Eskom’s daring choice

A small black-owned Johannesburg agency with a staff complement that can be counted on the fingers of two hands, has been awarded the Eskom advertising account, a piece of business on which Eskom spends around R175m a year (including production costs). It looks like a stunning vote of confidence in the relatively low-key agency, Blueprint, and its owner manager, Groovin Nchabeleng.

Nchabeleng rose to prominence some years ago when he acquired control of the Leo Burnett franchise in South Africa. An investment group led by him still holds 37% of MMS, a holding company set up to sell him equity in the South African interests of Publicis Groupe (Publicis agency, Leo Burnett, Starcom, Saatchi & Saatchi and Zenith Optimedia).

In 2010 Publicis brought in Kevin Tromp, an expatriate South African, to re-establish control by the global network. It bought back a controlling share of MMS and then recently of Saatchi & Saatchi, which had to relinquish the Eskom account because it no longer met Eskom’s requirement that its agency must be black-controlled.

Saatchi & Saatchi was appointed two years ago along with eight specialist agencies to work on aspects of the Eskom account. They included Blue Moon on internal marketing, Switch on design and Magna Carta on public relations. It is understood that Blueprint will now take the role of lead agency. Though Blueprint looks rather small for the Eskom business, Nchabeleng (who is still non-executive chairman of MMS) will not be increasing his staff numbers by much. He plans to call on the resources of the Publicis group when needed.

Blueprint, now about 10 years old, has worked on such accounts as Petro SA and Brand SA, and handled the ANC’s local government election campaign last year. Through Koni Media Holdings, another of his companies, Nchabeleng has been linked in the press with bids to acquire media companies, including Johncom, then owner of Times Media, for a reported R7bn. ■

By Tony Koenderman writing for Finweek magazine

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