The future is black
Behind the demise of The Jupiter Drawing Room (JHB)
In a frank and reflective interview with the Financial Mail, founder Graham Warsop opened up on mistakes made and lessons learnt
As the ad industry dissects why The Jupiter Drawing Room (Johannesburg) has closed its doors after almost 30 years in business, founder Graham Warsop has moved swiftly to plug the gap. He’s been instrumental in the formation of Black Powder, a 100% black-owned agency that has taken over some of Jupiter’s clients and has benefited from a substantial cash investment.
In a frank and reflective interview with the Financial Mail, Warsop opened up on mistakes made and lessons learnt. Jupiter reached its zenith in early 2007 when over three days it added three huge accounts worth over R1bn. One of those was Absa. Ten years later, Warsop says the bank is partly why Jupiter has shut down — a year ago it moved its R500m account to rival FCB. Warsop says the big lesson learnt was to not rely too much on one dominant client. "We put tremendous diligence, skill and devotion into the Absa account, believing if we did a great job the business would be secure. We were wrong."
But that wasn’t the only problem. In an industry that is still battling to transform, Warsop admits he could have moved quicker on staff appointments.
"I believe I placed insufficient importance on timeously replacing senior black executives who had left the agency. My thinking was that if I could use the limited financial means at my disposal to work with the team I had left, we could defer replacing the most senior black talent for some time. That was a mistake. One of the reasons cited for why we lost the Absa account was a lack of agency transformation at the highest level."
The new Black Powder agency is led by shareholders Gugu Madlala (CEO) and Sizwe Kumalo (executive director). Both had senior management roles at The Jupiter Drawing Room.
Warsop says: "When our black shareholding partners divested equity and some of our senior black executives exited the Jupiter (Johannesburg) agency, we were left under-represented from an empowerment perspective at a senior level. Added to that, the lacklustre performance of our Johannesburg agency in recent years had compromised the efficacy of our black staff trust.
"As we saw it, we were at a crossroads. We decided to take the path that led to us backing two deserving young black entrepreneurs. Instead of asking them to continue with the existing Jupiter brand, we challenged them to create their own vision for a 100% black-owned agency."
Warsop, one of SA’s best-known ad men, says he’s not sure there’s any more he could have asked from Jupiter Johannesburg in terms of accomplishments. It was acknowledged at one point as the fastest-growing agency in the local ad industry and ranked in the top five most creative agencies in the world by US trade publication Advertising Age.
"We became a flag-bearer for what home-grown, independent agencies can achieve on the global stage. I believe we built a distinctive brand in Johannesburg. The agency stood for and really believed in craftsmanship. It had a French-inspired name, a Latin motto (rem tene, verba sequentur — grasp the subject and the words will follow), an iconic English Chesterfield sofa and furnishings reminiscent of an Edwardian gentleman’s club. I always maintained that the greatest test of Jupiter (Johannesburg) as an agency would not be how many awards it won, nor how much business it acquired. Rather, if the staff who passed through its doors would look back on their time in Jupiter fondly, as a fulfilling period of personal growth and camaraderie in a very special environment. I believe we came pretty close to achieving that."
Warsop is excited about the prospects of Black Powder, It has already lined up work with the Reserve Bank and Tiger Brands, among others. Madlala says the structure of Black Powder is flexible and nimble and a move away from traditional agency structures which rely on "large teams and ungainly processes to operate".
He adds that agencies with an ability to deliver impactful work to black consumers will win the next decade. "True transformation is really gaining speed as a result and we’re intent on setting the pace. Our vision is to grow Black Powder into an agency network that is world-class yet proudly South African."