Industry leader of the year was Neo Mashigo, seen here receiving the award from FM editor Rob Rose. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
Industry leader of the year was Neo Mashigo, seen here receiving the award from FM editor Rob Rose. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

Multi-award winning creative Neo Mashigo — chief creative officer at M&C Saatchi Abel and co-founder of I See a Different You — has been named Industry leader of the Year at the 2019 AdFocus awards.

Mashigo has enjoyed an illustrious career in the industry, though surprisingly it wasn’t the career he dreamed of as a youngster. He had embarked on a law degree and was doing part-time work at a company that was researching advertising when he realised that local adverts simply were not working. He saw a gap for himself in the advertising space and responded to a newspaper ad posted by the Creative Directors Forum calling for people who were interested in pursuing a career in advertising.

He was chosen to participate in an accelerated programme, and the rest is history: he became the first black creative to work at Net#work BBDO, studying advertising at AAA and later Vega at night. He spent four years at Net#work BBDO as a copywriter, afterwards moving to Ogilvy as a creative group head and joining FCB as an executive creative director two years later.

During this time, Mashigo also co-founded I See a Different You as a side project. It’s a business that started out to provide an alternative view of Soweto, and subsequently Africa, and is now positioned as a production company specialising in film, photography and influencer work. The company also wants to create a Saturday school to expose township children to the creative arts.

In 2017 Mashigo joined M&C Saatchi Abel as creative partner. He was promoted a year later to the position of chief creative officer. When he arrived at the agency it was in a state of flux. Colleagues report that thanks to his talent for building relationships and because of his creative leadership M&C Saatchi Abel has shone, winning various awards, won the coveted Nando’s account and generally flourished.

Perhaps what the Industry Leader Award recognises most about Mashigo is his passion for local advertising. He is well known for lobbying to create uniquely SA advertising and local stories with a distinctly SA voice, and for taking a dim view of any type of stereotyping in advertising. The creation of opportunities for brands through authentic and locally relevant storytelling drives him, while his ability to build strong relationships with clients gives him the credibility to sell ideas that may not fit into their traditional views but prove to be hugely successful nonetheless.

For Mashigo, ticking boxes that relate to transformation is the antithesis of what transformation should be. “If the creative industry is to survive and thrive, it’s imperative that it tells authentic stories that engage consumers in a relevant and more meaningful manner,” he says.