TOP 300 AGENCIES: Top new-media agencies

campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 21 February 2003 12:00AM

AKQA retained all its clients last year and won several more. Glue London - Campaign's New-Media Agency of the Year - had an excellent 2002 with an 80 per cent pitch conversion rate. Profero has more than justified its decision to expand internationally.

SCORE KEY

9 Outstanding

8 Excellent

7 Good

6 Satisfactory

5 Adequate

4 Below average

3 Poor

2 A year to forget

1 Survival in question

AKQA - PRINCIPAL: AJAZ AHMED

Declared billings 2002 n/s

Declared income 2002 n/s

% of new-media work 95

Staff 2002 145

Company ownership Minority-owned by Accenture

After going global in 2001 - opening offices in San Francisco, Singapore and Washington - AKQA set its sights on gaining large-scale, regional accounts in 2002.

Concentrating on such big pitches, and looking to handle incremental work from existing clients, meant the agency only appeared on seven domestic pitchlists. But wins are about quality, not quantity, and AKQA still landed an impressive range of new business.

As a retained agency in the UK, AKQA went on to net Nike in Europe and Asia-Pacific. It won Nikon UK and strengthened its relations with Microsoft by winning the Xbox creative account in Europe.

It also picked up project work for MTV Europe's European Music Awards, a solid creative account. All the wins will involve a combination of site building and advertising projects.

The agency founder Ajaz Ahmed's watchful eye never let up, and renewed effort in client services prevented the loss of a single account. Despite the downturn, the business grew in 2002. Fifteen extra staff took its Jermyn Street office's total to 145. Globally, the agency employs about 250 staff.

The agency put in a solid creative performance including a football campaign for Carlsberg, as well as its work for Nike's Bowerman shoe range.

AKQA is now a heavyweight global player, with a solid creative positioning. Going forward, its network credentials are standing it in good stead to consolidate international relations with big brands such as Nike and Microsoft.

- Score This Year 8; Score Last Year 6

CARAT INTERACTIVE - PRINCIPAL: ROBERT HORLER

Declared billings 2002 £16m

Declared income 2002 n/s

% of new-media work 100

Staff 2002 22

Company ownership Aegis subsidiary

Carat Interactive was busy in 2002, winning new accounts from Dell, Opodo, British Gas, the Department of Transport and Cellus. Combined new business represented a year-on-year billings increase of more than £4 million.

Its losses were minimal. Although it parted company with Debenhams.com, it retained the bricks-and-mortar Debenhams account.

Meanwhile, its existing clients were active across the year with AOL, Coca-Cola, Dell, Diageo and Renault all demanding new work from the agency.

Renault's output was notable and, back in October, the brand was feted by Sky when it embarked on the 200th interactive campaign to appear on the Sky Digital platform.

The agency relies heavily on Carat network clients, with the majority of its new business coming as part of a package offered to new clients by the main Carat agency. This system protected the agency from the sector's harsh trading conditions.

Nevertheless, Carat Interactive is a powerful brand. The Carat Interactive network is one of the world's biggest, with 21 offices worldwide, and it was strengthened last year by the acquisition of two US digital agencies, Lot 21 and Vizium.

Carat Interactive is a stable operation, likely to continue in the same vein throughout 2003.

- Score This Year 6; Score Last Year n/a

GLUE LONDON - PRINCIPAL: MARK CRIDGE

Declared billings 2002 £1m

Declared income 2002 £1m

% of new-media work 100

Staff 2002 28

Company ownership Private company

Glue London originally launched as gluemedia in early 2000 as a subsidiary of the digital e-business company Deepgroup.

When Deepgroup went under at the end of 2001, its managing director, Mark Cridge, led a management buy-out, changed the company name and obtained investment from St Luke's in return for a 26 per cent shareholding.

Since then, the agency has gone from strength to strength, doubling its client base, profits and staff numbers.

As Campaign's New-Media Agency of the Year for 2002, it pitched 22 times, winning 15 of the 19 pitches it received a result on - an impressive conversion rate of 80 per cent.

Wins included Virgin Credit Card, HFC Bank and a much-coveted place on COI Communications' tightly controlled roster.

Nobody is perfect, however, and Glue did lose two pitches: Freeserve went to itraffic and Oyster won BT Broadband.

