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The Memeburn guide to the SA digital agency landscape

A few years ago, we gave you a pretty quick overview of the South African digital landscape. Much has changed since then.

For a start, there are now nearly five times as many South Africans online as there were when we published that article. That means that the audience for digital agencies to market to is significantly larger than it was back then.

An explosion of new technologies, and the rise of the smartphone in particular, also means that there are completely new ways of reaching digital audience.

Against the backdrop of those wider societal and technological changes, there have also been massive disruptions in the industry itself. Agencies have opened up shop, merged with other agencies, been acquired and closed down (all of these happening to some businesses within the space of a few years).

In part that’s what makes an article like this, which attempts to provide as complete a picture of the South African digital agency space as possible, such a monumental task.

We are nonetheless determined that this piece should live on as a resource to be updated and added to frequently (as always please let us have your feedback and suggestions on who we have missed: editor@memeburn.com).

We have also done our best to ensure that the article is as authoritative as possible, drawing on the Interactive Advertising Bureau of South Africa’s database, our own knowledge of the industry and the expertise of industry leaders.

Agency bodies

While all of South Africa’s agencies are, at some level, in competition with each other, there does have to be some level of cohesion if the industry is to function effectively. This is where the agency bodies come in. In most cases, they are member-driven and membership is voluntary, with the ultimate goal being to provide guidelines and help advance the industry — either as a whole or relating to a specific section of it.

Association for Communication and Advertising South Africa

The Association for Communication and Advertising South Africa (ACASA) positions itself as the official, representative body for the Communications and Advertising profession in South Africa. Among the duties in its remit is representing companies in the advertising and communications space to government, media and the public.

The body is voluntary and member-driven and is committed to self-regulation.

Key personality: Odette van der Haar (CEO)

Creative Circle

Anyone who’s ever spent more than five minutes in an agency will know that creatives are a bit, well, special. It should hardly be surprising then that they have their own body. The Creative Circle’s aim is to “develop and improve the standard of the South African advertising industry’s creative product”.

Key personality: Justin Gomes (Chairman)

Direct Marketing Association of South Africa

The Direct Marketing Association of South Africa calls itself “the pre-eminent direct marketing association in South Africa for all interactive and direct marketing disciplines, channels and technologies”. It also, however, acts as something of a watchdog in the space, setting ethical standards for its members and taking an active role in ensuring their compliance.

Key personalities: Vikesh Roopchand (Chairman), Warren Moss (Vice Chair)

IAB SA

Formerly the Digital Media and Marketing Association (DMMA), the voluntary member-driven association re-branded as the IAB SA earlier this year. The change was made in order to allow the South African digital media and marketing industry to benefit from belonging to an international body at the forefront of best practices in the field.

Key personalities: Josephine Buys (IAB SA Country Manager), Jarred Cinman (IAB South Africa Chair)

Mobile Marketing Association of South Africa (MMASA)

The local branch of the global body, the MMA is made up of brand marketers, agencies, enabling technologies, media companies and others. According to the MMA, its mission is to accelerate the transformation and innovation of marketing through mobile, driving business growth with closer and stronger consumer engagement.

Key personalities: Nicolle Harding (Chair), Nazeer Sulliman (Vice-Chair)

Large digital agencies

The companies in this category are the recognised top names in the space. While some of them have been absorbed into large holding companies or ventured into other forms of advertising and marketing, they all remain digital at heart. The agencies in this category generate net revenue (after flow-through costs) around the R40-million mark.

Aqua and Base 2 (IAB)

A long-time player in the South African digital space, Aqua Online was also one of the first agencies in the country to be bought out by global holding giant WPP back in 2007, when the company was worth just R28.2-million. The company works across web, mobile, interactive TV and kiosks to provide interactive marketing, digital solutions, research and interface design, plus hosting and monitoring. The agency is run by the highly respected, unassuming and dapper Brent Shahim, who can easily lay claim to the title of the largest and most profitable digital agency in the country by revenues. The agency has snagged, and continues to snag, some big corporate clients, and is the servicing agency for seven of the country’s top ten brands, including long-term clients MTN, Southern Sun and others like Microsoft, Coca Cola and Standard Bank.

Key personality: Brent Shahim (CEO)

Clicks2Customers (IAB)

In the decade or so that it’s been around, Clicks2Customers has become one of the pre-eminent names when it comes to paid search in South Africa. Founded by Vinny Lingham — of Yola and Gyft fame — Charlene Lingham, Eric Edelstein and Llew Claasen in 2003, it remained a very small company for a long while. The company of today is almost unrecognisable, propelling itself into the big agency leagues when it was acquired by online directory and mail service Interface, which needed to update its business model. Interface had an unbelievable boiler-room type sales staff selling directory listings to small companies, and Clicks2Customers predominantly sold Google ads. Put the two together and both companies soared, and the collective is now rumoured to be worth around R500-million in gross revenues.

As well as its Cape Town headquarters, the company has business development offices in San Diego, London and Sydney.

Key personality: Alan Lipschitz (Founder) Jonathan Gluckman (CEO)

Demographica (IAB)

Another quiet agency, but one that has been growing very successfully and profitably. Demographica specialises in direct digital marketing and was one of the earliest South African agencies to get involved in the SMS and email marketing space. From there, it’s evolved into becoming a big data driven marketing agency.

Key personality: Warren Moss (Founder & CEO)

Gloo (IAB)

Since its founding in 2005, Gloo has made a serious name for itself, winning multiple awards and drawing in big-name clients including FNB, Microsoft, the Discovery Channel and British Airways. While the company is majority-owned by Kagiso Media, it remains one of the few well-known digital agencies in the country not to have sold a stake to a global advertising mega-corp like Publicis or WPP — the group which owns Ogilvy. It was rumoured to have sold its stake to Kagiso for just R6-million, and now is an agency that is easily in the R60-70-million annual revenues region.

Memeburn has confirmed reports from its sources that Kagiso is in talks to sell its Gloo shares to Ogilvy, something which Gloo founder and CEO Pete Case fervently denies.

Update: Gloo was acquired by Ogilvy in late 2014.

Key personality: Pete Case (CEO and founder)

HelloComputer (IAB)

Founded in 2005, HelloComputer has been a different type of digital agency. It’s been a digital agency that initially preferred networking in traditional agency circles rather than digital agency circles, with strong showings at award events like the Loeries but practically unknown at digital agency awards and bodies like the Bookmarks and DMMA in the early days. This of course has changed, with the agency making a strong showing at both Loeries and Bookmark’s awards as well as many other local and international awards. Its big moment was winning a Loeries Grand Prix, which had the traditional agencies coughing in their cornflakes and Hello Computer saying “Hello, we have arrived”. It’s an agency behind some of the most innovative digital campaigns of the last decade (that poor, tweeting badger), something that’s reflected in the large number of awards it’s won both locally and internationally. One of its partners is also a rockstar. Literally. He was a guitarist for the erstwhile Dirty Skirts. The other partner, Mark Tomlinson, recently officiated at the Cannes.

In 2012, the company was bought out by Draftfcb (recently rebranded as FCB), a global advertising agency owned by the New York Stock Exchange-listed Interpublic Group (IPG).

Key personalities: Mark Tomlinson (co-founder), David Moffatt (Managing Director)

iProspect/Clickthinking (IAB)

A global digital agency with 60 offices in 40 countries and over 1 900 employees, iProspect’s South African team has some serious weight behind its back. The group made its foray into the country with the acquisition of Clickthinking and is widely expected to expand further into the African continent. According to Memeburn sources, the agency is apparently doing exceptionally well and easily ranks amongst the top-three most profitable agencies in the country.

