Welcome to The Annual 2012

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A lot of time has been taken making a lot of decisions in the compilation of this year's Annual. But one of the toughest decisions we took was to stick with our usual categories.

Again, we have nominated an Advertising Agency of the Year, a Digital Agency of the Year, a Direct Agency of the Year – yet those definitions are more strained than ever.

So, before anything else was put on the table, we did debate whether it was time to recognise that labelling agencies by a specialism was anachronistic enough to demand just a single category: Creative Agency of the Year.

In the end, we thought not – quite. I remember writing here when Dare and MCBD merged at the end of 2010 that we were perhaps on the brink of having to surrender tags such as advertising agency and digital agency. But, as it turned out, the subsequent struggles of Dare to find its footing as a new hybrid illustrate how far apart those two agency models were – and, in many cases, still are.

The digital and direct agencies have moved closest together in terms of offer, but their creative solutions are still distinct enough that comparing, say, OgilvyOne or Lida with AKQA or Work Club was an impossible challenge. And, despite ad agencies’ digital credentials and attempts to embrace data, there’s still a long way to go before we can make a comfortable comparison with agencies that have been specialising in those areas for decades.

So we stuck with our conventional categories for this year at least. That didn’t make things easy, though. Our shortlist for Ad Agency of the Year was a little too long, yet we struggled to stretch the other two lists to give us a decent choice.

In fact, it’s troubling that, in several categories, our shortlist hasn’t moved on much for the past couple of years; the same agencies dominate and a certain polarisation seems to be setting in. Perhaps the economic climate has meant too many agencies keeping their heads down, innovation and risk-taking put aside until the ground is surer. But unless those recessive agencies have been quietly preparing for recovery, the polarisation between the best and the rest may become more acute as consumer confidence returns.

If I have one real hope for the ad industry in 2013, it’s that this Annual looks dramatically different in 12 months’ time, bubbling with new contenders and innovative work and fresh talent emerging through its pages. That, of course, depends on you. Happy Christmas.

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