). 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.

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

Updated at 9.45am on 22 February 2019.


Herman Manson 2017Herman Manson (@marklives) is the founder and editor of

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