Key personalities: Peter Stewart (Founder and CEO), Niel Bornman (Chief Commercial Officer)

Lighthouse (IAB)

Founded in 2009 by former employees of Habari Media, Lighthouse offers services including digital media planning, tracking and analysis for display, search, email and mobile media. It’s another very well-run and profitable agency. Earlier this year, the company was acquired by the Publicis group and merged with Starcom MediaVest South Africa. The owners of the company are highly regarded digital players, and the deal was rumoured to be significant, making the two founders very, very rich.

Key personality: Aaron van Schaik (CEO), Steve Waidelich (Co-founder)

Liquorice

Liquorice has shown some serious growth over the past few years with a 115-strong staff complement in its Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg offices. Those staff help execute its web, social networking, mobile, email marketing, CRM, relationship marketing and loyalty offerings. Alongside a number of South African awards, the company has also won a Webby award. After 12 months of negotiations, the company was bought out by Publicis subsidiary Digitas LBi in mid-2014.

Of all these agencies, it is one agency that has “gone deep”. It is an agency that likes to build long-term relationships, rather than do churn. These major, long-term anchor clients include Unilever, Distell and Sanlam. The agency has been clever too, opening an office across the road from Unilever and embedding itself in the offices of another major client, Sanlam.

Key personality: Miles Murphy (Managing Partner)

Native VML (IAB)

Native is one of South Africa’s largest integrated agencies. The company was formed from the merger of three South African specialist digital agencies: mobile specialists Brandsh, technology and content management specialists Cambrient and digital marketing, creative agency specialists Stonewall+, each bringing something unique to the party. The founders are veterans of the digital agency game, with most knowing each other from an early, pioneering digital agency called VWV. It’s been the agency with the most shareholders, so it is a huge feather in the cap of the founders that they made it work, and work well. In 2013, WPP bought a controlling stake in the company, through its subsidiary Young & Rubicam. The deal saw Y&R network partner VML acquire 76% of the company for an undisclosed amount. The company’s revenues at the time were reported to be around the R80-million mark, and it’s been a story of rapid growth leading it to be named “Agency of the Year” at the Bookmarks in 2013.

Key personalities: Jason Xenopoulos (CEO), Angus Robinson (Director: Mobile, Content, Community & Media), Ben Wagner (Chief Marketing Warrior), Jarred Cinman (MD), Kevin Lourens (Chief Growth Officer), Diane Wilson (CFO)

Ogilvy One

The digital jewel in Ogilvy’s crown, Ogilvy One has only been an active player in the South African digital space for a little over a year now. Internationally however, it’s actually bigger than the traditional Ogilvy & Mather agency. The fact that Ogilvy brought in Ben Evans, the former head of digital at OgilvyOne Worldwide to run the South African operation shows just how seriously it’s taking digital in the country.

Key personality: Ben Evans (MD)

Ole’! Media Group

Ole’! is actually more of a digital conglomerate than an a single agency, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a fairly substantial player in the space. Memeburn sources say that the company is on track to turnover more than R65-million this year. There are now five companies in the group: TeamTalk Media, MobiMedia, AddSuite, LoveDigital and HoneyKome (the digital Strategy company that knits them all together).

Its South African offices have a 100-strong staff complement, with a London field office providing an international edge.

Key personalities: Tim Legg (Co-Founder and CEO), Desere Orrill (Co-Founder and CMO), André Kruger (COO), Tim Satchell (UK MD)

Prima Arc

One of the earliest players in the CRM and digital direct marketing space, Prima Arc has existed for 20 years. In that time, its services have come to include strategic and content development, social, ecommerce and data strategy and implementation, among others. It has serviced clients like DirectAxxis, Pfyzer, and BMW for years.

Key personality: Peter Farrell (Managing Director)

Publicis Machine (IAB)

Launched in 2012, Machine brought together four of Habari founder Adrian Hewlett’s other businesses, namely: through-the line ad agency Big Wednesday, digital and social agency Domino, below the line activation house Habari Direct and Habari Research, a digital marketing research tool. Although it has a strong digital lineage, it does not define itself as digital agency, now regularly shooting TV commercials and taking on the traditionals. It has been one of the quieter large agencies, but none-the-less effective and admired within the industry. It’s known as a hard-working agency that “gets on with it” and the “agency everyone wants to be”.

The agency employs about 150 people across its Cape Town and Johannesburg offices and has used its momentum in the digital and below the line spaces to break into and disrupt the more traditional above the line space.

In September 2014, the agency was acquired by French advertising giant Publicis and renamed Publicis Machine.

Key personality: Adrian Hewlett (CEO), Tom Fels (Group MD), Wimpie Le Roux (MD Johannesburg)

Quirk (IAB)

You cannot have a discussion about the South African digital agency space without mentioning Quirk. Quirk started out as a web development company and evolved into the Original Digital Agency. Founded in 1999, the company has offices in Cape Town, Johannesburg, London, Durban and Kenya. Collectively those offices employ around 200 people. An massive acquisition by WPP in mid 2014 only pushed it further into the headlines.

Quirk is the acknowledged leader in the digital agency space and does much more than just agency. The company is strong in education (eventually acquiring the Red & Yellow school), building its own successful ORM tool (Brandseye), as well as dabbling in some less successful startups and spinoffs. Its leader and majority shareholder Rob Stokes is highly regarded, also publishing his own e-marketing tome which, quite cleverly, found its way onto every marketing director’s desk in the country.

Key personalities: Rob Stokes (CEO & Founder), James McKay (MD), Justin Spratt (MD)

Strike Media

A part of the wider Ogilvy and WPP group, reporting into Ogilvy One (after Ogilvy acquired a 60% stake in the company in 2013), Strike Media is a full-service marketing agency that has its roots in mobile. The company claims to be able to deliver customised mobile campaigns and also provide added value services such as strategic consulting and direction. The company indicates on its own website that its billings are over R40-million per annum.

Key personality: Russel Stromin (Founder), Jean Durran (CTO)

Medium-sized agencies

These are agencies that have built solid reputations for themselves over a number of years and could be the large agencies of tomorrow. The agencies in this category typically have revenues of between R12-million and R35-million.

Amorphous New Media (IAB)

One of the older, medium-sized agencies that to some extent has not grown as fast as its larger peers. In the early 2000s it was the main player on the Nedbank account and was slated for big things but today is still a niche player. Possibly this is because the agency was not able to transform itself from being a “web development agency” to a fully-fledged digital agency mirroring the evolutions that Quirk and HelloComputer went through. The agency is now a partly-owned subsidiary of the Times Media Group. The company specialises in building web and mobile sites for big businesses plays in the digital strategy, app building and digital direct marketing spaces.

Update: In mid 2015, Amorphous parted ways with Times Media Group.

Key personalities: Grant Shippey (CEO), Roddy Chakaipa (Creative Director), Linden Shearer (MD).

Avatar

Avatar is successful black-owned agency in what is arguably a predominantly white-male digital world. It’s founder, Zibusiso Mkhwanazi, enjoys a high profile and is a regular speaker on the event circuit, often appearing in magazines, and most recently appearing on a magazine cover. It’s big account was Business Connexion, which basically floated the company. It was founded in 2012, so is a lot newer than most of the agencies in this section.Avatar’s big moment was winning the Brand SA account, which is worth at least R17-million on its own over a period of three years.

