Advertising winners O&M Cape Town flanked by jury chair Michelle Meyjes and FM editor Tim Cohen. Picture: JEREMY GLYN

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OGILVY & Mather Cape Town was named advertising agency of the year by the narrowest possible margin at last week's AdFocus Awards. The agency beat off sustained challenges from the 2012 winner, Joe Public, and Ireland/Davenport to win the honour in front of 400 guests at Shine Studios, in Braamfontein, Johannesburg.

AdFocus jurors rate agencies on business growth, business retention, industry relationships, empowerment and social investment. Once all the scores were added by Deloitte, which oversees the AdFocus judging process, O&M had 162½ points and Joe Public 162.

The win - a fitting send-off for MD Gavin Levinsohn, who left last week after five years in charge to take on a new job in Australia - was one of three for the O&M SA group. Ogilvy Public Relations was a first-time winner of the specialist agency award, while Ogilvy Africa was top African agency network for the fifth year in a row.

There were also previous winners in other agency-of-the-year categories, with Grid Worldwide, Gloo and The MediaShop winning branding & design, digital and media respectively. The digital award was sponsored by Vodacom.

There was a standing ovation for Mike Schalit, when he accepted the lifetime achievement award for a career during which he has so far won 19 grands prix at SA's Loeries communications awards, three at the Cannes international creative festival, 15 Cannes golds and 12 SA Creative Circle ads of the year.

Schalit has also trained many of the up-and-coming crop of SA creatives and created the Mal Foundation, a nonprofit agency which aims to persuade companies to undertake projects that benefit communities rather than the bottom line.

Awards were presented by Financial Mail editor Tim Cohen and AdFocus jury chair Michelle Meyjes, CEO of the MEC media strategy group.

There was a special award for AdFocus founding editor and veteran advertising commentator Tony Koenderman, to recognise his contribution to the industry.

Pepe Marais and Gareth Leck were joint winners of the agency leader of the year award, for their shared role in turning Joe Public into one of the industry's fastest-growing communications groups.

TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris Durban shared the partnership of the year award with its liquor chain client, Tops at Spar. When they got together in 2002, Tops had one outlet. There are now 568. After the first year together, retail sales were R100m. By 2012, this had grown to over R5bn. The AdFocus partnership award was sponsored by Independent Agency Search & Selection.

There was a new award in 2013. The Envy Award is for those "I wish I'd thought of that" moments when agencies applaud a smart piece of work or business by a competitor. The winner was the Quirk digital agency, which bought the Red and Yellow advertising school in Cape Town and merged it with its own education division.

The occasion was also an opportunity to applaud the SA trailblazers - the men and women who have raised the international status of SA communications, either through personal success or by creating the environment for others to do so.

They include Jonathan Harries and Mary Maroun, who went to the US in the 1980s when SA advertising talent was unknown, rose to head major communications groups and opened the doors for other South Africans to follow.

Also on the SA trailblazers list were Design Indaba founder Ravi Naidoo, film-maker Keith Rose, market researcher Jannie Hofmeyr, and admen Matthew Bull, Tony Granger, Gary Leih, John Hunt, Bob Rightford and the late Robyn Putter.

Guest speaker Andy Rice, himself a former adman and one of SA's top industry analysts, spoke about what makes a trailblazer and the lessons for future generations.