PERSPECTIVE: BBH proves an old dog can still learn fresh tricks

Have you seen that video clip of Microsoft's Steve Ballmer lurching across a stage shouting "whoop it up" and "I love this company" at a sales conference? I hope that's how staff at Bartle Bogle Hegarty and the winners of the other Agency of the Year categories are feeling this morning. The routine cynicism of the ad industry has no place in this column for we are in "whoop it up" mode.

The list of contenders for every category this year was shorter than usual. And that is how it should be. Perverse as it may seem, publication of this issue should never find the winners sending out for emergency supplies of Champagne.

So BBH earns the accolade in its 21st year thanks to a combination of first-rate new business wins, sparkling creative performance, new initiatives and a characteristic refusal to compromise its principles. The agency, always one of the more competitive and driven of London's elite shops, pulled together and thrived under its second-generation management. As ever, the influence of Nigel Bogle and John Hegarty has been vital in keeping the standards high. But this year, BBH demonstrated a succession management policy worthy of a Harvard Business Review case study. So many agencies have dropped the cultural baton as one of the founders retires or the lure of the holding company chequebook becomes too strong. BBH has been through both those hurdles but emerged stronger and even more driven.

Clemmow Hornby Inge and TBWA\London were the challengers to BBH in our debates. New agencies always face difficulties offering clients anything original but CHI's success proves that talent will out, in even the most saturated agency market. TBWA's consistent presence on the industry award stage (born out by its chairman and creative director, Trevor Beattie, picking up best creative director at the IPA's Best of the Best Awards this week) means it was a strong contender, yet again, this year.

The outstanding success of MindShare, Media Agency of the Year, was marred only by WPP's loss this week of Boots. MindShare's year reflects the continuing trend for the better in the media community, as it is awarded for both brawn and brains.

Honda is a committed and professional Advertiser of the Year with an output that is unrecognisable today from three years ago. Who would have thought that the car-maker for whom the copyline "made in Swindon" was once a high point would have turned into the proud advertiser behind "cog"? Wieden & Kennedy deserves three cheers for persuading Honda to ignore the checklists and take risks. The result - from the perfume bottle glossy press ad to "cog" itself - was sheer perfection.

Three cheers too for WCRS whose quirky 118 118 campaign won Campaign of the Year hands down. Partizan's cool and witty reel - containing "cog", the 118 118 series and other gems - lands it Production Company of the Year. Craik Jones Watson Mitchell Voelkel - one of the enduring beacons of creativity in the direct marketing sector - earns Direct Agency of the Year. Dare Digital picks up New-Media Agency of the Year for the first time and its success proves that the woes of the new-media sector as a whole are receding.

Finally, Sky is our Medium of the Year. Even in a buoyant economy, its achievements in 2003 under the outstanding chief executive, Tony Ball, would have seemed exceptional - from programming highlights to subscription growth and financial performance.

Congratulations to all our winners and contenders. They will take some beating next year.

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