Last year, we pondered whether there would still be some logic for a Digital Agency of the Year category in 2011. Wouldn’t every agency be so digital that such a silo would become redundant? But there were still plenty of digital-only assignments up for grabs in 2011 and, as we considered the potential candidates for this accolade, it was obvious that some digital agencies are still doing work that other creative agencies cannot match.
This year’s winner is a perfect example of how specialist agencies continue to set the standard in digital communications. AKQA continues to offer a powerful combination of technological craft and emotive creativity that few other agencies can even reach for.
AKQA’s record in technological innovation, coupled with design, creativity and business acumen, is breathtaking. The agency finished 2011 with a 100 per cent client retention rate, revenue growth of 12 per cent to £41.5 million and £5.2 million in new business from clients including the Royal Bank of Scotland, EDF Energy, NatWest, Nissan, Arsenal and Virgin Money.
Creative excellence has always been at the heart of the agency, driven by the chief executive officer and co-founder, James Hilton. AKQA scooped no less than five Cannes Lions, winning three gold Cyber Lions, one silver and one bronze at this year’s awards.
Creative accolades were spread across a wide body of work. Standout campaigns included a world first this year for Heineken by creating the real-time Star Player app. Despite coming up against technical difficulties due to TV broadcasting delays, the agency managed to create an app that allowed football fans to interact in real time with Uefa Champions League action. In three games, the app was downloaded 30,000 times and engaged each user for 29 minutes on average. It also won a gold Cyber Lion.
AKQA’s Nike Training Club, named "app of the week" by Apple on both sides of the Atlantic, was another highlight. The app, which won a bronze in Cannes, reached the top of the App Store in 21 countries. To date, 40 million minutes of training have been sweated out thanks to the programme.
AKQA was also behind a recent Nike campaign featuring the singer Ellie Goulding. An online film showed Goulding running to her song Run Into The Light. The film was viewed 63,000 times in the first ten days and the brand added 2,490 fans on Facebook.
Attracting and maintaining talent has always been important to AKQA and this strategy is clearly working. In November, the agency promoted its head of client services, Matt Bain, who has worked at the agency for more than six years, to run the Amsterdam office as the general manager, reporting to the European managing director, Guy Wieynk.
Mind you, talent management wasn’t trouble-free for AKQA this year. In April, the agency’s boat was gently rocked as it lost a central part of its creative line-up, the chief creative officer, Daniel Bonner, as well as its client services director, William Lidstone, who both left to join the Publicis-owned Razorfish. AKQA responded by promoting Duan Evans and Nick Turner to the roles of joint executive creative directors, after both had served more than a decade at the agency. It also appointed Amanda Morrissey as its client services director to replace Lidstone in October.
This year has also seen a focus on youth development, with AKQA working with The Prince’s Trust, where the agency’s co-founder and chairman, Ajaz Ahmed, is part of the Enterprise Fellowship. The agency has also been involved with Ambition UK, a collaborative programme with Orange that encourages disengaged young people into a professional environment.
AKQA’s mantra, "It’s good to be first. It’s better to be good. It’s best to be both", has once again proved to be a winning formula for the agency for 2011.
London Leading the charge from "the best of the rest" is Albion London, which has significantly grown its offering this year.
In March, Albion launched its first overseas office in Los Angeles, with Air New Zealand as its founding client. Later in the year, it also unveiled a "next-generation data marketing agency" called Albion Cell, which specialises in digital sales, eCRM and live data. Jetsetter.com was its founding client and the agency has since won work from King.com and the Financial Times.
Albion London itself also enjoyed a successful new-business year, winning nine pitches: Aviva, GLL, JustGiving, The Wall Street Journal, Unum, Soluto, Anthony Nolan, Adconion and Wonga.com.
It will come as no surprise that a lot of these clients are younger, more entrepreneurial brands. Now nine years old, Albion has managed to retain its entrepreneurial culture, remaining an agile agency that has its heart in digital, but isn’t afraid to explore other forms of media too.
This year, the agency created quirky TV ads for Wonga.com and Unum, a series of online videos for Air New Zealand (featuring the sheep twins, David Hasselhoff and Playboy girls), one of the first European iAds for Absolute Radio and a campaign for Jose Cuervo in which the agency staged a number of pop-up gigs in Brazil with the band OK Go, which were broadcast live on Twitter and Facebook.
The work shows how Albion has managed to successfully develop its creative output this year and why it is justifiably thought of as an agency ideally positioned for the future.
The contest for runner-up in this year’s battle for digital agency of the year was almost neck and neck between Albion and Work Club. The dark horse of the digital world, Work Club had a year of growth and great work. The agency, led by the chief executive, Martin Brooks, saw revenue grow by 22 per cent and won some choice pieces of new business including lead agency status on Sharp’s advertising across Europe, BBC Worldwide globally, Old El Paso and Nature Valley, as well as mobile strategy and applications for Coca-Cola’s water brands globally.
Creative highlights included Sharp’s "fan labs" for the brand’s Uefa Euro 2012 sponsorship, Ballatine’s "human API" and the McLaren Pitwall. And to top off a fantastic year, the agency invented the D&AD white Pencil, the first new Pencil in 50 years.
The agency gets recognition this year for strong business growth and improved creative work. LBi has seen revenue increase by 15 per cent year on year, as well as 17 per cent growth year on year from existing clients including BT, Barclays, Marks & Spencer and Virgin Atlantic.
New business has also been high on the agenda, winning Asda, Sony Ericsson and Coca-Cola Global Olympics, accounting for £5 million of incremental revenue in 2011. The work has also been more creative than usual, with campaigns such as the Sony Ericsson Xperia activity, which included the Xperia studio that allowed artists and collaborators to create and share their most innovative content online.
Recent winners: AKQA (2010); Glue (2009); AKQA (2008); Dare (2007); Agency Republic (2006)
January Relaunches the award-winning Nike Training Club app, aimed at women, with new motivational messages and more than 60 workouts.
February Wins the global account for the Fifa 12 game. The book publisher Dorling Kindersley appoints AKQA as its new digital agency.
April Rolls out Star Player for Heineken, an innovative mobile game that fans can play while watching football.
June The Heineken Star Player app wins a gold Lion at Cannes.
July Duan Evans and Nick Turner are promoted to joint executive creative directors, reporting directly to AKQA’s chief creative officer and co-founder, James Hilton.
October Launches a short online film for Nike starring Ellie Goulding to help promote Nike+.