Lucky Generals, W+K London, Don't Panic and more feature as the top agencies of the year in The Drum's New Year Honours 2016

New Year Honours: Top agencies

From agencies that made the biggest headlines throughout the year, to those that are set to be talked about most in 2017, here are the ones that have had a year to remember and generated some of the liveliest conversations.

Ballsiest agency

Lucky Generals

Lucky Generals continued to disrupt ad land in 2016, thanks to a combination of tongue-in-cheek creative and clever business decisions.

Having made ‘Youth Hostelling with Chris Eubank’ a reality in 2015, the creative shop enlisted none other than rapper 50 Cent to front Hostel World’s 2016 spot. This was followed by a series of ads directly targeting the chief marketing officers of brands such as Unilever and Airbnb for Radiocentre. It also continued to work with long-time client and master of mischief Paddy Power, producing ‘Vive La Bantz’ to celebrate the one team from the UK that didn’t qualify for the Euro 2016 tournament – Scotland.

The agency also found time to pull off a global stunt in which it stole hundreds of D&AD pencils from trophy cabinets all over the world, to highlight the value of the prestigious award. Oh, and it opened two startups: sports marketing agency Dark Horses and design arm Wild Things, as the agency looks to back like-minded entrepreneurs and foster the next generation of comms start-ups.

The ballsiness didn’t go unnoticed, helping Lucky Generals pick up a slew of new clients, from Popchips to Premier Inn and Pot Noodle.

The bouncebackability award

W+K London

Being unceremoniously dumped from Tesco’s £110m advertising account at the turn of 2015 would have felt like a cruel blow for Wieden+Kennedy’s London operation. Two and a half years of solid work from the Shoreditch agency could not spare it from the more serious troubles facing Tesco, which was still reeling from an accounting scandal that saw it overestimate its profit by £250m.

With its internal structure and strategy confused amid the fallout, the supermarket was struggling to keep pace with more focused and aggressive retail rivals. So perhaps being jettisoned by new chief executive Dave Lewis, in favour of his old ally BBH, was actually a blessing in disguise. Drawing from its Tesco experience, Wiedens impressively ousted 40-year incumbent AMV BBDO in August to land the much-contested Sainsbury’s account and win back a seat at the top table of British retail advertising – a fitting reward for W+K London’s indefatigable figurehead, Neil Christie.

New kids on the block

Hearts & Science

After winning the bulk of Procter & Gamble’s North American business, Omnicom Media Group launched a third media agency to support the account. Dubbed Hearts & Science and led by Scott Hagedorn, the agency opened its doors at 7 World Trade Center in April 2016. Months after opening, Hearts & Science also picked up AT&T’s media business – no small feat for an agency that didn’t exist a year ago.

While the data-driven agency is still in its early days, it is moving fast, having already opened another New York office and set up shop in Atlanta, Dallas, India, Puerto Rico and Toronto. With the lofty goal of “pioneering the future of how brands and people will interact in the post-media world”, there’s no doubt that many of the industry’s top players will be keeping their eyes on what else Hearts & Science has in store.

Nicest agency in ad land

AMV BBDO

Not many agencies out there could take the loss of an account it had held for nearly four decades as well as AMV BBDO. The creative shop had loyally served high-street stalwart Sainsbury’s for almost 40 years, but in 2016 the grocer felt the pressures it was facing could be better managed by Wieden+Kennedy. Rather than sulking, AMV was widely dubbed the classiest agency in ad land for sending 37 bottles of Sainsbury’s Finest Champagne (one for each year it had worked on the business) straight to W+K’s door.

With it came a note, which simply read: “Congrats. Look after it. Cheers. AMV”.

Big work from a small agency

Just So

When the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) decided for the first time in history to allow a team comprised entirely of refugees to enter the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, independent production agency Just So took a risk and started work on a documentary that would go on to become one of the year’s most important pieces of work. Just So decided that it would make a film chronicling the sporting journey of these athletes as they made their way to Rio.

The agency spent months finding out about the 43 individuals who would compete for one of 10 places in the team going to the Games. Then, after realising it wanted to help change perceptions of refugees too, and with the backing of UNCHR and help from Grey, it created a campaign that demonstrates both the dark and the light in the struggle for success.

For making us think

Don’t Panic

Arriving on the scene as the agency we know – and love – in 2013, Don’t Panic’s history actually stretches all the way back to 2005, from an online presence to viral videos, a TV series and more.

With a mission statement to create powerful, shareable work for charities and brands that will not only make headlines but also adjust attitudes and change behaviours, 2016 was a blockbuster year for the agency.

From ‘Understanding Autism’ to dragging the issue of Arctic fishing into the spotlight and, let’s not forget, continuing the most successful charity video ever made for Save the Children, Don’t Panic was behind a lot of the work that made us stop and think in the last year.

Boldest move that could pay off

Omnicom’s “agency of the future” for McDonald’s

Publicis and Omnicom battled it out in 2016 to try to win over McDonald’s US creative business in one of the most closely watched reviews in recent years.

When the fast-food chain ultimately chose Omnicom, it ended the brand’s long-time relationship with Publicis’ Leo Burnett and kicked off the start of one the most unusual brand-agency relationships of all time. Instead of handing the business to DDB, the Omnicom agency that pitched for the account, McDonald’s tasked the holding company with creating an agency dedicated exclusively to the brand that would prioritise digital and data.

The result is an agency called We Are Unlimited, with BBDO New York’s Brian Nienhaus as chief executive. While the agency has yet to launch any work for the Golden Arches, 2017 will surely be an interesting year for the two as they work together to try to make the struggling chain relevant again.

For walking the diversity talk

Wieden+Kennedy

Diversity and disruption in the same breath? When it comes to Wieden+Kennedy, the answer is a resounding yes. The foundation was laid 20 years ago when Dan Wieden created Caldera, an arts organisation dedicated to providing for Oregon’s underserved youth. More recently, ‘Courageous Conversations’ is a multi-day diversity workshop that helps people get comfortable with being uncomfortable about race.

Also, in Portland, one of America’s whitest cities, there is minority-focused paid internships, an account that was created to focus on addressing racial justice, and scads more. The office is 25% multicultural, still not close to its standards, so expect more disruption from W+K Portland and beyond.

You can read more New Year Honours here.

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