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King James

World's Leading Independent Agencies: ambitiously independent

Alistair King (right, with James Barty): “We’re in the right place at the right time”
Alistair King (right, with James Barty): “We’re in the right place at the right time”

Two decades of creative growth makes King James the ideal agency for fast-changing Africa

King James celebrated a significant birthday a few weeks back. As a 20-year old, pure independent we are, like the USS Enterprise, venturing into the vast unknown. Few pure independents ever get to travel this far under their own steam.

It would be natural to start feeling a little anxious around now, but we have to confess to feeling somewhat bullish. Our business is robust and our creative product just seems to get better every year. We have managed to grow to be among the five largest networks in South Africa, growing a strong reputation with marketers and peers alike – we were Scopen’s Agency of the Year 2017 as well as’s Most Admired SA Agency two years running. The main cause of our optimism, however, is from Africa itself.

Some dramatic changes have taken place recently. We’ve seen the last of the dictators toppled in our neighbour Zimbabwe and our own headache, Jacob Zuma, dispensed with in much the same way. You cannot downplay the wave of euphoria sweeping our region, and for once the rest of the world seems to be contending with more drama than we are. It’s a rare feeling. There’s a strong sense that our time has come and anyone who regards us a "shithole country" is not paying attention to the remarkable things happening here. This continent is not trying to preserve anything – it’s still inventing itself, and that presents a glorious opportunity for an agency like ours.

Creative opportunity
Africa will never be colonised again; not politically, culturally, by any multinational or brand. This continent is determined to define itself and discover its own creative voice. Brands that don’t fit in with that goal simply don’t fit in. Marketers can no longer land their brand with global strategies and campaigns, thinking it will be ‘aspirational’. If you don’t invest in the continent’s creative revival, it’s unlikely to invest in you.

"Our target market won’t get excited by this" is now heard more often than "Our target market won’t understand this". Even a simple funeral policy aimed at entry-level investors can yield magic, as it did when we created what might be the world’s first WhatsApp drama, "Uk’Shona Kwelanga".

We may not have the huge budgets or audiences that make work instantly globally famous, but there is no shortage of creative opportunity here, and that is what we live for. Creatively ambitious agencies do flourish and clients do pick them, globally aligned or not.

So, as our little ship sails into uncharted territory, we feel good in the knowledge that we’re in the right place at the right time. If any brands want to come along with us, feel free to get in touch. There’s space on board.

Alistair King – Q&A

Will you go to Cannes this year?
As an agency, we will. It’s a great opportunity to connect with our global colleagues and always manages to reaffirm our passion for the industry.

AI: the best and the worst scenarios are…
The most likely reality is between the two… Computers will never be human and humans will never be a computer. All informed wisdom understands it will be a mutual dependency and success. Only humans [can] make human connection. Only computers will be able to deliver personalisation at scale, speed and accurately. Success requires both.

What will you change in 2018?
We are constantly changing to make sure we stay nimble, agile and relevant. So probably everything. A few times over.

The best work of the past year is...
Droga’s "Did you mean MailChimp?" is one of the standouts. It’s smart, charming, silly and just funny. 

King James: at a glance

Founded: 1998
Principals: James Barty, chief executive and co-founder; Alistair King, chief creative officer and co-founder
Staff: More than 300
Locations: Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa


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