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Agency Review of the Year

By The Drum, Administrator

December 22, 2003 | 11 min read

If you’re one of those people who like to clear their post-festive head with an invigorating stroll through the critics’ choices of the previous year’s best films, goals, scandals, cars, street brawls or whatever, you might just like this. Alternatively, if you think such reviews are all a bunch of subjective crap, it’s probably time for you to turn the page.

If you are intrigued, or you’ve just spotted the name of your agency in bold and thought “Shit, what’s all that about?”, then welcome to the Adline Review of 2003. Compiled from some of the tastiest titbits we’ve digested over the last 12 months, we’ve thrown up a dish of retrospective ratatouille that probably won’t be to everyone’s taste.

Obviously, by its very nature, it is subjective – we don’t have the time, space or cranial capacity to cook up a definitive guide to everything that’s been “going down” in the marketing “hood” – but if you’re looking for a drive-by shoot-through of some of the year’s highlights, then, hopefully, this should hit the mark.

Just to show how subjective these things can be, we’ll start with a glance at the media sector for no reason other than we feel like it, so there.

Only the most cantankerous of copy-reading curmudgeons out there would try to refute that the North has been the real hotbed of media-related machinations this year. From the very outset of 2003 the whole scene appeared to be in a state of flux as the major regional players set about opening offices in an almost tit-for-tat exchange.

Dominic Geary and Annette Armitage left Brilliant to set up Mediavest Leeds, while Brilliant wedged a hefty foot in the door of the Manchester community with the announcement that it was to open in the city with Feather Brooksbank’s Chris Broadbent and Matt Hatton. At the same time as all this was going on, PHD thought it’d tiptoe into the city before making a big noise with the major-league signing of one Mr Steve Blakeman. Et voila, PHD Compass Manchester was born.

All three players now look comfortable in their new abodes, thanks to several substantial business wins. Those most worthy of note include the Co-Op Travel Trading Group for Brilliant, Weatherseal for PHD and The Car People for Mediavest. The more dominant members of this predatory pack should start to push to the fore over the coming year.

Outside these new offices, start-ups, offshoots, whatever you want to call them, the media boys and girls have had a profitable but ultimately mixed year. Mediaedge:cia has undoubtedly been hit by the recent £5m loss of Coldseal, but, as ever, had its head down in industrious fashion on major accounts such as Morrisons. Thomas Media has been buoyed by Wella and Wadworth 6x, Brilliant (Leeds) has put in a Sharp performance and continued to grow, while the behemoth that is Universal McCann looks unlikely to shrink in stature.

Mediavest Manchester had a financial year to remember (think Going Places, Screwfix and Land of Leather) whereas managing partner Andy Jeal had a high-profile episode we’re sure he’d rather forget. Which seems like a good point to move on ...

Advertising-wise it’s impossible to sum up a whole year in a few hundred words yet, paradoxically, simple to utilise just one. That word is “difficult”.

In a time when the “project disease” has spread to epidemic proportions, to such an extent that that beloved species “the retained account” may be viewed with myth-like scepticism by future generations, any sense of stability or genuine optimism has been in short supply.

Established names have gone under, such as Talisman and MAP (although the latter is now re-born), while some of the traditionally larger players have been forced to trim down considerably (the list here is endless, but includes hefty names such as McCann-Erickson and one-time heavy-weight champs Cogent Elliot and PHWT).

However, some agencies seem to have neatly sidestepped the industry-wide malaise, handed off the competition and repeatedly got the new business ball over the try line. BDH\\TBWA is perhaps the first that springs to mind after having another envy-inducing year, which has seen the team scoop the business for Morrisons, re-launch Tizer, get stuck into the Pritt brief and put Sellotape back on television for the first time in 20 years. The agency was bookies’ favourite at this year’s Suit Awards and ran true to form, galloping off with the much-coveted hat-stand yet again.

BJL is another thoroughbred that seems to have been cantering along quite nicely. While the agency isn’t the most vocal on the Mancunian scene, many commentators believe its track record of letting the work, and the work ethic, do the talking has paid off for the firm over the past 12 months. With recent wins, including Your Communications and Greens, adding to successfully retained accounts such as Eurocamp and Fisherman’s Friend, the spotlight is shifting to illuminate this traditionally dark horse.

So, who else has been in a position to brag about their column inches? Well, appropriately enough, Big has. The Leicester-based agency would surely be a mouth-watering proposition for any network with deep pockets and an appetite for tasty creativity. The team’s WKD work is much documented, but rather than being a one-trick pony it now has a stable of creatively focused clients eager to run with personality-driven ideas. Loakes, King of Shaves and Jessops are among the newest recruits hoping for some Big results.

Staying in the Midlands, RBH has emerged as a player that could give any agency a run for its money, and still end up not breaking sweat. Harvester Restaurants, Jaguar and Hyundai certainly seem to think they’re fighting fit and, with a headcount now in excess of a hundred, the agency has proved it’s in rude health in a year characterised by the walking wounded.