Key personalities: Zibusiso Mkhwanazi (CEO), Veli Ngubane (Chief Creative Officer)

Bluegrass Digital

Bluegrass has been on the South African digital scene since the mid 90s and made its name as web development agency. More specifically, it has a strong background in implementing Content Management Systems (CMS) for medium to enterprise platforms – it is a Certified Partner of Umbraco, EPiServer and Sitecore platforms.

As the digital space has evolved however, so has Bluegrass. The company — which has offices in Cape Town, London and Johannesburg — now offers a wide variety of services in the digital, UX, and build spaces. In the mobile space, it’s been building both HTML5 hybrid apps and native apps since 2011.

Key personalities: Nick Durrant (MD), James Durrant (Director), Mark Hawkins (Operation Director)

Cerebra

Cerebra started out as an agency with a specialisation in social, with an anchor clients in Vodacom and Samsung. As social media has become less of a black box to the world, the agency broadened its horizons into other digital services. The company really took off when it merged with Emerging Media, a small PR company owned by the terrier-like entrepreneur, Craig Rodney. It was an interesting deal in that it spoke to the converging marketing disciplines of social media and PR. It set the agency up to be a strong content marketing player in the digital marketing landscape. It calls itself a “strategic communications agency”, with a specialisation in social media and PR consulting as well as campaigns and strategy.

In late 2013, global mega corp WPP acquired a 75% stake in the company on the back of gross revenues of around R17m in 2013. The founders were purportedly about to do a deal with Publicis, when WPP literally pulled the rug out from under its feet, concluding the deal in record time. Within the WPP group, it reports into Wunderman.

Key personalities: Craig Rodney (MD), Mike Stopforth (CEO)

Clickmaven (IAB)

A Joburg-based agency, Clickmaven specialises in Google AdWords and Analytics, landing pages, conversion optimisation and Facebook advertising. It does however also do work in the mobile marketing, marketing automation, call tracking and drip marketing spaces:

Key personalities: Sarah Cremer, Ferdie Bester

Creative Spark* (IAB)

In the four years since its founding, Creative Spark has grown from three people sitting in a Hout Bay coffee shop to a fully-formed digital agency of 40 people with a specialisation in digital strategy, content marketing, social media and web, mobile and app development. It is an unusual digital agency, in that the company owns also owns a digital publishing house in Burn Media, which publishes five digital brands, including Memeburn.com. The agency’s clients include broadcasters like DStv, eTV, Naspers and CNN, as well as technology companies like Philips.

Its founder, Matthew Buckland — who was the former MD of the Mail & Guardian Online — originally hails from the media world and has been a relative newcomer to the world of digital marketing.

Key personality: Matthew Buckland (MD)

Etiket

Etiket offers a number of services across the digital space, but has also branched into traditional and direct marketing as well branding and events management.

Key personality: Janhendrik Oosthuizen (MD)

Fontera

Fontera is an ecommerce specialist, doing a lot of integration and development work on the Magento platform. It also does work in the App development (for iOS, Android and Windows Phone) as well as digital marketing services in the form of strategy and consulting around eCommerce (design, UX, analytics, conversion optimisation, SEO, PPC etc).

Its South African clients include the likes of are Edcon, AVI, Baby City, Builders Warehouse and Juniva. Overseas we’ve done Harvey Nichols, Russel Simmons Jewellery, Pepe Jeans, Smythson of Bond Street.

As well as the agency, which does around R20-million a year in revenue, Fontera owns BEE Mobile: a level 3 BEE company that offers development services to parastatals and government, and Fontera Skunk Works, which is a startup incubator.

The agency was founded in 2003 and now has offices in London and Atlanta, as well as Cape Town.

Key personality: Simon Leps and Grant Fleming (co-founders).

Ikineo

It might seem a little odd to have a company as old as Ikineo in this section of the article. The company was, after all, founded in 2000. In the past couple of years though, it has evolved from its CRM roots and has done some pretty impressive work in emerging advertising spaces, such as immersive retail. It has also made waves at the Loeries and Bookmarks awards. It was the company behind those exclusive “Lucky Strike” parties and its mainstay client for a long time was British American Tobacco (BAT).

Key personalities: Joshin Raghubar (Chairman & Founder)

iLead Online (IAB)

iLead Online is part of the larger iLead group and first opened its doors in 2006. While it offers a number of digital marketing services, its main focus has been on web advertising and lead generation.

Key personality: Johann Nortje

Isobar (IAB)

The core of Isobar owes itself to a veteran digital agency known as Trigger. Trigger was one of the “big five” digital agencies in the country about five years ago, eventually acquired by Aegis. Post the acquisition the agency floundered and lost clients, but under new management is starting to claw back some of its past glory. Founded in 2003, the group employs 3 000 people across 37 markets. In South Africa, it’s still making a name for itself, but its global backing should mean you’re likely to hear more from it in the near future.

Key personality: Ben Wren (Group Managing Director)

Lima Bean

Lima Bean is an agency to watch. The agency is predominantly a specialist in web and app development, but now offers services across the digital board. It has offices in Cape Town, Joburg and the UK.

Key personality: Hagen Rode (MD)

Mediology (IAB)

Mediology is a network of agencies comprising MIX: a strategic digital e-marketing & media strategy, planning and buying agency, COOPER PR: a strategic public relations agency and engageME Communications: an ideas company that builds engagement strategies for brands based on deep consumer and shopper insights.

Key personality: Ana Carrapichano (Group Managing Director)

New Media Labs

New Media Labs is is a specialist development agency, and a pretty interesting example of what the future of digital agencies might look like. Like most development agencies, it does billed work for clients, which include one of the big four banks, building apps and social platforms that bring a community to old and traditional business models. Unlike many agencies though, it also has its own products, including the New Media Labs Custom CMS and Lenticular, its cloud-based social digital asset management platform.

Key personality: Paul Cartmel (MD)

Onyx Digital (IAB)

Founded in 2009 by Daniela Bascelli, Onyx Digital is a digital first agency that offers services ranging from web and app development to inbound marketing. Its area of specialisation though is social media, where it offers training, strategy, profiling and recruitment services.

Key personality: Daniela Bascelli (Founder and CEO)

Praekelt Consulting

Founded in 2003, Praekelt made a name for itself building platforms that allow people to distribute content or marketing messages to mobile users. This allowed it to take full advantage of Africa’s mobile explosion and, at one stage, grow 30% a year without any external funding. In 2007 meanwhile, the company launched the Praekelt Foundation, an incubator for mobile technology that improves the health and well-being of people living in poverty.

Its owner, Gustav Praekelt, is highly regarded and a veteran of the agency scene, stretching back to a company he founded called Delapse.

Key personality: Gustav Praekelt (Founder)

Promise

Promise straddles the line between digital and traditional and can probably count itself as pretty well positioned when the term “digital agency” eventually becomes redundant. The agency has been around since 2005, with its two founders doing most of their early business around a dining room table. One of the founders, James Moffatt, is the brother of HelloComputer founder David Moffatt. Evidently talent runs in the family.

Key personalities: James Moffatt (CEO & co-founder), Craig du Preez (Group MD), Marc Watson (co-founder)

Realmdigital (IAB)

Founded in 1999, Realmdigital is a development-focused agency with more of a techie twist than many of the other players on the list. It has built up an impressive specialisation in app development, and is the creator of Snapplify – an award-winning PDF-to-app solution which powered publications like the Daily Maverick and others. Its most successful client builds have been in the ecommerce space, including a Silver Pixel at the 2012 Bookmarks for its Exclus1ves Stickers Project in the Core Award Category for E-Commerce websites.

