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The Liberty Guild & Media Bounty among 2021 winners at The Drum Awards for Agency Business

Channel Bakers was one of 2021’s top agencies, winning the award for Best HR Team

The winners of The Drum Awards for Agency Business have been announced. This global competition celebrates the agencies that excel through strong workplace culture, effective management and excellent performance, and in 2021 received entries from Indonesia, Russia, Vietnam, South Africa, the United States and more.

The Drum is proud to present these awards with the support of its headline partner Scoro. With hundreds of agency, consultancy and professional service firm clients around the world, it has a unique insight into what makes an agency special.

This year’s jury featured agency leaders from around the world, representing both small independents and international consultancies – you can find out more about them here.

Dan Roche, Scoro’s vice-president of marketing, joined The Drum’s founder Gordon Young and head of The Drum Network Holly Hall at a virtual ceremony to name this year’s winning agencies. The show was broadcast live from The Drum Labs, The Drum’s new event space and media hub in Shoreditch. If you missed it, you can catch up below, or read on for a selection of this year’s top agencies.

The full list of this year’s winners can be found here.

The Liberty Guild: redefining the way creativity is bought and sold

Grand Prix – presented in partnership with Scoro

Business Transformation Strategy of the Year

The Liberty Guild began with a bold premise: that advertising is a multi-billion-dollar broken business. It believes that the focus on selling hours has made the industry lethargic and political, feeding marketers’ egos and marginalizing clients. “It’s not about the creativity anymore,” the team claims. “It’s about the money.”

By turning the traditional business model on its head, The Liberty Guild has fundamentally redefined what it means for it to be an agency. Instead of selling hours, they sell ideas – a concept that the industry has ventured into but rarely managed to fully embody. The team believes it’s at the cutting edge of “an industry-wide shift in power, culture, motivation and value”.

The jury described this entry as “of the now”, praising the company’s flexibility regarding resourcing, pricing and structure. The freelance workforce grants the power to incorporate the right disciplines for different projects.

But what cinched the Grand Prix was its audacity, defying convention to build a successful company culture and an innovative business model, with 300 people working across 27 countries, and revenue up 203% year-on-year.

This new business model is one that the team believes actually better serves the client, defined by ability, skill, experience and results.

Media Bounty

Chair’s Award

Corporate Social Responsibility Strategy of the Year

In its own words, Media Bounty is “on a mission to become the UK’s leading independent ethical creative and media agency by 2023”. This is their response to the desperately-needed changes in our consumption habits, and a way to stay ahead of new legislation relating to sustainability and social justice.

The team believes that every interaction should make obvious their values, which are to be kind, conscious, honest, brave and curious. The agency has the notion of corporate social responsibility woven into its very fabric – something the judges felt was evident from their seeking B-Corp status, working with clients that align with their mission and other choices.

Since it opened its doors, the founders of Media Bounty have sought to operate a sustainable, diverse, inclusive agency. Today, it strives to improve the industry beyond its walls, pushing its peers to look further than greenwashing or press-pleasing PR stunts with the Conscious Advertising Network.

The judges praised the agency’s distinctive point of view, both in terms of how they operate and the dynamic culture they are working to create. Christopher Kenna, chief executive officer and founder of Brand Advance, who was the chair of this year’s jury, chose them for the Chair’s Award because “they show that advertising can be done responsibly, and marketing can have a conscience”.

Channel Bakers: celebrating the people growing the dough

HR Team of the Year

While they are often overlooked or maligned, a great human resource team is essential to the culture of a thriving agency that brings in the dough. The leadership of Channel Bakers gives credit for its recent rise to “investment in the acquisition, development and management” of talent, driven by its HR team (and possibly by their love of bread-based puns).

Known internally as the People and Culture team, it managed a global recruitment drive that helped Channel Bakers emerge from the oven of 2020 with over 200 people, having begun it with only 60. They also steered the agency’s staff through a massive internal restructure, future-proofing this diverse agency so it can continue to bring in dough for years to come.

The judges admired the company’s focus on its people, acknowledging the efforts of the whole HR team and the difficulty of significantly increasing staff numbers in the year of a pandemic.

Learn more about Channel Bakers in the video below.

The Gate London: how to walk through walls

Strategy & Planning Team of the Year

Even the best laid plans of agencies and clients went out the window when the pandemic began, and businesses were forced to overhaul their strategies. For this winning agency, the crisis brought by Covid-19 was the much-needed catalyst for change.

The team considers that pre-pandemic time a rut: the agency’s industry ranking had stagnated, and it had won no major creative or strategic awards. Deciding to shift gear, the strategy team crafted a new manifesto that embodies the agency’s spirit – Walk Through Walls – then embedded it into the business through practical tools, models, learning and cultural experiences.

The result was transformative. New business was up 600%, and an industry publication ranked them as one of the 2020’s most improved agencies. This is not the only award The Gate has claimed this year. Its entry stood out to The Drum’s jury as an “inspirational read, one that set out a compelling approach to strategy and delivering truly impressive results”.

Brandfuel: all change

Production Team of the Year

Best Response to Change

When Covid-19 stopped the events world in its tracks, Brandfuel was “anticipating its best results in its 15-year history”. The company’s response was to quickly set a series of targets, redefined for the pandemic era, pertaining to existing clients, the winning of new clients, financial goals and the wellbeing of staff.

These clear targets meant that instead of merely adapting to the changes thrust upon them, staff and managers could plan for life and work beyond the pandemic. Within a few weeks, Brandfuel had transformed from a creative events agency to an online broadcast events business, delivering virtual and hybrid events for new and existing clients – filling a new but suddenly vital niche.

The production team is award-winning in its own right, claiming the title of Best Production Team. It transformed from a team of eleven, rooted in physical event delivery – building large-scale stage sets and exhibition stands – to eight experts in online events, virtual platforms and a multitude of new software systems and production techniques.

This has meant that roles have doubled up: instead of functioning only as managers who oversaw external contractors, each is now a platform builder, vision mixer, audio technician or stream encoder, creating and managing all technical aspects of events. They have become experts in nearly 20 constantly evolving digital platforms to meet client needs now and in the future, and to support other Brandfuel staff.

It was looking past short-term needs that impressed the jury, earning a win in this year’s new category Best Response to Change. The judges felt that this popular category was full of inspiring and impressive entries, but that the winner showed a boldness in strategy. Investing in learning a whole new set of skills and technologies showed “commitment to their evolution as a company” that made it stand out.

Want to learn more about the rest of this year’s winners? Visit The Drum Awards for Agency Business.

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