by Herman Manson (@marklives) Emmet O’ Hanlon, chief executive officer of DDB South Africa and managing director for the sub-Saharan Africa region at DDB, is leaving at the end of 2019, having spent 16 years there — eight of which were as CEO in SA. While he’s taking a sabbatical and plans to return to the agency world later in 2020, he confirmed that he’s not taken up a new position as yet, and that he’s sold back his shareholding in the ad agency to Omnicom and has completed his earnout.

Mel Daniels, previously MD of Openco and currently chief of staff at TBWA\ South Africa, will take over as CEO. The transition has been happening over the last three months and Daniels forms the new core management team together with Conan Green, DDB SA executive creative director.

Career highlights so far

O’ Hanlon joined the local agency as strategy director in 2004, from BMP DDB London, to work on Unilever alongside Glen Lomas. Careers highlights include seeing the agency awarded a Lifetime Grand Prix in 2019 at the final APEX Awards for its 2014 APEX Grand Prix winning campaign for its “FNB Switch — Beating the Beep out of Beep Bank”. In 2008, the agency won a Cannes Lions Grand Prix for its “Never let their toys die” campaign for Eveready.

Winning the Telkom account as a mid-sized agency was another highlight for O’ Hanlon. Losing said account, following a changing of the guard, also counts as one of his biggest challenges, as did the loss of Unilever through a global realignment, says O’Hanlon. But the agency managed to pick up new business, including African Bank’s digital business, Plascon and MiWay accounts in 2018.

O’ Hanlon says he is most proud of building an agency with a culture that eschews egos and where he himself would be happy to have worked (outside of management) and climbed through the ranks. He’s also proud of pushing digital revenue to between 60–70% of the agency’s business. DDB currently employs around 60 people.

Expectations for 2020

For 2020, O’ Hanlon expects another tough year for adland, noting the likely downgrade from Moody’s, continued economic destruction wrought by load shedding, and an increase in talent emigrating overseas resulting in a talent crunch in the local ad economy. Agencies able to demonstrate they deliver effective value, are delivery-focused and that they increase client sales are best positioned to survive, he says, both by retaining clients and winning new pitches.


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

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