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There’s a possibility that 2014 may go down in history as the year giant multinational public relations agencies started paying serious attention to Africa, with a number of acquisitions and office openings.
But it is going to be some time before any of them catch up to Burson-Marsteller, which acquired South African firm Arcay Communications in 2011 and in February of last year rebranded that business—as well as 12 longtime affiliates with operations in 27 African nations—under the Burson banner. Uganda and Nigeria were added later in the year, giving Burson the most formidable pan-African footprint of any agency by a considerable margin.
The South African operation has a team of 30, ranking in the top 10 in the market, and expertise in corporate and marketing communications, crisis management, and media training, but is differentiated by its uniquely impressive ability to hub regional business and harness a network of 350 professionals in other African markets.
Last year was a good one for the former Arcay: growth was 17 percent, on top of a 35 percent increase in 2013, and there was new business from Abland, Alcatel-Lucent, Archroma, Carlson Rezidor, CNN (Angola), Development Bank of South Africa (DBSA), FAW, Ford Foundation of Southern Africa, Global Technology Partners, Ichikowitz Family Foundation, the Mining Indaba, Mogale Alloys, Oceana, StarSat, Orbis, Paramount, Southern Palace, Trafigura and Westinghouse.
Standout campaigns in 2014 include the “You draw. You decide.” work for Turner Entertainment, challenging the imagination of primary school learners from 2,000 schools in South Africa and Kenya; Paramount Group’s anti-poaching initiative; and ; and the introduction to Africa of Group FAW (First Automotive Works), making one of its largest automotive investments by a Chinese company.
Robyn de Villiers, founder of Arcay and chairman and CEO for Africa, remains a leader in the industry—one of the few multinational principals to hold a senior role in the African PR Association—and is spearheading the firm’s new thought leadership initiative, focused on the changing attitudes of the continent’s youth.—PH
Atmosphere (King James Group)
Atmosphere is one of the firms at the vanguard of South Africa's progression into a sophisticated public relations market. The 13-year old firm now employs 39 consultants and blends strategic insight and creative savvy to exceptional effect at times, bolstering its reputation as one of the country's more innovative PR firms.
In 2014, topline growth was a remarkable 50%, led by new business from Santam, Kellogg’s, Virgin Mobile, Pearsons, and MWEB. In particular, though, it was the firm's campaign work that continued to stand out. This included a 'tweeting couch' for MWEB; 'Be Safe Out There' for Santam; the 'Selfie Treasure Hunt' for Burger King; and, most notably perhaps, the 'One Rand Man' effort Sanlam, a social experiment where an ordinary South African lived entirely on R1 coins during National Savings Month.
There has also been innovation in its products, particularly the Atmosphere Media Index, which aims to bring higher level of sophistication to media measurement through a customised scoring system. Also worth noting is Atmosphere's staff culture, which it describes as flat and consensus-driven. and includes a strong focus on training and development. Almost 65% of the firm's middle management and senior team have been with company longer than six years. —AS
Magna Carta (Omnicom Group)
After a difficult period that sparked a restructuring of its senior team, one of South Africa's largest PR consultancies submitted a vastly improved performance in 2014, growing by 10% to more than $5m and, importantly, rebuilding around a more progressive content-led offering.
Under CEO Vincent Magwenya, this has involved creating a separate 'media house' service that focuses on content production, and at the same time developing a range of higher-margin reputation management services such as policy and regulatory advocacy, bolstering an offering that is already one of the broadest in the country.
In 2014, there was plenty of new business, including: Standard Bank Eskom's 'Operation Khanyisa' energy loss program; Samsung's Transnet Port Terminals; Engen Clicks Stores; G4S Camac Energy's; Basil Read Holdings; Pernard Ricard; Shanghai Zendai; Datsun; British American Tobacco; Edward Snel &Co; and, Rosatom.
Campaign highlights included a transnational campaign to position key client Standard Bank as a growth-enabler in West Africa, around the World Economic Forum Nigeria, and another to promote the bank's thought leadership credentials during and after the US African Leaders Summit in Washington DC. — AS
FleishmanHillard (Omnicom Group)
As one of the oldest international PR firms in South Africa, FleishmanHillard has benefited from an unusual level of continuity: the firm has only had two general managers in 30 years and the current incumbent Kevin Welman has been in place since 2007, after joining the firm in 1996. That kind of stability, which also includes senior executives Sharon Piehl and Vanessa Baard, means that FleishmanHillard regularly works on some of the biggest client mandates in South Africa and beyond, for the likes of Microsoft, Nike and SAP, along with new business for Barclays and the African Union.
Now numbering more than 50 consultants in Johannesburg and Cape Town, Fleishman's pan-African network has also become a major factor in its regional growth, thanks to longstanding affiliate relationships with local firms in key markets. The firm's offering is also one of the broadest in South Africa, spanning consumer, B2B, digital and social media, along with a crisis communications offering that focuses on social media response.
The firm has always had a strong reputation for campaign work, including previous efforts such as Nike Running. This year, the firm's #AfricaAgainstEbola campaign for the African Union attracted considerable praise, involving the creation of a 60-second TVC, along with a social media campaign. —AS
Waggener Edstrom (Independent)
Launched in 2010 after the firm extended its key Microsoft relationship to South Africa, Waggener Edstrom's African presence has quickly become one of the region's brightest agencies, demonstrating excellent growth and a flair for campaign innovation. The firm was led for four years by former Text 100 executive Marcus Sorour, who moved on to take charge WagEd's UK presence in early 2015, and was succeeded by Microsoft Africa comms head James Wilson.
Wilson takes charge of a firm that works for an impressive client roster, including Nissan, Cisco, Mustek, SAS, Infiniti, Microsoft, Money for Jam, One Young World and Samsung. There was new business last year from WeChat and Intel, and overall agency growth continues to dazzle, at upwards of 30% in 2014 to $3m in fee income, bolstered by increasing work beyond South Africa — in such markets as Kenya, Nigeria, Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania.
The firm's award-winning Microsoft 4Afrika campaign was the undoubted highlight, helping the tech giant re-establish its reputation for technology leadership in Egypt, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya. Other interesting assignments included social and digital work for Intel; some innovative communication for Money for Jam; and One Young World's initiatives.
Also of note is the firm's strong commitment to social innovation in Africa, which has underpinned an ability to punch above its weight when it comes to industry leadership, and helped distinguish the quality of its campaign thinking. — AS
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