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So how do they do it? McGarryBowen takes top AdAge accolade as old clients 'come home'


By Noel Young, Correspondent

January 24, 2012 | 5 min read

They are in a sense the comeback kids of the American advertising world. Now after a stream of "how do they do it" successes, McGarryBowen has been named by AdAge as its Agency of the Year.

Bud Light: new client

Announcing the accolade, AdAge said the agency began winning big two years ago, with new assignments from the likes of Kraft Foods,Verizon and the Dr Pepper Snapple Group .

The agency dominated the new-business circuit in 2011 adding Burger King , Bud Light and United Continental. With a staggering 60% in revenue growth, 2011 was its best year ever. Staff was up up 45%, to 800.

"We won't be the ones to break the streak," said Ad Age revealing its choice. "McGarryBowen has won Ad Age's 2011 Agency of the Year honours. "

The firm, which first earned the award in 2009, has a knack of finding its way back into the fold, said the magazine.

Uli Becker, president of Reebok , said his company's recent reunion with McGarryBowen began with six words: "We want you to come home." They were spoken by agency founder John McGarry on "a quiet crusade to regain the account," as AdAge put it. It had gone to DDB Worldwide in 2009.

McGarryBowen is once again Reebok's agency of record. Their return means that two key clients -- the other being Verizon Communications -- lost over the agency's 10-year history have come back.

So how have McGarryBowen done it? One clue may be in the AdAge heading on the award story: "Solid and reliable beat fast and furious". But there's much more to it than that.

Adage said it was well known that John McGarry encourages an old-school, client-centred approach. But some had speculated that the agency snags high-profile accounts by undercutting the competition on price.

McGarry and Chief Creative Officer Gordon Bowen dismiss the suggestion that they negotiate cut-rate fees to get accounts.

"No, never," said McGarry. "Every pitch we've ever won has been based on the work, on the people. I do think we're dramatically different."

Paul Chibe, VP-U.S. marketing at Anheuser-Busch InBev , hired McGarryBowen last year for America's No. 1 beer, Bud Light.

"They had strength in planning, account service, creative development," Chime told AdAge. "To have a long-term relationship, you need all three. ... If you're not [strong] in all three and your creative is not linked to a longterm strategy, it's not going to work."

The Bud Light account was a victory out of the agency's Chicago office. When Tim Scott, now Chicago president, arrived there in spring 2009, it had just 16 employees. Now there are mote than 200. It houses the Disney account, and is the lead office for Kraft and Sears .

Scott said, "If you told someone two years ago that the Chicago office would win Bud Light, they would have thought you were high."

The agency is busy producing the Bud Light ads for this year's Super Bowl.

AdAge said the win demonstrated the variety of categories McGarryBowen can capably handle, while keeping clients such as Disney -- with them since 2005 -- happy.

Burger King for years "targeted young men with bizarre ads featuring the "creepy" King character, said the magazine.

McGarryBowen took over the account last summer and spotlighted the burgers and fries. The fast-food chain posted sales gains in September for the first time in 30 months.

Similarly, the agency launched a campaign for Verizon 's 4G network in late 2010. By March 2011, the carrier had added 2 million subscribers, 10 times as many as the competition in the same period. competitors combined in the same period.

For Kraft 's Miracle Whip, the agency came up with a contest, called "Not for Every Relationship,"inviting videos on how the spread brought couples together or tore them apart. The prize was $25,000 toward a wedding--or a divorce. Result: a 548% spike in tweets about the brand and a 631% boweb posts among 18- to 34-year-olds.

* Also this week, as reported in The Drum, rival magazine Adweek announced its US ad agency of the year: New York shop Maxus.


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