Key personality: Wesley Lynch (CEO)

Rogerwilco (IAB)

Formerly called 2Stroke, this Cape Town-based full services digital agency specialises in building corporate and ecommerce sites, although it also does work in the SEO, SEM and email campaign space, while advising brands on social media strategies.

Key personalities: Jakes Redelinghuys (CEO), Charlie Stewart (co-owner)

ROI Media (IAB)

A mainstay of the South African digital space, ROI started out as an SEO specialist, gradually evolving into a full services digital agency. It has built up its business targeting smaller and medium sized companies, rather than taking on the business of big, bluechip corporates. The company boasts around 40 staff and its founder, Alan Jaffe, is known to be passionate about the startup space.

Key personality: Alan Jaffe (CEO)

Saatchi Synergize

Founded in 2009, Synergize started off as a niche SEO agency, but rapidly transformed itself into something bigger. It was bought out by Publicis in 2013 and merged with Saatchi & Saatchi South Africa, allowing it to become a full service digital agency. At the time of the acquisition, which took nearly a year to negotiate, Synergize was doing around R20-million in revenue. Its offices have a staff complement of around 60 people.

As well as its South African business, the company also now operates in London and as a performance agency for Saatchi globally. In the latter capacity, it’s done work on accounts like Pampers, Ariel, Head and Shoulders, Toyota.

Key personality: Shaune Jordaan (CEO)

Techsys Digital

Founded in 2005, Techsys is a full service digital marketing agency whose talented team of twenty plus staff members craft results-driven campaigns and platforms. Techsys provides innovative digital solutions to clients including The Foschini Group (for which it developed a ‘Search for Santa’ mobi site which won The Inkosi Award at the 2012 Assegai Awards) and Namibia Breweries.

More recently, Techsys has been involved in a campaign optimisation capacity in a number of major alcohol campaigns thanks to its reporting software Brandtribe which allows brands to measure the performance of multi — channel digital marketing campaigns and calculate ROI easily.

Key personality: Andrew Walmsley

Thumbtribe

Thumbtribe is a mobile-specialist agency founded by the genial and popular Graeme Haley — along with Kathy and John Haley — in 2003. This primarily Durban-based agency was an early mobile innovator creating some of the first J2me apps in the country for early mobile phones. As technology evolved, the company abandoned its J2me strategy and quickly moved into mobi sites, creating the popular thumbtribe.mobi aggregator and creating mobile specific sites for major players like IOL. The company went through a growth spurt about five years ago with former 24.com mobile guru Russell Atkins opening the Cape Town office.

In recent times the company went through a downscaling exercise, and has in many respects been a victim of its pioneering, first mover advantage as mobile technologies have rapidly changed and many of its customers took their mobile development inhouse. The company’s head offices in Durban are rather impressive, situated in the middle of a golf estate. It’s a solid agency led by a solid owner, possibly looking to reposition itself beyond just the mobile opportunity. Its client-base includes the likes of Absa, Clicks, Unilever, Nestle, Samsung, Disney and others.

Key personalities: Graeme, Kathy & John Haley (Founders) Stephen O’Donoghue (Agency MD) Russell Atkins (Media MD)

Urbian

Founded in 2006, Urbian calls itself a digital innovation agency and offers services ranging from intellectual property to strategic planning. It also does integrated campaigns, social, mobile, user experience and analytics, among other things.

The company also recently launched Muzak, a mobile platform that allows people to affect the playlist at their favourite venues or even their own house parties.

Key personalities: Gary Willmot, Anton Moulder (Managing Partners)

Word Wide Creative (IAB)

This is an agency on the borderline of being a large agency. In fact when we update this list again, we have no doubt that World Wide Creative will be listed with the big boys. The agency was acquired, in a deal that was modest by recent digital agency deal standards, by the Sekunjalo group in 2013. An ace in its pack is the Heavy Chef initiative, founded by Fred Roed, one of its well-liked, amiable founders. Heavy Chef, built on the premise that you can’t trust a skinny chef, is a series of events focused on providing practical learning in the digital market. The company, which has offices in Cape Town and Johannesburg, offers services that include custom programming, social media strategy, search engine marketing, mobile web, ecommerce and online advertising.

Key personalities: Fred Roed (CEO), Mike Perk (MD)

Yonder Media

A rapidly growing agency, Yonder Media is based outside of South Africa’s traditional marketing hubs in Centurion, near Pretoria. It offers services across the mobile, social and digital space. Its CEO Rick Joubert, who is on occasion seen on the speaking circuit, hails from Vodacom where he worked with well-known digital practitioner and former MXit CPO Vincent Maher.

Key personality: Rick Joubert (CEO)

Small and emerging agencies

Some agencies are small by choice, others choose to build themselves a niche and own it. The companies in this category typically have revenues below the R10-million mark. It is perhaps the most diverse of the categories here, with some agencies having been around for decades without seeing spectacular growth and others making rapid leaps toward become medium-sized or even large agencies.

25AM (IAB)

Until this year, 25AM — which was previously called Acceleration Media — was a digital agency with a heavy focus on social media. In March however, it decided to change direction and is now a customer-engagement-focused digital consultancy.

The change came about after Amorphous New Media, a partly owned subsidiary of the Times Media Group, bought a 50% stake in the company with the remaining 50% still in the hands of Lagardère Active Radio International (LARI).

Key personality: Andre Steenekamp (CEO)

Always Active

A Durban-based mobile agency, Always Active is a division of Always Active Technologies. The company has been going since 2001 and is capable of creating, developing, managing and maintaining mobile campaigns.

Key personality: Alan Haarhoff (Chief Enthusiast)

Amnicomm (IAB)

Amnicomm is a a specialist digital strategy design company, which focuses on digital and mobile campaign management, implementation, and advertising experience. Along with its partners, the Durban-based company says that it’s also concerned with investing in and utilising local talent and technologies to help build the media landscape in Africa.

Key personality: Mike Eksteen

Anthropology

Anthropology has only been around for a few months, but under the direction of the well-respected Katherine McChesney, it seems to be building a good name for itself. The companies clients include the likes of Virgin Active, Burger King, Mango, Shell and Mweb.

The agency hopes to become a big player in the data intelligence and targeted direct marketing space.

Key personalities: Katherine McChesney (co-founder) and Julia Hellmann (Business Development Manager)

BNRY

BNRY, pronounced buy-nah-ree, does digital development across a number of platforms, as well as concept and design, digital strategy, digital media development and placement. Founded in 2009, the company bubbled under the radar in the early stages of its existence but some big account wins and some recent attention in the awards space means it’s one to watch out for.

Key personality: Benon Czornij (CEO)

Breeze Website Designers (BWD) (IAB)

Joburg-based BWD is a small agency that seems to do a heck of a lot of stuff. On the digital front, it does everything from animated explainer videos to strategy, web development and copywriting.

The company, which has been around for eight years, says it likes to see itself “as a small, flexible, fast-moving team with big ideas”.

Key personality: Bongani Gosa (Creative director)

Cavalry Media

Founded by brother Greg and Mark Wright, Cavalry Media is a Johannesburg based agency founded in early 2013. It specialises in bespoke web and application development, lead generation and digital communications. Having moved into the agency space after previously functioning as a web shop, it’s client base is slowly moving from comparatively small to larger names.

