There's hope for those agencies that stay true to their convictions and plough the increasingly lonely creative furrow. It's a strategy that wins new business, attracts the top talent, wins awards and, in Fallon's case, earns a well-deserved first Advertising Agency of the Year title, too.
This year's shortlist wasn't easy to reach: Mother had a strong new-business record, despite its loss of Orange, and celebrated its tenth anniversary with its strongest creative work to date; and it's hard to think of many agencies that have had a better first full year of trading than Beattie McGuinness Bungay, the late loss of Heinz notwithstanding; WCRS and Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R both had strong cases - more of which later - but for a fully rounded performance that covers business growth, management stability and creative excellence, it has to be Fallon.
Fallon's reel is the best place to start, because the business success it has enjoyed this year is inextricably linked to the rich, creative seam that runs through the entire agency.
Pat Fallon, the president of the network, describes the London agency as "purists in a world of compromise". And he's not just talking about the five founding partners. The London office has never wavered from its belief in the power of ideas to create business results, in spite of the fact that, over the years, it has had ample opportunities to look the other way in favour of revenue.
Nowhere is Fallon's belief in the power of a creative idea more apparent than in the agency's work for Sony. "Balls" and "paint" for Bravia have taken Sony's range of LCD TVs from also-rans to market leaders in under two years. On the way, the "colour like no other" campaign has won more awards than the agency - or this page - has space to display. Those figures, coupled with the campaign's success on the internet ("balls" is the most-viewed ad on YouTube), makes the former D&AD chairman Dick Powell's critique of "balls" as "an ad for ad folk" ring rather hollow.
Fallon's work for Orange in the UK displays none of the reported reticence and rancour surrounding the mobile phone company's split with Mother. Rather, Fallon appears to be a comfortable home for the brand - its Christmas "togetherness" campaign is a solid strategy that Orange can use for years to come, and the execution is as charming as it is simple.
And, don't forget, Fallon is the agency that killed off Lucky the Dog in a genre-defying insurance campaign for More Th>n.
But Fallon doesn't just do big, emotional TV ads. The Tate Tracks campaign, created by the Fallon engagement planning division Happen, is a much-feted fusion of art and music, which led to an unprecedented increase in footfall at Tate Britain. Fallon's work for BBC Jam, an online learning resource for children, involved the creation of the name, identity, web look and, yes, some TV ads. Site visits rose from 300,000 to 1.7 million in the first week alone.
The top line on Fallon's 2006 business record reads: 40 weeks at the top of the new-business league; the only agency to be retained by the BBC after an exhaustive roster review; new clients including Orange, ask.com and Cadbury.
Billings are up by more than £80 million - mostly a result of the Orange win following the joint pitch with the agency's Paris-based sister shop, Marcel, but don't ignore the ask.com appointment and recent addition to the Cadbury roster. Retaining its place on the BBC roster was a huge and unlikely task: the longlist was 15, all other roster agencies were dumped at earlier rounds, and the feeling in adland was that the broadcaster wanted a completely new slate of shops to work with.
None of this conspicuous success would have been possible without the talent at the agency. And although next year, the founding five (bottom, from left to right) of Andy McLeod, Laurence Green, Michael Wall, Robert Senior and Richard Flintham will be reduced to four (McLeod will leave in early 2007 to launch a new career as a director), a strong team is in place beneath the partners to take the agency forward. Karina Wilsher took up the position of managing director; the creatives Juan Cabral and Micah Walker were promoted to creative directors, running Sony and Orange respectively; and Mark Sinnock was named director of strategy.
And while "balls" might have been robbed of the Grand Prix in Cannes, Fallon had the last laugh, snaring the talents of the Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO creatives Matt Doman and Ian Heartfield, the team behind the Guinness "noitulove" spot that won top prize this year.
Fallon has the talent to straddle traditional and new media, and the belief in the power of big ideas to deliver results. To borrow a line from one of its clients, the future's bright.
Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R It's testament to adland's talent that there should be two such strong runners-up this year. The highlight of 2006 for RKCR/Y&R was winning the Grand Prix at the IPA Effectiveness Awards for its work for Marks & Spencer, the account that now epitomises the agency. But RKCR/Y&R is no one-trick pony. By February, it had picked up £37 million-worth of new billings, including the £20 million global Bacardi account and the £17 million global BT business account.
It added to these by winning business from the BBC, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Hilton Hotels and sharing the launch brief for the newly merged Virgin/ntl business with the direct marketing agency Rapier.
However, the real success of the agency is the strides taken since the departure of three of its founders two years ago. Many assumed major accounts such as Lloyds and M&S would follow them. The feat of the new senior management team, led by the chief executive, James Murphy, is no small one: winning new business and producing award-winning work is the mark of a mature, successful agency, and Murphy can congratulate himself on the way his team has performed.
WCRS The fearsome new-business machine at WCRS earns the agency a more than honourable mention this year. Churchill, Littlewoods, Weetabix, Kerrygold, the Royal Navy and BSkyB all decided to relocate to Golden Square in 2006.
WCRS ended 2005 having just completed its management buyout and it began this year with the ambition of moving from a standalone agency to part of a modern, future-facing communications group, called Engine.
Cross-pollination between companies in the group is increasing, with an average of 2.4 agencies now used by Engine clients.
If there's a chink in the WCRS armour, it's in the creative department. Granted, campaigns for 3 and 118 118 have enjoyed critical acclaim, but the impact the agency expected when Yan Elliot and Luke Williamson joined as the creative directors from Mother last year has not yet materialised. With so much new business to bed down, their department will be busier than ever in 2007 and their task of helping all the accounts at the agency step up to the bar set by 3 that much harder.
Recent winners: Bartle Bogle Hegarty (2005); BBH (2004); BBH (2003); Mother (2002); Mother (2001)
HIGHLIGHTS OF 2006
- January: Wins £15 million ask.com account.
- March: Wins Orange as part of the Publicis team.
- April: Launches the "this is what we do" brand campaign for the BBC. It is the first corporate campaign for the broadcaster since "Perfect Day".
- May: Fallon launches new More Th>n campaign. RIP Lucky.
- June: Juan Cabral and Micah Walker appointed creative directors; Mark Sinnock named strategy director. Tate campaign wins Poster Grand Prix at Cannes while "balls" has to make do with a gold Lion.
- July: Jonathan Glazer shoots "paint", the successor to "balls", on a housing estate in Glasgow.
- September: Launches the innovative Tate Tracks campaign with musicians including The Chemical Brothers and Graham Coxon.
- October: "Paint" released as follow up to "balls".
- November: Wins place on the Cadbury roster with Bournville appointment.