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The Drum's New Year Honours: Top agencies of the year – from experimental agencies to design innovators

In what has become something of a tradition, it’s once again time for The Drum to reveal its New Year Honours before we shake the dust of 2014 off our feet.

Over the next week, in celebration of the big idea, we'll be presenting the crème de la crème of brands, agencies, people and creative work – our movers, shakers and mischief makers of the year.

First up it's agencies – from design houses to digital shops, here we reveal which agencies have impressed us most over the past 12 months, and who we're expecting big things from in 2015.

Creative Review: 

Agency of the year: Adam&EveDDB
The global relaunch of Lipton, the relaunch of Colman’s, a film for Sony Mobile, a series of campaigns for VW, a campaign for SSE featuring a CGI orangutan, and, of course, the John Lewis ad introducing the nation to Monty the Penguin and heralding the start of Christmas. Phew, it’s been another busy year for Adam&Eve.

The agency proved its approach is effective too, after winning the coveted IPA Effectiveness Awards Grand Prix for a second time for its ‘Good Call’ work for Fosters (having already won the 2012 trophy for John Lewis). The campaign translated into £32 for every £1 spent on advertising. Good call indeed.

Media agency: MediaCom
2014 saw the UK’s biggest media agency pick up new business from clients including Coca-Cola, P&G, AB InBev and eBay, securing the e-commerce giant’s £80m EMEA media account.

The WPP-owned company also proved it is ahead of the curve by uniting with Google to create a training programme designed to prepare planners and strategists for future mobile and wearable tech opportunities. Meanwhile chief executive Karen Blackett OBE was named the most influential black person in Britain in the Powerlist 100 – the first businesswoman to top the list.

Creative agency: Mr President
After stomping onto the scene two years ago, the creative agency launched by former Dare executives Claire Hynes and Nick Emmel has gone from strength to strength. Innovative branded content projects for the agency’s founding client, Bacardi, have included the motion tracking of 100,000 bats to bring the brand’s logo to life with the Bat Beats track and the creation of an exclusive music event on an island in the Bermuda Triangle.

It’s this sort of outside of the box thinking that has seen Mr President appointed lead strategic and creative agency for GLH Hotels, whose brands include Thistle, and creative partner Laura Jordan Bambach named Individual of the Year at the Dadi Awards organised by The Drum.

International agency: Droga5
While the agency has failed to make much of a splash in London, its kudos in the US can’t be denied, and there’s no doubt that Droga5 will attempt to replicate the sort of success it’s enjoyed there with brands like Newcastle Brown Ale, Hennessy, Chobani and Honey Maid. It’s also the agency behind last year’s thought-provoking ‘I Will What I Want’ campaign for clothing brand Under Armour, featuring women from a range of athletic backgrounds including ballet soloist Misty Copeland.

Founder David Droga recently reshuffled the management, promoting New York chief executive Sarah Thompson to global chief exec, while chief strategy officer Jonny Bauer will serve as global chief strategy officer.

Experiential agency: Bompas & Parr
Remember those ‘multi-sensory’ fireworks in London last New Year? If you were standing by the Thames as the clock struck midnight, you may have been lucky enough to get a taste – literally. Enhanced with flavoured ‘snow’, the display was a feast for the senses for revellers, created by experiential agency Bompas & Parr in tandem with Vodafone and the mayor of London.

Its creative juices don’t stop at fireworks, however – the company has shown its good taste with the creation of some delectable sensory experiences including jelly installations and even a ‘Flavour Organ’ for the likes of Johnnie Walker, Kew Gardens and Shoreditch House.

Design innovator: Barber Osgerby
The creators of the Olympic torch have continued to push boundaries with experimentation in terms of materials and form in 2014. One such example was the Double Space installation for BMW at the V&A during the London Design Festival, which offered gallery visitors an entirely new experience by reflecting Raphael’s paintings and the gallery’s architecture using giant rotating mirrors suspended from the ceiling.

The duo also picked up the tender to design the trains for London’s Crossrail line, due for completion in 2017.

Unsung design agency: Factorydesign
The unsung hero of product design, Factorydesign has continued to prove its worth as one of the sharpest tools in the box with an array of clients across the board including Aer Lingus, Etihad Airways and Four Seasons. The agency has a number of successful aviation design projects under its belt, not least the Acro Superlight Ultra XC lightweight seat, launched in the spring, which reduces cabin weight and therefore fuel consumption.

Digital media agency: Neo@Ogilvy
Neo@Ogilvy was described by one of its peers in The Drum’s Digital Census, where it ranked as one of the UK’s top digital media agencies, as “leading the digital agenda with data driven strategy coupled with creativity”. And it’s a formula that works, as the media and performance arm of WPP-owned Ogilvy & Mather continued to produce award-winning campaigns for clients including British Airways, IBM and Sony. The agency’s work on Sony’s ‘Do more with less’ campaign was rewarded at the Digital Trading Awards organised by The Drum, and showed the impact paid search can have on a campaign. Ogilvy & Mather as a group, meanwhile, was also named as the 25th most in demand employer according to LinkedIn.

 

Agency talking point: Publicis Omnicom merger collapse
It wouldn’t be a review of 2014 without a nod to the biggest merger in the history of advertising… that didn’t happen. Yes, of course we’re talking about the Publicis Omnicom merger, which fizzled out like a damp squib around May.

There were always naysayers, but most in the industry assumed that the chief executives of Omnicom and Publicis could make their ‘merger of equals’ work. Well it turned out that they couldn’t, and while there are still many questions left unanswered around what went wrong, it’s clear from what has been said that the two companies really couldn’t work together.

The story continued to rumble on throughout the year, but in the end we have all been left to wonder what could have been.

One to watch: Elmwood
A nigh on 40-year-old agency like Elmwood might seem a peculiar choice as ‘one to watch’, but interesting change is afoot at this long-established brand design consultancy. David Godber, formerly of the Design Council, was enlisted three years ago to support founder Jonathan Sands, and the fruits of his work behind the scenes are now becoming visible. 

As one source close to the company says: “He’s gone through Elmwood like a dose of salts, instituting better business practice.” Clients have been told not to approach Elmwood with small projects but bigger jobs, and have been warned that staff will be working reasonable hours instead of being on call 24/7. Elmwood already has killer design effectiveness pedigree, but its challenge now is to match that with visual/creative quality.

One to watch: Oban Digital
Did you know that Japan prefers searching on Yahoo, Russia on Yandex, South Korea on Naver while China chooses Baidu? No? Well, Oban Digital does. The Brighton headquartered agency has teams across more than 30 countries, utilising local knowledge and cultural insights to create campaigns that can drive traffic and generate ROI anywhere in the world. 

It’s a multilingual approach that stands it in good stead as the world gets smaller and global retailers become ever more strategic in conquering previously untapped markets. And with this trend unlikely to ever slow down, the agency finds itself in an enviable position for the year ahead.