Pepe Marais (left) and Gareth Leck. Picture: SUPPLIED

Pepe Marais (left) and Gareth Leck: Enduring founder partnership. Picture: SUPPLIED

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TWENTY years into one of the more enduring founder partnerships in SA advertising, Gareth Leck and Pepe Marais are to expand Joe Public again.

The final touches are being put on a new activation unit, as well as up-weighting the media buying and planning division. A research and insights offering is also in the pipeline.

When all of this happens, the company will have more than five independent business units and will be able to continue to lay claim to being one of SA’s most successful independent brand communication groups.

Leck, the business head, and Marais, the creative leader, describe their long relationship as a tough marriage which still has its ups and downs. “We talk every day, we fight less but it’s still a robust, honest partnership that at times has felt like a war,” says Leck.

Revenue projection for the group in 2016 is R135m and big accounts include Jet Stores and Nedbank.

Housed in a new building in northern Johannesburg with a panoramic view of the city, the agency has come a long way since it started in Cape Town with what Leck and Marais call a “takeaway model“: quick turnaround advertising off a menu (rate card).

Joe Public is about to turn 21 and Leck says the “adult phase” of the business is about to begin, as the component parts of the organisation are hungry for big clients. In spite of a surge of new business that began five years ago, culminating in the company winning Nedbank’s above-the-line business, the agency hasn’t won a big account in two years.

Part of the pair’s challenge in recent years has been to give real meaning to a seamless, across-platform product offering. Both say integration is the single biggest problem large agencies face.

Leck says agency entities need to buy into a common client “brand vision”, but it’s imperative to extract egos and money from the equation. “Typically, agency units fight for their own stuff and their share of income, so shared vision and shared profit with a fair share of allocated resources is vital.”

Like its competitors, Joe Public is pursuing an African growth strategy, but it is doing so by funding start-ups and not through acquisition. A small office is operating in Namibia, and agencies are opening in Zimbabwe and Zambia in coming months.

Marais, who is acknowledged as one of SA’s creative heavyweights, believes the marketing industry is in deep trouble as brands insist on more output being squeezed into a shorter delivery time.

“The boxes are ticked, but is the work being compromised, I have to ask. I think these days less than 2% of the ad industry’s output is focused on real creativity,” Marais says.