Picture: TMG
Picture: TMG

Robyn de Villiers, CEO at Burson-Marsteller, says what makes an agency successful on the African continent is having a network of people on the ground who are familiar with each country’s cultural nuances, as they have a superior understanding of what is relevant and what isn’t. 

Burson-Marsteller is this year’s winner of the African Agency Network of the Year prize at the Financial Mail AdFocus awards.

In May, De Villiers received an international award for being ahead of her time in terms of developing public relations on the African continent – no surprise when you consider this is what she has been doing for the past 25 years.

Burson-Marsteller as won the African Agency Network of the Year award for the past two years. The agency prides itself on its collaborative approach and its quest to add value to its clients. According to De Villiers, clients understand that Africa is a place of opportunity and under the agency’s guidance they are able to take an effective approach to managing their reputations.

The award is applicable only to a non-SA network. In this category agencies can highlight only earnings coming from the rest of Africa, since these are often significantly lower than revenue earned in SA.

During the assessment period, Burson-Marsteller’s revenue was over R300m. While many of the agency’s clients use the network across several countries, Burson-Marsteller also acquired a number of individual accounts this year, finding particular success in Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria and Angola.

O&M Africa was also on the shortlist, and though the agency admits it has had a difficult year, there are signs that times are set to improve.

It is very likely that Dentsu Aegis could be the recipient of the award in the future.

Happy Ntshingila is this year’s recipient of the AdFocus Lifetime Achievement Award, and few could argue with this choice. Not only has he left an indelible mark on the ad world for what he has done in terms of transformation; the knowledge and insights he has brought to the marketing side of the industry has made his career something of a legend.

Perhaps Ntshingila is best known for establishing of the first ever black-owned and -managed ad agency, HerdBuoys, together with partners Peter Vundla and Dimape Serenyane. At a time when there was no understanding of how to tap into black audiences, the trio defined the main market for the industry. “HerdBuoys came along and we really understood that market. We were part of it and had insight into it, which allowed us to create [advertising] that really worked,” Ntshingila says. 

He is disappointed that the industry today does not seem to attract new black talent, rather recycling those that are already there. He says he would like to “resuscitate the drive to attract more black youngsters to the industry”.

In Ntshingila’s 30 year-plus career he has also worked in the role of client, including in marketing positions for Absa, under Maria Ramos – which he says was an amazing experience – and SuperSport; which was a dream come true for a self-confessed sports fanatic.

Today, Ntshingila is involved with Washirika Holdings, an investment enterprise group, in partnership with Romeo Kumalo, and has plans to invest in media. He says the secret of success “is to be excited by whatever you do”.

The big take-out: Burson-Marsteller is the winner of the Financial Mail AdFocus African Agency Network of the Year, while Happy Ntshingila has been honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award for his stellar contribution to the industry over the past 30 years.

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