Key personalities: Greg Wright and Mark Wright

Clickshape

Clickshape is a small, UX focused agency but which can also do full-stack web development. The partners both come from a background in the Cape Town agency and startup scene, with experience in the UK and far East as well. It won a Bookmark in its first year of existence and has done work for the likes of South African publishing house Ramsay Media and Red Bull.

Key personalities: Joseph C Lawrence (co-founder), Tristan Owen (co-founder)

Clockwork Media

An integrated communications agency, Clockwork’s strongest play is probably in the PR space. It does however have a few other arrows in its quiver, including content strategy and production, design, ORM, and web development.

Key personality: Tom Manners (MD), Nic Simmonds (COO)

Conversation Lab (IAB)

A full services social media agency, Conversation LAB has offices in Durban and Brighton, in the UK. A number of its core team are TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris alumni who, it seems, were attracted by the though of building faster, less costly campaigns.

Key personality: Kevin Power (Managing Director)

Contentum

Contentum works on the premise that brands need to be the publishers of their own story. Primarily a content-based agency, it also audits brands’ existing content and provides them with strategies, plans and the tools for measuring that content.

Key personalites: Gillian Loos (Director), Lize Sadie (Director)

CubeZoo (IAB)

A small Johannesburg-based agency, CubeZoo works on both creative and digital products including full-scale digital solutions, apps, online games, marketing campaigns and websites.

The agency claims to live “life outside the brackets of the ordinary by producing industry-leading ‘digital’ and ensures that the beauty they create is in line with the business objectives at hand, or paw”.

Key personality: Nick Carapanagos (MD)

Digital Fire

Digital Fire, which has offices in Cape Town and London, made its name in email marketing but also offers database management, social media and SEO marketing services.

Key personality: Thomas Boyd (MD)

Digital Narrative (IAB)

Digital Narrative’s proposition is pretty interesting. The Cape Town-based agency builds augmented reality (AR) advertising solutions for the print space. It’s very much a niche market, but in a country where print is still a dominant force (especially in the trade and community sectors), there’s definitely a place for it.

Digitlab (IAB)

Although it’s probably most well-known for its work in the social space, Digitlab has is actually a full service agency which also has in-house resources in mobile app development, web development, online reputation management, digital research, creative strategy, design, advertising and media placement. Founded in 2010, it now has a 20+ strong team and offices in Joburg, Cape Town and Durban.

Key personality: Mike Saunders (CEO)

Falconscove

Falconscove is a full service agency which helps clients with digital strategy, social media management, social media workshops, copywriting services, PR and publicity. The company’s real strong-points though are in the social media and crisis communications spaces. It has offices in Durban, with South African and international clients.

Key personality: Fred Felton (CEO)

FGX Studios (IAB)

FGX started out life as a web development agency back in 2001. In 2010 though it created FGX Engage, a division aimed at formalising its efforts in the online earned, owned and brand activation spaces.

Key personality: Anthony Otte (Partner)

Flint Studio (IAB)

Flint Studio is a boutique digital agency based in Sandton, Johannesburg. It specialises in providing strategic digital solutions to its clients. Its core skills include technical development, inbound marketing and strategic consulting services

Key personalities: Kenneth Sun (Owner & Managing Director) Desiree Rowland-Sun (Owner and Director), Rhys Downard (Head of Inbound)

Flow Interactive

This is a niche agency that specialises solely in UX. If your site is not holding together and the strategy is wrong, call in Flow. This is a “thinking agency”. It is staffed with some very smart people and its owners are former BBC UK workers. The highly regarded Riaan Van Der Merwe (former eBay and Naspers), had a minority share in the company but has since emigrated to the US.

The agency was recently bought out by Deloitte Digital and will be absorbed into the business services giant.

Key personalities: Philip Barrett (Director), Debre Barrett (Director)

Gravity

Founded by a pair of Red & Yellow graduates, Gravity is a specialist behavioural economics consultancy. The Cape Town-based agency uses the principles of behavioural economics to help marketers meet their business objectives.

Behavioural economics blends economics, psychology and other disciplines to model the factors that influence consumers when they make decisions. They are influenced by a range of irrational and often unconscious factors – stereotypes, common sense, rules of thumb and other cognitive filters and short cuts – on the pathway to making a decision.

Key personalities: David Perrott (co-founder), Sebastian Thompson (co-founder)

Grenade (IAB)

Grenade is a design tech agency that focuses on custom WordPress design and development as well as mobile apps. The company, founded in 2012, also has a couple of white-label products aimed at publishers.

Key personalities: Colin Daniels (CEO) and Robin Pietersen (CTO)

iClinic

A small Johannesburg agency, iClinic has been knocking around in one form or another for around six years now. It focuses primarily on the digital content space with with the majority of its clients coming from the health and fitness industry.

Key personality: Gary Meyer (MD)

iMod Digital

Started in 2011, iMod focuses mainly on SEO and other related forms of search marketing and strategy. It does however also offer services in the web development and social media spaces.

Key personality: Christopher Mills (Director)

Inquisition

More of a strategic research company than a digital marketing agency, Inquisition claims to work with organisations across Africa, helping them adapt and respond to shifts in people’s needs, the technology and services available to them, and the culmination of both the way in which they experience the world using technology.

Key personalities: Palesa Sibeko, Vincent Hofmann

Lumico

A brand-new Cape Town-based agency, Lumico specialises in digital strategies, managing digital platforms, designing CIs and developing websites.

Key personality: Willem Breytenbach (Founder & Director)

M4verick Digital

A 90% female-owned agency, M4verick plays in both the marketing and software development spaces. It’s only been around a couple of years but has managed to rack up some fairly impressive clients in that time.

Key personalities: Christof Stadler (Technical Director), Emma te Water Naudé (Business Director), Jayde Nienaber (Client Service Director)

Made

Made describes itself as a creative agency for the post-advertising era. While the business actually started out as straightforward web shop, it pivoted a couple of years ago and now does digital campaigns based on the philosophy that “everything is social” and that “content and context mark the difference between obscurity and internet fame”.

Key personality: James Gilmour

Maven

Specialising in custom web design & development, online lead generation and direct marketing, Maven has been around since 2009. Its founders have however known each other for a lot longer, first meeting as students back in 2001.

Key personalities: Dawie Harmse, Morgan Goddard (Directors and co-founders)

MPull

MPull creates inbound marketing strategies for brands in Africa. It also tries to assist brands to manage and measure their marketing, while assisting them to close more business.

Key personalities: Daryn Smith, Graeme Wilson (co-founders)

Mustard Marketing (IAB)

Mustard is a full-service digital agency operating out of Cape Town. Its client base includes the likes of African Bank, Mr Delivery and the SPCA.

Key personality: Ronen Jackson (CEO)

Platinum Seed (IAB)

Founded in 2009, Platinum Seed is still a pretty small agency with 16 employees but it’s starting to get some big-name clients on board, including Skyy Vodka South Africa and Vodacom (it helped design and develop a mobile platform for Vodacom’s tech and lifestyle magazine, Vodacom now!). It also continues to do work with a number of South African startups though, something which seems likely to pay off in the future.

Key personality: Bradley Elliott

Pomegranate

Pomegranate is a predominantly social-driven agency which was started, in its founders’ words, “to create something authentic and affordable in an industry awash with expensive hype”. Alongside its social offerings, it also does design, content development and workshops.

