Life rarely seems dull in Africa's biggest economy. This year, South Africa is poised for even more attention, when it hosts the first Fifa World Cup to be held on African soil.
Already, the event has begun to dominate news coverage within the country, and shape perceptions outside. Critically, the success of the event will be linked to South Africa's reputation as a tourist and business destination.
Accordingly, there have been plenty of moves to better manage the country's reputation. The country's tourism authority called in Dow Jones Insight last year to counter negative online publicity. Its retained agency is FD, an account that is currently being reviewed.
Last year, meanwhile, the country's International Marketing Council hired MS&L to promote its trade and economy worldwide.
Meanwhile, 2009 was an election year in South Africa, and resulted in the election of the country's third president since reconciliation, Jacob Zuma. ‘Politics and controversial personalities within the political domain dominated the news,' says Francois Baird, chairman of leading independent agency Baird's Renaissance.
Indeed, Zuma was named newsmaker of the year for 2009 by the country's national press club.
South Africa has one of the world's more mature PR industries, with the country's key PR body (PRISA) established in 1957. A polarity of audiences, combined with what Baird describes as a ‘volatile society dynamic' ensures that the comms landscape is challenging, and contains ‘pockets of leading edge sophistication',
A particular focus on political and managerial governance has made reputation management an increasingly important issue for all types of South African organisations. ‘Reputation management and all related programmes including risk management are at centre stage,' says PRISA president Victor Sibeko.
‘The increased regulatory focus on industries in South Africa, and the resulting scrutiny has seen much space and airtime given to issues relating to corporate governance, competition commission issues and corruption,' explains Baird.
A complex media landscape differs considerably from other mature communications markets. ‘Unconventional power and influence lie in the mass market, which is typically the less affluent and poor,' says Baird.
Radio is predominately influential where this segment is concerned, led by South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) channels such as 5FM and Metro FM. Many other major independent broadcasters are regional, such as Durban's East Coast Radio, while local language channels are led by Ukhozi FM.
Other key mass market media channels are print titles such as the Daily Sun and the Sowetan and SABC's free-to-air TV channels. Privately-owned eTV, adds Baird, is ‘gaining in market share and reputation.'
‘Word of mouth and cultural structures are still the most influential medium over and above traditional media such as print and TV in urban poor communities, with radio the backbone medium of rural poor communities,' explains Baird.
Business and more affluent readers are influenced by a string of quality business titles, including Business Day, weekly financial magazines and Sunday titles like the Sunday Times. Summit TV and CNBC also lead opinion. ‘The Afrikaans community has coalesced around big daily newspaper titles like Beeld and Die Burger, as well as Sunday paper Rapport,' says Baird.
Other key print media, adds Sibeko, are the Mail & Guardian, The Star and City Press.
The consumer magazine market is vibrant, led by such titles as You, Huisgenoot and Bona. In addition, ‘specialised print titles like Martin Creamer's Engineering News often punch above their readership weight,' points out Baird.
South Africa's digital landscape is poised for a significant boost from increased broadband access. Until now, mobile usage has comfortably dominated.
These are supplemented by uniquely local websites such as The Good News, Hayibo.com and 2Oceansvibe.com - which tend toward more positive, and light-hearted fare. Baird terms them ‘great resources for our national mental wellbeing.'
According to the Markinor survey of top South African brands, key local players include brewing giant SAB, cellular operators Vodacom and MTN and retailer Pick'n Pay.
Favoured international brands are Coca-Cola, Nike, Nokia, Toyota and BMW. Important consumer brands are those owned by Unilever and Tiger Brands, while leading financial services players include Absa, Standard and FNB banks.
The country's agency market remains led by local brands, with Magna Carta and Meropa most often cited as the two largest firms.
Magna Carta, which was born out of Omnicom Group's TBWA ad agency, is currently linked with Omnicom agencies Ketchum and Gavin Anderson. The firm has been named PR Agency of the Year for the last four years by weekly business title FinWeek.
Meropa, meanwhile, is 20 per cent owned by Chime Communications, and is also affiliated with Hill & Knowlton and sub-Saharan Africa agency network AfricaOne.
‘Amongst the larger players an international affiliation is a must,' says Baird.
Other key agencies include Marcus Brewster Publicity, Atmosphere, Baird's Renaissance and Inzalo Communication. The leading international brand is Fleishman Hillard.
Key practice areas are financial services, B2B, brand and corporate comms, tech and a growing health advocacy sector.
Public affairs is becoming vitally important but few agencies, says Baird, have ‘perfected this skill'. The area remains unregulated. ‘Most agencies confuse access with influence and therefore underestimate the sophistication of the public policy debate.'
Nevertheless, large agencies are focused on public affairs and government relations both within South Africa and beyond. Public sector campaigns often carry large budgets, thanks to the complexity of audiences that must be reached.
Population: 49.3 million
GDP: $10,100 per capita (79th)
Languages: 11 official languages, including Zula, Xhosa, Afrikaans and English.
Religions: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism.