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MarkLives Woman of the Year 2019

By Grey Africa | February, 2020.

Wednesday 29 January 2020 Fran Luckin, Chief Creative Officer at Grey Africa, has been voted by South African agency executives as their Woman of the Year for 2019, with Steph van Niekerk, Creative Director at the same agency, as runner-up. This is the second year this category has run, and the 8th year of the #AgencyLeaders MarkLives poll, which surveys South Africa’s top ad agency leaders to find out what they think of their competitors and who they see as effective managers and great creative leaders.

Fran was also rated in the top 10 of Most Admired Agency Professionals in 6th place in the recent Agency Scope research survey where she was the leading women rated nationally.

Female executives aren’t competing on a level playing field — the majority of senior agency executives in SA are male and most men participating in the #AgencyLeaders MarkLives poll tend to nominate other men. This particular category asks agency executives to give serious thought to the women who play a pivotal role in the advertising industry, and who should be celebrated for their contributions to the industry.

Woman of the Year: Fran Luckin, Chief Creative Officer at Grey Africa

Industry stalwart Fran Luckin has earned top honours in the #AgencyLeaders MarkLives poll, after being featured in the runner-up slot in 2018. She started 2019 with a bang by setting up bespoke WPP agency, Liquid, to service Distell’s top-tier brands.

Housed within Grey Africa and co-led by Luckin and Paul Jackson, Liquid pulls together specialist agencies to deliver integrated work. “Setting it up was a really enjoyable challenge and a valuable learning experience,” says Luckin. “Building a team, doing the work of consciously and mindfully building a culture, while at the same time getting to know the business and all of the brands, really stretched me — and I’m proud of what we’ve built.”

In addition to the work done on — and by —Liquid in 2019, Luckin is particularly proud of the “Nozizwe” campaign Grey Johannesburg produced for Gillette, in collaboration with the late Siphiwe “SJ” Myeza-Mhlambi of 7Films. “I loved that it was a global brand executing against a unique local insight, and that it was a brand that celebrates healthy masculinity, honouring all the South African women who are raising male children single-handedly. It was a story that needed to be told.”

To Luckin, excellence in creativity is “the divine trinity of originality, relevance and superb execution”, and to achieve this requires continuous reflection and flexibility. “The game has become so complex and pressurised that I think it’s actually almost impossible to do all of your job 100% well all of the time, and still be an empathetic, kind, whole, healthy human being who lives in harmonious community with others,” she says.

“So, it requires one to be very aware of what’s needed most in the moment, and make adjustments. Do I need to be more of a manager now, or more of a leader? Does this season require me to be more practical, or more strategic? Do I need to be more hands-on now or do I need to withdraw a little from being available to everyone and put some time into planning and thinking?”

The runner-up: Steph van Niekerk, Creative Director at Grey Africa

Taking the runner-up spot, Creative Director Steph van Niekerk redefined personal success in 2019. Though she modestly describes last year as “very good”, Van Niekerk shone at both Cannes Lions and The Loeries. At the latter, she took home a dazzling number of awards for work done on TBWA\Hunt Lascaris Johannesburg and Ogilvy Johannesburg client accounts. She also scooped the top writer and creative director spots in the Loeries annual rankings.

“If I had to choose two highlights of 2019, it would definitely be winning a campaign Gold, Silver and Bronze at Cannes,” she says. “Normally, we get to go to Cannes the year following the win, as a reward. Being there to collect the awards and carrying the SA flag on stage was a great honour. Second has to be The Loeries [last] year. I didn’t get to stay in my seat much; I think I went up like 17 times. We worked incredibly hard and it was a bigger ROI than I could ever have imagined.”

Van Niekerk describes the performance at Loeries as “a bit of a freak show”, saying: “I had 38 finalists across two agencies that converted into two Grands Prix, 13 Golds, two Silver and two Bronze. How did it feel? Totally overwhelming. Sometimes you can’t fully be present in a moment, because there is just way too much adrenaline coursing through your body. Looking back, it feels good. It still feels a little surreal. I just got very lucky with all the work coinciding in one year. Most of those campaigns took about 18 months to pull together, so after months and months of slogging away in the trenches without any tangible rewards, it was just the encouragement I needed to keep on keeping on.”

Another key moment for her in 2019 was moving to Grey to help build Liquid. “Joining a fledgling unit is incredibly exciting but it comes with its challenges,” she says. “It has helped me understand my strengths and my weaknesses, both as a creative and a creative leader. I am growing every day — and I’m lucky enough to be able to do that in the presence of some incredibly smart and talented people.”

How the MarkLives agency poll works

In late October 2019, MarkLives invited a panel of handpicked agency executives — in creative and management, and ranging over a wide spectrum from small- and medium-sized to network agencies — to nominate their most-admired companies and company leaders of various types of agencies. Execs couldn’t nominate their own agencies or staff members. All the nominations were then tallied up for the final result. The editors of MarkLives held two votes in the final poll and could choose not to apply these in tight races.

A version of this article originally appeared on MarkLives.