Key personalities: Liz Fletcher, Sarah Gurney (Co-founders)

Private Label

A spin-off of iAfrica, Private Label predominantly does back-end, CMS-related work but also plays in the digital design, strategy and email marketing spaces. Interestingly, its GM Tim Gane has experience at two of the other agencies on the list. In addition to being the founding head of digital at 99C, he was also one of the “three people in a Hout Bay coffee shop” who founded Creative Spark.

Key personalities: Tim Gane (GM), Debby Hammond-Byrne (MD)

Refresh Creative Media

A small, Cape Town-based agency, Refresh focuses mainly on web development and ecommerce but also does work across a number of other digital spheres including graphic design, video production and camerawork.

Key personality: Craig Bruton (Director & Client Liaison)

Retroviral

If you’ve been to any digital event in South Africa, you’ve probably bumped into at least one member of the Retroviral crew at some point. This online communications agency does design, blogger relations, and community management, among other things. The crazy part is, its team seems to have fun no matter what they’re doing. The company is on a pretty serious growth curve at the moment, so expect it to land even bigger accounts in the near future.

In addition to the main Retroviral business, the company also played an instrumental role in launching Webfluential, an online platform that connects bloggers and social media influencers to brands. Earlier this year meanwhile, it launched Retromedia, its media buying division.

Key personality: Mike Sharman (founder)

Soul Providers

Soul Providers is small social media and content marketing agency. It does however have one massive feather in its cap. The company was the social voice behind the ANC’s centenary celebrations, which saw the South African ruling party take Twitter by storm.

Key personality: Sarah-Jane Boden (Chief Firestarter)

TrafficBrand (IAB)

Traffic Brand is a Cape Town based agency, specialising in Pay Per Click (PPC) digital advertising.

Key personalities: Mandy Schreiber (MD), Jan Boshoff (CTO)

Twisted Toast (IAB)

Founded in 2011, Twisted Toast is a hybrid marketing and development agency which does work in the design, brand identity, web development, app development, web site design, advertising, digital marketing, inbound marketing, social media, content strategy, consulting, data visualisation, infographics and brand content spaces.

Key personalities: Louis Eksteen, Kim Browne and Erik Verster

Unboxed Consulting

This London-headquartered agency specialises in building digital products in Ruby on Rails using Lean and Agile methodologies but it also does consultancy work. It has a small South African operation running out of Cape Town.

Key personality: Carlo Kruger

Useful & Beautiful

Founded by Prezence’s former head of mobile Lynette Hundermark and Creative Director George Reed, Useful & Beautiful is a mobile consultancy with a specialist focus on mobile technology and product development.

Key personality: Lynette Hundermark

Vibrant Media (IAB)

Vibrant Media is a below the line agency that specialises in design, databases, distribution and event administration for brands.

Wonderland/Works

A newish player in the space, Wonderland/Works does design across a number of platforms including web, app, mobile, branding, print, product, packaging, illustration and publishing. Based on the quality of its work, it seems pretty likely that it’ll attract increasingly large clients and be involved in increasingly cool collaborations.

Key personalities: Lexi Fontein (CEO & Creative Director), Graeme Lipschitz (Business Development Director)

Traditional agencies making serious digital waves

In the early days of South African digital marketing, many of the traditional players got left behind. They scoffed at its low user numbers, low budgets and the insane discounts websites were offering just to get whatever scraps advertisers were willing to throw their way. A select few traditional agencies however saw the light. Those are the companies in this section. They started building up their digital offerings and hiring the best talent and the rewards have been rich. Many of them are now capable of standing toe to toe with the established digital leaders and, with increasing frequency, beating them at their own game.

99c

Given that it was only established in 2008, Ninety9cents has always been in a fairly attractive position when it comes to being a truly through-the-line agency. In that time, it’s grown pretty quickly, attracting clients such as Checkers, Puma and Distell.

Key personality: Andrew Brand (MD)

Artifact advertising (IAB)

Established 20 years ago, this fully integrated independent agency has done a pretty good job of pushing out a solid digital offering. While many of traditional agencies have grown their digital offerings with specialised teams, Artifact reckons that the way to go is to ensure that “all offline media, collateral and activations integrate with online channels, social media, search and online media for every campaign”.

Key Personality: Andy Taoushiani (MD)

BBDO

A prominent traditional player, BBDO has made some serious strides in the digital space. It includes the likes of Aquafresh, Chicken Licken, Grand-Pa, Med-Melon, Johnson & Johnson, Pedigree, Whiskas and Mercedes-Benz among its digital clients and has a fair few Digital Loeries and and Bookmarks on its awards shelf. Its digital creative director Johann Schwella has been in digital since 1995 and also co-founded creative blog Between 10 and 5.

Key personality: Keith Shipley (MD)

Black River FC

Launched in 2005 as an offshoot of the Jupiter Drawing Room, Black River FC has made some pretty massive waves for a small agency, albeit one with a pretty big parent. Most people will be familiar with the work it’s done for Nando’s, including the ultra-viral Last Dictator campaign.

Late last year it lost that account before regaining the Nando’s Worldwide Licensing account.

Key personalities: Ahmed Tilly (CEO), Janine Allem (MD)

DDB South Africa

With a slew of big name clients, including McDonald’s and Unilever, on-board DDB South Africa could probably have stuck to traditional channels and survived for a fair bit longer. It hasn’t. Instead, it’s chosen to adapt and has been behind a couple of seriously innovative digital campaigns including Converse’s Get out of the Garage and the 5Gum experience.

Key personality: Emmet O’ Hanlon (CEO)

Deloitte

Wait what? Deloitte is a financial services company isn’t it? What are a bunch of auditors doing on an agency list? Well the truth is, Deloitte’s been slowly creeping in on the agency space over the past couple of years and its digital arm has made massive strides in the enterprise (mobility and social), ecommerce, digital strategy and mobility spaces. On the consumer side meanwhile, reports from within the company suggest that it’s combining analytical business acumen and creative prowess as it looks to increase services it can offer its clients. Small wonder then that WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell recently told The Drum that his company now considers Deloitte (its auditor) a “frenemy”.

Key personality: Tim Bishop

FCB

We’ve already mentioned FCB in the context of its ownership of Hellocomputer, but the group’s full network is capable of delivering campaigns across the digital spectrum.

Key personality: Brett Morris (Group CEO)

FoxP2

Another platform agnostic agency, FoxP2 surprised many in the industry by winning a Cannes Lion just six months after it was founded. The awards have rolled in at a pretty steady rate since then, with the company expanding to launch a Joburg office in 2013.

Key personalities: Charl Thom (Group CEO), Justin Gomes (founders)

Havas Worldwide

At a global level, Havas is massive, with operations in over 100 countries. In South Africa, the various agencies within its network have attracted a number of heavy-hitting clients. Its digital arm counts the likes of Volvo and Air France among the clients it’s brought in.

Key personalities: Lynn Madley (CEO), Eoin Welsh (Chief Creative Officer), Ursula McAlpine (Group MD)

Ireland Davenport

Until very recently, Ireland Davenport could rightfully describe itself as a boutique agency. A couple of big-name account wins, including Investec and Vodacom, mean that it’s now playing at the same level as the big names it was trying to usurp not too long ago. In the digital space, it’s done some pretty solid work, scoring a Webby nomination in 2014.