The agency showed signs of maturity and strength when it attracted the media heavyweight Ken New as a non-executive director in the autumn. The promotion of Seb Royce, formerly of Ogilvy & Mather, to creative director will also enable Cridge to concentrate on running the agency.

The agency had an outstanding year, growing from a fledgling operation to a serious player. For 2003, it will be interesting to see if it will tempted to move towards a full-service offering.

- Score This Year 9; Score Last Year n/a

I-LEVEL - PRINCIPAL: CHARLIE DOBRES

Declared billings 2002 £18m

Declared income 2002 n/s

% of new-media work 100

Staff 2002 39

Company ownership Private company

Like Profero, i-level continues to pitch its case on the basis of "specialists are best". Ad agency groups, so the argument goes, may know a thing or two about advertising and marketing, but they have a lamentable track record when it comes to digital. In the past, this has been relatively easy to prove. But, with each passing year, it gets harder as the big agency groups catch on and catch up. Certainly, i-level's line-up, headed by the chief executive, Charlie Dobres, is second to none in terms of talent, but the agency must fear that the niche it occupies as a full-service digital supplier could become narrower.

That's why last year's attempts to broaden its offering, through the launch of i-level Digital Partnerships (which specialises in retail and content distribution), and i-level Generator (a research division), are to be applauded. As should its determination to resist redundancies during the toughest of times. Not that i-level's tough times have been anything like as painful as the dark days experienced elsewhere in the industry.

It helps, of course, to have blue-chip big spenders such as BT on the books but it has also had a decent new-business year, its final pitch conversion of 2002 being Specsavers in December.

- Score This Year 6; Score Last Year 8

LATERAL - PRINCIPAL: JON BAINS

Declared billings 2002 n/s

Declared income 2002 £1m

% of new-media work 95

Staff 2002 30

Company ownership Private company

Lateral was formed in 1997 as an independent digital agency by five members of a new-media creative collective called Obsolete. Since then the agency has built its reputation as one of the leading creative outfits in London and 2002 was a solid year for the 30-strong operation.

In 2002, 13 pieces of new business were added, nine as retained agency, with no losses.

The agency took on work for Xbox UK, when the retained shop Agency Republic called in Lateral to help crack the creative brief for the relaunch of the console's destination website.

Project wins included the mobile operator O2, the BBC and Jack Daniels.

To strengthen its management, the creative director, Su Sareen, who joined Lateral in 2000 having been European creative director at Leo Burnett, was appointed to Lateral's board.

In 2003, the agency should continue producing some of the strongest digital creative in the market and use its profile to attract new clients.

- Score This Year 7; Score Last Year n/a

MDIGITAL - PRINCIPAL: NIGEL SHELDON

Declared billings 2002 £14m

Declared income 2002 n/s

% of new-media work 100

Staff 2002 20

Company ownership WPP subsidiary

It was a quiet but effective year for Mdigital - it didn't exactly grab headlines but kept putting on billings through accounts wins and by convincing existing MindShare clients to spend more in digital media. All in all, declared billings rose by 27 per cent year on year.

Wins in 2002 included Weight Watchers Online, German Wings (a division of Lufthansa Airlines), the Welsh Tourist Board and Hutchison 3G (a group win). But the agency was particularly buoyed by activity from MindShare stalwarts such as Ford, which launched its first interactive campaign for the Ford Fusion in September and has vowed to increase its commitment to digital.

Other MindShare clients particularly active in the digital domain included Kimberly-Clark, Wilkinson Sword, Pepsi's World Cup campaign and Range Rover.

The division's solid performance is set to carry through into 2003 as activity on Hutchison 3G really begins to take off.

Mdigital's staff remained constant at 20 across the year, but there were subtle changes at the top. Jed Glanvill has been given a wider remit within the mother agency, becoming MindShare's futures director. And similarly, Mdigital's managing partner, Nigel Sheldon, while remaining in charge of the unit, has also been given additional consulting responsibilities at the WPP sister company, The Henley Centre.

Both appointments position Mdigital as a division of MindShare. The agency would do well to counter this by winning more business in its own right.

- Score This Year 6; Score Last Year 7

OUTRIDER - PRINCIPAL: ROB NORMAN

Declared billings 2002 £12m

Declared income 2002 £3m

% of new-media work 100

Staff 2002 22

Company ownership WPP subsidiary

On the face of it, the complementary strengths of Outrider and The Digital Edge dovetailed beautifully when the two operations were merged following the takeover of Outrider parent Tempus by WPP in 2001. Outrider has always majored in raw e-commerce clients where customer acquisition, return on investment and e-commerce was all.

