Winners at the Financial Mail AdFocus Awards

For the second year in a row, OpenCo claimed the Small Advertising Agency of the Year award at the Financial Mail AdFocus Awards.

The agency, which is part of the TBWA Group, grew revenue by 109%, an astounding figure that the judges could not ignore. This growth took place despite a moratorium being placed on pitches this year, after the company grew 41% last year. The moratorium aimed to give the agency time to bed down new clients. That said, organic growth this year has been phenomenal and is testament to the quality of client relationships the agency has built – as is the fact that OpenCo lost no accounts during the assessment period.

It was also a creatively successful year for OpenCo, with the agency winning awards at the Cannes Lions, the Loeries and the One Show. The judges were also impressed by its growth in employee numbers, particularly of black senior staff, and the creation of a black staff trust.

Competition in the Small Agency category was tough.

House of Brave, which exceeded business targets and grew revenue by 19%, was one of the agencies in the running. It has demonstrated measurable increases in sales and brand positioning of its clients.

FoxP2, another contender, has made a concerted decision to stay small. The agency, known as a creative hot shop, has carved a niche in the market when it comes to effective advertising, growing revenue by 27% over the judging period.

Riverbed is arguably the largest black female-owned agency in the country, wholly owned by Monalisa Sibongile Zwambila. She says the agency’s black status means it is still “swimming against the current”: large international groups such as WPP, Omnicom and Publicis continue to carry out acquisition raids on the SA market, limiting opportunities for black agencies to flourish.

Avatar, winner of the Medium Agency of the Year award, has finally come into its own as an integrated agency, cementing its full-service offering in the market.

Over the past three years, the agency has had double-digit growth each year – something that owners Veli Ngubane and Zibusiso Mkhwanazi expect again this year. The agency has acquired a host of new business from Hollard Insurance, Caltex, AstraZeneca, Limpopo Tourism, SAB and the SA National Roads Agency.

Avatar is also active when it comes to transformation and social responsibility. It has a level one B-BBEE rating and R1m invested in a township marketing and entrepreneurship school. It also supports four small black-owned agencies.

Ngubane says the agency has never wanted to be known for awards, but rather for the relationships it has with clients and for quality work that creates intimacy between brands and their clients.  Avatar has retained all its clients this year, achieved a 72% pitch success rate and grown its staff from 29 to 51 people.

The short list for Medium Agency of the Year included Net#Work BBDO, with 20% revenue growth (a close contender for the award), Havas, with 6% revenue growth, the Jupiter Drawing Room and Old Friends Young Talent (OFyt).

The big take-out: OpenCo was named Small Agency of the Year and Avatar Medium Agency of the Year at this year’s Financial Mail AdFocus Awards.