The agency recently launched an online content division called Virus, headed up by Nevo Hadas — a stalwart of the South African digital space. Prior to joining Ireland/Davenport, Hadas helped build Tool Communications and was a non-executive director at Gloo for three years.

Key personalities: Philip Ireland, John Davenport (Executive Creative Directors) Susan Napier (MD)

Joe Public (IAB)

With offices in Joburg, Cape Town and Amsterdam, Joe Public made its name in the traditional advertising space. Much has changed in the space since Joe Public was founded by Pepe Marais and Gareth Leck in 1998 and while some companies resisted that change, this agency has adapted really well. Through its Shift and Ignite programmes, it’s also done a lot to enhance its reputation for media agnostic campaigns and innovation.

Key personalities: Pepe Marais (Chief Creative Officer) Gareth Leck (Chief Executive Officer).

Jupiter Drawing Room

By its own admission, Jupiter Drawing Room had a couple of pretty lean years when it came to its digital offerings. Recently though, it’s bounced back quite well. Perhaps the most visible evidence of this is the #Urbanselfie account it launched last year.

Key personalities: Graham Warsop (Chairman and Founder), Kevan Aspoas (Cape Town CEO), Danielle Sneiders (Joburg Managing Partner), Tom Cullinan (Joburg Creative Partner)

JWT (IAB)

JWT is a massive name in the global marketing space, with over 200 offices in 90 countries around the world. In South Africa, its digital effort, called dotJWT, aims to consolidate its Johannesburg and Cape Town offices to cover a range of services, including websites, CRM and augmented reality applications.

Key personality: Jim Faulds (CEO)

King James

Effectively a group of agencies, King James was brought into the world 16 years ago by James Barty and Alistair King. Along the way, it’s collected armfuls of accolades and a reputation for excellence.

It’s also adapted well to the digital space, with the group now comprising King James RSVP (the design and promotions arm of the business), Atmosphere (PR), Hammer (activations), Dare Media (media strategy), Proof (proofing studio) and Society (which specialises in social media). It also helped birth pop culture media group, One Small Seed.

Key personalities: James Barty, Alistair King (Founders)

Lowe and Partners South Africa

A part of the Interpublic group, Lowe and Partners has a complex history tracing back to the foundation of Lintas in 1899 and is a giant in the global advertising space. In South Africa, its most recognisable digital work was its historical selfies campaign for the Cape Times newspaper, that most un-digital of things.

Key personalites: Aiden Connolly (MD Cape Town), Katinka Pretorius (MD Johannesburg)

M&C Saatchi Abel (IAB)

Although M&C Saatchi has been around since 1995, it only opened the doors to its South African offices in 2010, making it a relative latecomer to market. In that time however, it has bolstered its own digital offerings.

Key personality: Mike Abel

MetropolitanRepublic (IAB)

Despite being at the centre of some very damaging controversy at the 2013 Loeries, MetropolitanRepublic is still a force to be reckoned with in the South African agency space. Launched in 2007, the owner-managed business has offices in Johannesburg and strategic locations across the African continent including Uganda, Rwanda, Zambia and Swaziland.

Key personalities: Alison Deeb (CEO), Paul Warner (Founder)

Mortimer Harvey

Given its age — the company is 22 years old — Mortimer Harvey has done a pretty solid job of getting its digital offering up to scratch. Alongside its more conventional digital offering, the company also does social media and online reputation management.

Key personalities: Dave Mortimer (CEO), Andrew Fradd (MD)

Ogilvy South Africa (IAB)

Ogilvy & Mather is perhaps the jewel in WPP’s advertising crown. It operates 450 offices in 161 cities of 120 countries worldwide with approximately 18 000 employees. In South Africa though, the company’s fortunes have been far from fixed. Until around 2010, the agency’s Cape Town office appeared to be in a downward spiral. A large part of that turn around, in its Cape Town offices in particular, was down to Gavin Levinsohn, who was managing director between 2008 and 2013. A large part of Levinsohn’s success came from pushing Ogilvy CT into the digital space, where it has thrived, winning multiple awards both in South Africa and abroad.

Another aspect of its success in recent times has been the decision to allow the various agencies within the group to compete in a semi-autonomous fashion.

Key personality: Abey Mokgwatsane (CEO)

OwenKessel Leo Burnett

The product of a recent merger between two of South Africa’s most prolific ad agencies, OwenKessel Leo Burnett has plenty of traditional strength but has also done online and social media work for the likes of Crime Line, the Financial Mail and Amstel.

Saatchi and Saatchi BrandsRock

The result of a recent merger between Saatchi and Saatchi and BrandsRock.

Key personalities: John Dixon (CEO), Mike Joubert (CSO); Heidi Nelson (COO), Jonathan Beggs (ECD) and Helen Qually

Key personalities: Felix Kessel (CEO), Vaughan Owen (MD), Janine Wilson (GM)

TBWA/Hunt/Lascaris

Another of the mega international agencies, TBWA’s South African presence is the result of it buying into Hunt Lascaris — itself born in 1983. Based in Johannesburg, the company also has offices in Cape Town and Durban. Its digital arm, called Tequila/, has done pretty well for itself since launch, scooping up multiple big-name awards.

Key personality: Reg Lascaris (Chairman), Derek Bower (Group CEO)

The Creative Counsel

The Creative Counsel is another agency going with the trend of presenting its various offerings as separate businesses. Specialising in below the line packages, its digital offering includes Popimedia Innovations, which specialises in social media strategy development and campaign creation. South African TV audiences are likely to get to know group co-founder Gil Oved much better as he’s one of the dragons on the local version reality TV show Dragons’ Den.

Update: In September 2015, The Creative Counsel was acquired by the Publicis Groupe.

Key personalities: Gil Oved, Ran Neu-Ner (co-founders and joint CEOs)

Thirtyfour

Some might say we’ve taken liberties by placing Thirtyfour in the traditional agencies section of this piece and they might have a point. Below the line, which it specialises in, has never really been associated with the work done by the big, glamour agencies. In our defense, we would simply point out that it isn’t a recognised “digital-first” agency. That said, it’s done a really good job of integrating digital into its offering. Leading that offering is 34 one2one, which focuses on integrating digital, social, CRM and events.

Key personality: Andrew Sutcliffe (Founder and MD)

Volcano/Grey South Africa

With more than 20 years in the South African ad-space and yearly revenue of over R100-million, Volcano was probably one of the secure South African agencies bought out by WPP in 2014. The deal, which was done under the guise of the Grey Group, and saw the company rebrand as Grey Africa. Its digital arm forms part of package which also includes through the line advertising, design, branding, brand insights, brand strategy, media strategy, public relations, promotions and events.

Key personality: Paul Jackson (MD)

Y&R South Africa

One of the biggest arrows in WPP’s quiver, Young & Rubicam has 186 offices in 90 countries around the globe. It’s always been an integrated agency, so it should be no surprise that it recognises the power of digital. The same is very much true of its South African operations. As Memeburn sister site Ventureburn reported, Y&R brokered the deal which saw WPP acquire a majority stake in Native through its network partner VML.

Other traditionals and media agencies playing in the digital space

Not every traditional agency in South Africa has the capacity to trade punches with the really big digital leaders. Others meanwhile, such as the media-buying agencies operating in the country, can still be big but don’t really fulfill the roles we traditionally associate with digital agencies. We’ve therefore given those companies their own section in the article.