The Digital Edge, on the other hand, has tended to work for clients who use digital media for brand advertising.

The reality, however, is that the combination of such diametrically opposed world views can lead to something of a culture clash. So it's to the agency's great credit that the merger seems to have been handled relatively well on the shop floor.

At senior level, though, things were more fraught as the chiefs played musical chairs. The most notable departures were the managing director, David Stubley, his successor, Kirsty Wilson, and David Turner, the director behind Outrider's successful search-optimisation products.

There were other potentially distracting merger issues, Outrider's relationship with its Incline subsidiary being one of them. Incline will continue to be run independently, but more closely with fellow WPP digital agencies in the future.

On the whole, though, all the difficult hurdles have been overcome and there has been minimal client fall-out. The agency works for an enviable list of blue-chip advertisers on an international basis and wins last year included Sony Ericsson and Reebok. Outrider is eminently well placed to take advantage of an upturn.

- Score This Year 6; Score Last Year 5

PROFERO - PRINCIPAL: DARYL ARNOLD

Declared billings 2002 £8m

Declared income 2002 £3m

% of new-media work 100

Staff 2002 38

Company ownership Private company

A year ago, many observers were predicting a tough 2002 for dyed-in-the-wool independent agencies such as Profero, which is among the longest-surviving digital agencies in the UK. How on earth could a sector that commands a mere 1 per cent of UK adspend continue to support specialists that were not linked to other marketing services companies? The big agency groups, who, after all, "own" the clients that matter, would surely squeeze specialists out of the business - no matter how good they were.

Good theory. But the theory didn't help you if you were pitching against Profero last year, as it proceeded to convert nine out of the 11 pitches in which it was involved. A notable win was COI Communications' Investors in People scheme back in October. Its most recent win was a £2 million worldwide brief from the healthcare company AstraZeneca. The international nature of this win confirms the wisdom of Profero's geographical expansion over the past few years: it now has offices in Paris, Munich, Milan, Madrid and Sydney, as well as Islington. The formal launch of an office in Singapore should be confirmed in 2003.

On the other hand, it was perhaps ominous that Profero's only account loss last year - lastminute.com - was down to the client consolidating into its offline agency. One of Profero's strengths is its ability to work well with other agencies, particularly traditional creative agencies.

Profero has every reason to be optimistic about what 2003 will bring.

- Score This Year 7; Score Last Year 7

UNIVERSAL MCCANN INTERACTIVE - PRINCIPA: DAMIAN BLACKDEN

Declared billings 2002 £9m

Declared income 2002 n/s

% of new-media work 100

Staff 2002 16

Company ownership Interpublic subsidiary

The highlight of Universal McCann Interactive's 2002 was the launch of Microsoft's Xbox games console, one of the most talked-about campaigns of the year. Universal also won work via its mother agency for T-Mobile and the processor chip manufacturer Intel's big rival, AMD.

Project work came from easyCar and Universal developed its cross-media offering with interactive TV work for Saab and Xbox. Universal's only loss was for Sky's internet direct ordering service out of Manchester.

However, Manchester did win Sainsbury's Bank through its sister agency, McCann-Erickson.

Perhaps most interesting, though, was Universal's strategic partnership with the US creative agency Interactive Planet. A specialist in developing creative rich-media advertising formats, Interactive Planet chose to launch in the UK by setting up within Universal's London offices and offering creative solutions only to Universal's client base. Unsurprisingly, this strategy has meant considerably more digital media buying work.

Adding creative capability is a business-expansion model that has been adopted by the likes of Profero and is a move that, if aped by digital planning and buying agencies, is potentially lucrative.

It will be interesting to see this partnership develop, particularly if clients take to it as opposed to using third-party agencies for creative.

In 2003, Universal will need to develop more business to pull in decent billings now the initial Xbox launch and Christmas push are over.

- Score This Year 7; Score Last Year n/a

WHEEL - PRINCIPAL: PHILIP HUNT

Declared billings 2002 £7m

Declared income 2002 £6m

% of new-media work 100

Staff 2002 100

Company ownership Primedia subsidiary

Wheel's heritage goes back a long way. It was born out of a merger in June 2000 between the agency pres.co and the interactive entertainment marketing company Foresight, set up in 1982 with clients including Buena Vista International.