One agency that knows what it feels like to be left battered and bruised by RBH is CheethamBellJWT. CBJWT would be the first to admit that it was left with a bloody nose after losing the long-standing Jaguar dealerships account to RBH late in 2002. The team then slipped up on the banana skin of the Accident Group in 2003 as they helplessly watched the “no win, no fee” legal firm morph into simply the “no fee” account. However, on this occasion there has been compensation.

Messrs Bell and Cheetham must have been pumping “Eye of the Tiger” on their Quay Street stereo over the past few months as the agency has picked itself up and come out swinging some serious haymakers. The Computer Shop (formerly Time Group’s The Computer World), Johnson’s the Cleaner’s, Roseby’s and the Fabric Warehouse have all been KO’d recently by CBJWT’s powerful proposition, meaning that, regardless of what happens to the Phones 4u business, the agency should have turned an unpromising start into a highly profitable year.

As we said, it’s impossible to get a snapshot of every agency’s performance this year, but there are some that have been saying “cheese” so much it’s difficult to ignore the gleaming gnashers. Propaganda has enjoyed a coruscating entrance to the Leeds marketing fraternity, boasting opinions, a proposition and ultimately results (see ghd’s case study last October) that can’t be ignored. Their arrival has taken the business onto the next level and charmed suitors of the order of Heinz. BCLO has revved up to attract attention, clients and staff members (the headcount is now over 40) with eye-catching creativity for the likes of Yamaha. Meanwhile, fellow South-Westerners Bray Leino and Rhythmm continue to produce proven results for clients Wrigley’s and Bristol & West, and McCann-Erickson Bristol shows it means business by returning to full strength.

HRO’C has benefited from a huge tranche of work, courtesy of the Learning and Skills Council, while at the time of going to press MD Steve Riley was waiting for confirmation of a £6m win that seemed destined to put a shed-load of icing on the agency’s Christmas cake. We think quite a few firms would have liked to unwrap a win like that over the holidays.

Many of the larger agencies in our regional remit have ostensibly had a fairly quiet year – Advertising Principles and Robson Brown spring chiefly to mind – but not so Brahm and Poulter Partners. Brahm has bucked the industry trend with its best financial year to date (compounded by the mouth-watering Chewit’s win) while Poulters continues to flex its muscles as Leeds’ biggest, and we’re sure they’d say best, full service agency. The firm’s recently acquired Humbrol account should be one to watch, providing it with the opportunity to play with names reeking of tradition and brand equity, such as Airfix and Plasticine. Let’s see what they make out of them.

Staying in Leeds, Home looked like it was taxiing for take-off throughout the year and finally marked its ascent into the agency stratosphere with the acquisition of the lucrative Jet2 account. We don’t expect to see any turbulence there.

If Home feels like it’s flying high, PWLC may believe it’s about to kiss gravity goodbye. The team has had an incredible year. Once acknowledged as “Oh yeah, the guys that do DFS”, PWLC has forced peers and clients alike to stamp a new list of names on their cerebral cortex that, try as they might, they’re unlikely to forget. Alliance & Leicester, Sky Bet and Fox’s Biscuits are just some of the high-profile heists the agency has carried out this year, bolstering their billings by in excess of £12m.

One of the most interesting developments on the Yorkshire scene was the merger of Scope and fellow Sheffield stalwart Paradigm. Although there have been high-profile departures, Creative Director Steve Loftus in particular, the new Dig For Fire entity has undoubtedly come up with the goods, mopping up the Vileda and £4m Little Chef briefs.

We’re running out of space and we still haven’t mentioned Clear’s triumph in bringing the Going Places account back to the North, or Love settling down after a difficult start to the year to win big with Playstation and Nike. Let alone the fact that Thompson has found a new top gear (and clients like Paramount Hotels and Yorkshire Forward) after recruiting former Attik MD Phil Dean, or that McCann- Erickson Birmingham is putting Poppets back on TV. Phew ...

PR-wise, one of the biggest stories of recent months has been the take-over of the ever-impressive Haslimann Taylor by the giant Huntsworth Group, the same Huntsworth that bought Harrison Cowley out last year. We think there’ll be an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy employed there, so expect more success in 2004. Weber Shandwick North has had its best year yet, boosting annual fees by £750k to £2m, with a raft of new business including Eurocamp, Jury’s Inns and Caterpillar. The opening of the team’s new Liverpool office has also given them a valuable foothold in the soon-to-be City of Culture (likewise Spin Media’s new operation there). Cheltenham’s Target PR had a profitable year, focusing on more Specsavers work and winning the Jewson brief, whilst Brazen continues to piss off its detractors by hitting them where it hurts and piling on the new business (a £200k round of Halewood briefs anyone?).

And folks, that’s about all the room we’ve got, I’m afraid. Before the angry letters flood in, remember this is a snapshot rather than the full picture – but if you do think we’ve got our finger over the lens, shout louder in 2004 and let us know what you’ve got. Here’s hoping you all have a very Happy New Year!

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