Admakers (IAB)

Admakers is a small Cape Town-based agency that’s been around for 24 years now (around the same amount of time as the web). While its focus is on the luxury market, the company does have a full-service offering including websites builds, banners, corporate emailers and newsletters.

Key personality: Jp Fourie (CEO)

Carat

Part of the wider Aegis network, Carat South Africa is a media agency with plays in the social, mobile, search and analytics spaces.

Key personality: Quinton Jones (MD)

CubicIce (IAB)

CubicIce is a Joburg-based through the line agency that’s managed to survive 22 years in the industry, not something to be sneezed at. It also claims that all the services it offers — form consultancy and strategy planning, to implementation, management, performance reporting and budget management are done in-house.

Key personalities: Megan Stark (Partner and Managing Director), Steve Liversedge (Partner and Director)

John Brown Media (IAB)

While John Brown is probably best known for its work in the rising content marketing space — the company produces publications for a number of leading retailers — it also does work in the digital space. As well as using its content marketing know-how in the digital space, the company offers SEO, SEM and digital media buying services, among others.

Update: John Brown Media was acquired by Dentsu Aegis in May 2014.

Key personality: Lani Carstens (Managing Director)

Mediacom (IAB)

While Mediacom’s strength lies in traditional media, such as TV, print, radio and outdoor it does have its fingers in a few digital pies. The 60-people strong agency, which is part of a global network, also offers digital interactive, consumer insights and digital content marketing services.

Key personality: Britta Reid

Mindshare

Mindshare is part of the GroupM, the world’s largest media investment company. It provides its clients with strategic media planning, negotiation and execution, but also has a number of digital offerings.

Key personality: Maria Phillips (CEO)

New Media Publishing

New Media Publishing has been around since the late 1990s and specialises in content marketing, a space that’s only really taken off in the past couple of years. In the early days, it worked mainly in custom-print titles, but has since built up a solid digital business.

Key personality: Bridget McCarney (MD)

OMD (IAB)

Founded in 1996, OMD claims to have billings in excess of R3-billion, with a staff complement of 160 in SA and 48 at its four other African operations. Its specialist digital division OMG Digital, offers media strategy, planning, buying, implementation and analysis across all online and mobile environments.

Key personality Josh Dovey (CEO)

PDD

PHD South Africa is part of a global media and communications agency network. The company boasts that it has been built on a culture of thought leadership, creativity and innovation. PHD is part of the global Omnicom Media Group.

Key personality: Anne Dearnaley (Group MD), Ilan Lazarus (Managing Partner), Lynnette Heyns (Managing Partner)

The MediaShop

The MediaShop was formed in 1988 and labels itself South Africa’s oldest independent media agency. It launched its digital department in 2009, which now offers services including media strategy and placement, web/creative design and development, trafficking, reporting and analytics, search engine marketing (SEO and PPC), mobile marketing, social media and reputational management.

Key personalities: Chris Botha (Group MD), Craig Wallis (Group Head), Harry Herber (Director), Charles Hale (MD, Durban), Bonita Bachmann (MD, Cape Town)

ZenithOptimedia

The ZenithOptimedia group entered South Africa earlier this year when Publicis acquired South African media agency Applied Media Logic (AML). In the digital space, the agency contains a number of specialist companies within it, including some with digital expertise.

Key personality: Kim Weissensee (CEO)

RIP

When you sell hours, like most agencies do, you’re usually in a slightly safer position than some building than the average startup, but not by much. Just like any other business, digital agencies can, and sometimes do, end up shutting up shop.

Prezence

In April 2014, we reported that Primedia was trying to sell Prezence following its 2005 acquisition of a majority stake in the agency. A little over a month later, it had failed to find a willing buyer and decided to shut it down.

At face value, it seemed like a strange move: this was, after all, an agency that made global headlines in 2012 for its wildly successful MandelaStory campaign, with the endorsement of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s 94th birthday. It was also an agency with history, having first opened its South African operations in 2002, three years after Tim Bishop had opened up shop in the UK. It had also only been about a year since Primedia had bought out Bishop’s remaining shares in the company (the majority having been acquired in 2006).

After Bishop left for Deloitte, with CEO Prakash Patel following him a little later, Primedia seemed not to know exactly what it was it wanted to do with Prezence, making that attempted sale and eventual shutdown all but inevitable.

Awards

Awards are a bit of a contentious topic in the advertising space. To some, they’re well deserved reward for work well done while others view them as a colossal wasted of time and money. For the moment though, they don’t appear to be going anywhere.

Ad of the Year

Presented by Creative Circle, Ad of the Year awards are presented across print, TV, digital/experiential, radio and out of home. Selected by a panel of judges, the ads have to have been previous Ad of the Month winners.

Apex Awards

Another awards showcase with ties to an industry body, the Apex Awards are run by ACASA and aims to celebrate excellence in individual communications campaigns. In order to win an Apex, a campaign has to demonstrate that it contributed to the client’s bottom line.

Assegai Awards

Founded in 1998, the Assegais were founded to reward excellence in direct marketing. As with all spheres of marketing, digital is playing an increasingly important role. Run by the DMASA, the awards organisers say they also aim to stay on top of the trends emerging with each awards cycle.

Bookmarks

Just like the organisation that runs them (IAB South Africa), the Bookmarks are getting a bit of a makeover necessitating their postponement until February 2015. While the awards will still be about rewarding the best in digital media and publishing, the IAB is hoping to evolve the awards “into something larger and more in line with global IAB events, such as the successful IAB Mixx events held in many countries”.

Loeries

The Loeries is probably the one advertising award show that people outside of the industry really know about. In part that’s because of the chaos it caused every time it descended on Sun City and, later, the small seaside town of Margate. Since relocating to Cape Town though, it’s grown up a fair amount, with seminars, lectures, and showcases filling up the Creative Week which precedes it. On the award nights (the categories have expanded so much that there are two of them) though, you can still expect people to seriously let loose.

New Generation Social & Digital Media Awards

Powered by Lavello Marketing Solutions, the New Generation Social & Digital Media Awards aims to reward the best work in social and digital media from agencies and corporates alike. It covers a range of categories from lnnovation in Social Media to Crisis Communication.

Pendoring

The Pendoring Awards rewards campaigns across a number of categories, including digital and interactive communication. Nothing special there. What sets it apart is that all the submitted work must be in Afrikaans (except in the Truly South African category, which can be in any of the country’s 11 official languages).

PRISM Awards

The PRISM Awards aims to recognise the best work in the South African PR industry. In the 17 years it’s been around, digital has come to play an increasingly important role with award categories recognising PR campaigns making extensive use of social media, big data and analytics and mobile media, amongst others.

Smarties Awards South Africa

The Smarties Awards is one of the most well-known global award showcases in the mobile marketing space. For the first time in 2014, there will be a South African edition of the awards. A part of the Mobile Marketing Associations efforts to expand the awards beyond the global edition, anyone entering the local version can also enter the regional and worldwide editions.

*DISCLOSURE: Creative Spark is the holding company for Memeburn.com

Is there a glaring omission? Do you passionately disagree with how we have categorised an agency or your agency? Please mail us with your case. Try be as unemotional and objective as possible, stating your argument.

This article was updated on 18 May 2015.

Author | Stuart Thomas

Stuart Thomas
Stuart Thomas joined the Burn Media team in 2011 while finishing off an MA in South African Literature. Eager to prove his geek credentials, he allowed himself to be thrown in the deep and did his best to stay afloat. When not fused with his keyboard, you can find... More