The mega-merger at the height of the dotcom boom saw it become one of Europe's largest digital agencies.

2002 was a game of two halves; restructure followed by stabilisation, resulting in a pretty good year. Account wins included: Laura Ashley; the jeweller Asprey & Garrard; Qjump, the rail ticket-booking arm of the National Express Group; HBOS corporate work and esure. It also gained rolling work for Unilever's corporate account and projects for Ikea, although it lost Early Learning Centre and Interflora.

Wheel moved nimbly in June to acquire the creative hotshop Abel & Baker.

Abel & Baker, under the astute eye of Charlotte Neser, the managing director, brought with it clients including Virgin Mobile and United Biscuits, which owns brands such as Penguin, McCoy's, McVitie's, KP Nuts and Hula Hoops.

UB then reviewed its sprawling agency situation and slashed its roster to three which saw Abel & Baker pick up a spot alongside Oyster Partners and Cordiant's XM London. It also won the substantial creative account for Opodo, previously held by Incline.

Now Wheel appears to have cut back much of its dotcom bloat, it will be interesting to see the further effect of the new creative focus the agency is nurturing.

- Score This Year 7; Score Last Year n/a

ZENITH OPTIMEDIA - PRINCIPAL: JEFF HYAMS

Declared billings 2002 £32m

Declared income 2002 n/s

% of new-media work 100

Staff 2002 39

Company ownership Publicis subsidiary

These are interesting times for the Zenith Optimedia Group. Constructing a workable operation on the digital side could be a particularly intricate operation. No matter how neatly drawn the lines are on the new corporate organogram, in reality it could take many months to bed down. But there's no shortage of raw expertise within the group - Zenith historically has been strong in interactive television and Optimedia has been seen as stronger in the online sector.

How the whole lot is to relate to Publicis' digital offering will also be an issue. Publicis Networks, for instance, has been the lead unit in the development of the group's video-on-demand advertising techniques. Rationalisation issues will surely be to the fore throughout 2003 and, indeed, they started surfacing last year when interactive@optimedia took on all interactive planning and buying for its sister agency, Saatchi & Saatchi Vision.

The move helped to consolidate interactive@optimedia's claimed position as one of the UK's ten largest digital media specialists and, if the industry evolves in the way many observers believe that it will, the division will continue to be well placed. Optimedia is such a strong and early believer in convergence that it has effectively merged its TV airtime buying and digital buying functions.

Some meaty account wins will go a long way to convincing the market that the merged operation, under the experienced direction of the former Zed boss Jeff Hyams, is on track.

- Score This Year -; Score Last Year n/a

ZENTROPY - PRINCIPAL: ALISTAIR DUNCAN

Declared billings 2002 £8m

Declared income 2002 £6m

% of new-media work 100

Staff 2002 70

Company ownership Interpublic subsidiary

Zentropy's income boost and recruitment of ten staff are fair indicators that the agency is doing well in a tight market.

New-business wins included Hewlett-Packard EMEA, the Irish Tourist Board, Johnson & Johnson's contact lens brand Acuvue and the car marque Opel.

Although Zentropy managed to hold on to all of its clients, it wasn't all plain sailing. The Compaq merger with Hewlett-Packard did cause cutbacks in Zentropy's media division. Most notably, the client services director, Alan McCulloch, was made redundant in August, barely six months into the job.

In a move designed to boost the amount of digital work generated by existing IPG clients, Zentropy began to work more closely with McCann-Erickson.

The two agencies, surprisingly, had always operated independently and had never attempted to cross-fertilise or mine additional digital work from above-the-line clients to Zentropy.

The move came when Matt Groves, the chief executive and founder of the web agency 64k, was brought on board at McCann to offer digital strategy and marketing options stemming from client demand. Groves' move resulted in 64k clients, including Nescafe Original and Yoplait Dairy Crest's Frubes brand, being handed to Zentropy.

The first fruit of the new open communication channel was borne when McCann won the Moroccan Tourist Board, resulting in a digital brief being added to the account and handed to Zentropy.

It will be interesting to see how well Zentropy and McCann mine this new opportunity in 2003.

- Score This Year 7; Score Last Year 6.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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