The World's Leading Independent Agencies 2010: The Jupiter drawing room & partners

The World Cup is an opportunity for the South African ad industry to step on to the global stage.

The World's Leading Independent Agencies 2010 is a Campaign advertising supplement published for thenetworkone.

As 2010 promises to herald an influx of thousands of guests into South Africa for the Fifa World Cup finals, we thought it opportune that our entry into this year's publication be written by a guest contributor

Michael McClelland hails from Pennsylvania. An affable lad in his mid-twenties Michael is spending a year in The Jupiter Drawing Room & Partners (September 2009 to August 2010) as part of a three-year Fellowship programme.

Free of influence or interference, Michael gives his impression of an independent agency group in a country that is about to be placed under the global floodlights in the most spectacular fashion.

GRAHAM WARSOP, group chairman

I arrived in Johannesburg in October 2009 to work at The Jupiter Drawing Room and, in addition to my two suitcases, I came toting some large misconceptions. My first shock was Johannesburg and its surrounding areas. My preparation had included reading dozens of safety warnings in Lonely Planet and watching District 9, so I was surprised to find no bullets raining down upon me and also that the skyline featured no spaceships. OK, I had not really been expecting the spaceships, but it did dawn on me that I'd never even seen a picture of the Johannesburg skyline other than on that film's poster.

In fact, instead of finding a dangerous slumland, I found nature; with more than ten million trees, South Africa's largest city is also the world's biggest man-made forest. Additionally, thanks to a multibillion-rand investment into the city in preparation for the 2010 World Cup (which included the introduction of CCTV cameras), I was less worried about gunfire and more worried about speeding tickets.

So, while South Africa had not proven to be the war zone I'd anticipated, I still thought of myself as quite the adventurer for plunging into such a backward land. Surely I would be swerving for zebras on my drive to work and sending messages home with Morse code instead of Skype. Well, as it turns out, the only things I need to swerve for are street vendors. And, despite the publicised broadband issues, the 98 per cent mobile phone penetration rate, coupled with some of the world's best 3G networks and mobile clouds, mean South Africa is one of the most "wired" countries I've ever visited.

Well, since South Africa is so disappointingly advanced, I could at least pat myself on the back for coming to work for a small independent agency on the tip of Africa, couldn't I? Wrong again. Yes, The Jupiter Drawing Room is an intimate organisation. With heavy-hitters such as Graham Warsop (group chairman), Renee Silverstone (Johannesburg chief executive) and Kevan Aspoas (Cape Town managing director) recognisable and open to each and every staff member, there is still a boutique feel to each of the Jupiter offices. However, behind that chummy exterior is the largest independent agency group on the world's second-largest continent. The experience and expertise at The Jupiter Drawing Room is world class, which is why Jupiter is taking itself out into the world and actively engaging international clients. With the World Cup approaching, 2010 is the perfect time for The Jupiter Drawing Room to move from being a world-class agency servicing South African clients to become a proud independent South African agency servicing worldwide clients.

Speaking of the World Cup, I had come to South Africa expecting a sort of panicked negativity surrounding the event. Having been in Athens right before the 2004 Olympic Games, I assumed that the frantic construction and public discord that I found there were a frequent symptom of world-class sporting events. Instead, I found a sort of Christmas Eve excitement in the air. Everyone is waiting for the big day(s) and preparing their best.

I've noticed this "peacocking" most in the advertising industry. At Jupiter, teams are actively involved with helping their clients maximise the benefits of the World Cup. This goes for clients that are World Cup sponsors and those that are not. It has added freshness to campaigns - an opportunity to reset, in a way. It also gave me primary evidence of the world-class work that happens in South Africa.

I'd known ahead of time that amazing work was coming from this region - one look at the annual Cannes Report will tell you that. What I did not realise is that this quality saturates South Africa across the board.

A handful of agencies such as The Jupiter Drawing Room have mastered the art of the truly 360-degree campaign. Because South African marketing budgets are significantly smaller than those of their European and US counterparts, South African agencies have been given more responsibility on how to spend those dollars. And as a result, they have become experts at maximising the multi-disciplinary approach. It is one of the reasons why all five agencies in The Jupiter Drawing Room's network are full-service agencies.

South Africans don't just understand a variety of marketing disciplines, however. Because of the unique social and cultural attributes you find here, the local industry has an inherent ability to market products to a diverse array of people. With the World Cup approaching, South Africans are finally getting a chance to show these skills to the world. And I'm sure that when it is over, South Africa will continue to grow into a hub for international work because of this important skillset. The same strategists who market the region's famous diamonds are also trying to figure out how to market affordable detergents to people without washing machines; the digital teams cracking the iPhone's potential are trying to launch as many medical clinics as microsites.

This is one occasion I'm glad to admit I was wrong: wrong about South Africa, wrong about its people and wrong about the industry. I'll also admit to being worried. Who knew that in this time of big agency drones and the digital revolution that there would be iconoclastic agencies in exotic locations breeding brilliant, diverse talent with big-time experience? Talent that is getting ready to go global? I came down to The Jupiter Drawing Room thinking I could help to bring them up-to-date. I now know it is the rest of us who are going to be playing catch-up.

Michael McClelland is at The Jupiter Drawing Room & Partners as part of a three-year Fellowship programme




Graham Warsop, group chairman and chief creative officer, The Jupiter Drawing Room & Partners; Renee Silverstone, chief executive; Alison Deeb, managing director, The Jupiter Drawing Room (Johannesburg); Kevan Aspoas, MD; Ross Chowles, executive creative director, The Jupiter Drawing Room (Cape Town); Paul Warner, founder and ECD, MetropolitanRepublic; Ahmed Tilly, founder and ECD, Black River FC; Brad Reilly, founder and ECD, The Royal Metropole


Johannesburg, Cape Town

What would you like to see more of in 2010?
International briefs, a chance to shine

Which country's creativity (other than your own) do you most admire?
In this past year or two, New Zealand's. Like South Africa, it has a tiny percentage of world adspend and yet has managed to produce some inspired creative work