AKQA London has, for many years, seemed to operate in the shadow of the big beating heart of the agency in San Francisco. But if you look back over the past 12 months at its creative and new-business activity, 2008 was the year in which the London office came into its own.
The agency's existing client base is impressive, to say the least, including Coca-Cola, Nike, Xbox 360, Unilever, Orange, Sky, Diageo, Fiat, Sainsbury's and Virgin.
Over the past year, not only has AKQA achieved 100 per cent client retention, it has added other high-profile new-business wins, such as Heineken, Ferrari, Greenpeace, Knorr, Sainsbury's Finance, Jamie Oliver, Codemasters and Signal, to the mix.
Then there's the creative work. AKQA won no fewer than 37 gongs at a host of awards shows, including D&AD, One Show, Cannes and Campaign Big Awards, for its work for Coca-Cola, Xbox, Nike, Pot Noodle, Fiat UK and Sky.com. But it was also named the Internet Advertising Bureau Lead Creative Agency, placed in the Fast Company Top 50 and racked up 21 British Interactive Media Association nominations.
There's the extension to Nike's PHOTOiD campaign, involving the world's first mobile phone trainer design tool, and Fiat eco:Drive, an application that transfers performance data from car to computer to evaluate CO2 emissions.
The agency also helped to promote Nike's endorsement of athletes by developing a 60-minute TV programme with Wieden & Kennedy and Attention Seekers, called The Cesc Fabregas Show: Nike Live. The programme aired online and on Sky Sports, attracting more than two million unique views, and, in doing so, created a new global communications platform for Nike to connect fans with athletes.
On the football front, AKQA created Nike Playmaker, a central site to help grassroot teams organise matches, via mobile and digital platforms, and a TV spot to launch "the most wanted", a joint venture between Nike and the Premier League, to offer training with Sir Alex Ferguson. Within 45 minutes of the 60-second TV ad airing, all 2,000 places were taken.
Then there was the acclaimed Pot Noodle "tipping pot" viral spoof of Guinness' "tipping point" TV ad, which achieved more than two million views online and beat YouTube targets, with more than 50,000 views on its first day - all for a mere cost of £10,000.
In the field of more traditional online communications, AKQA continued its strong web design heritage by launching Ferrari California, the first online car launch for the brand, redesigning Sky.com and developing the Peperami brand through mobile platforms.
In terms of management, this year saw Guy Wieynk return to London from AKQA New York to take up the vacant European managing director position, to work alongside Nick Constantinou, the UK general manager; Alistair Beattie, the director of planning; Craig Walmsley, the chief consultant; and the European chief creative officers, Daniel Bonner and James Hilton. Wieynk's appointment should give the chairman, Ajaz Ahmed, the space to look at expansion into new markets.
The agency also launched AKQA Film in May, to create, distribute and sponsor digital programming and content, and its research and insights department produced an acclaimed white paper on mobile internet usage and attitudes.
Whispers still circulate that AKQA operates a bit like a sweatshop, but looking at the agency's unbeatable performance across the board in 2008, it's one anyone would be happy to work for.
Work Club Work Club followed just behind AKQA in second place, barely a year after launching as a shop specialising in blending traditional advertising and digital expertise.
Since January, it has won £4 million of new business, increasing its client list from seven to 37. This growth is particularly impressive considering it has refused to poach business or staff from the original team's former employer, Agency Republic.
Headed by the managing partner, Martin Brooks; the chairman, Jon Claydon; the strategy partner, Patrick Griffith; the strategy director, Lisa De Bonis; and the creative partners, Ben Mooge and Andy Sandoz, Work Club is now the lead creative agency for 80 per cent of its clients.
Boasting a client list that includes Nokia, Sony BMG, Kraft, Top Gear, Pizza Express, Plum Baby, MTV, Wallpaper* and Coca-Cola, the agency has neared the top of Campaign's new-business league for most of the year.
Its creative work is equally impressive. Campaigns of note include The Nokia Green Room for Channel 4; a series of online films for Nokia N-Gage; Sony BMG's launch of Dido's new album (the first time an ad agency has used the new Facebook Connect application); the Nokia Royal Parks Half Marathon and Plum Baby's Plum Vision online films for babies and young children.
Hirings this year include Mooge, a former creative director at Mother; De Bonis, who also joined from Mother; the Brazilian art director Rodrigo Lebrun; Lawrence Weber, a former project director at Fallon's Hyper Happen, as the production director; and Jo Dillon, an ex-producer at 4creative, as the head of film. For an agency that outsources production, its head count of more than 40 staff shows how quickly the business has grown, and its habit of pairing traditional and digital across creative and planning is making its larger competitors sit up and take notice.
Expect even better things in the future.
Agency Republic Outside the top two, plenty of agencies had good, if unspectacular, years. Dare put in its usual strong performance, although was quiet in new-business terms as it bedded in some big wins from 2007. Glue London, meanwhile, had a fantastic end to the year when it scooped the £28 million advertising account for 3 mobile from Euro RSCG. But for its combination of creative work and new-business prowess, Agency Republic took third place.
The agency won 16 new accounts, amounting to around £4.5 million in new-business revenue, despite losing the BBC iPlayer and the media account for O2.
Under the leadership of Gavin Gordon-Rogers, the agency's executive creative director, the 45-strong creative department won 26 awards for its work for brands including O2, Mercedes-Benz, Smart, the BBC iPlayer and BBC Radio 1.
It dipped its toes into the other side of the Pond in August, when it opened in New York, scooping the Boots US digital account in November. In the UK, wins included Adidas, COI, Boots and Green & Blacks.
Creative work has lived up to the standard the agency has set itself over the past few years, with particular highlights for Gordon's Gin, Smart, PlayStation and O2.
It wasn't all good news, though. The loss of the £20 million O2 online media account to ZenithOptimedia resulted in the closure of the agency's media and planning arm in April; and Indy Saha, the planning director hired last year from Xbox, left to join TBWA.
Recent winners: Dare (2007); Agency Republic (2006); Dare (2005); Dare (2004); Dare (2003)
March: Pot Noodle viral "tipping pot" goes live.
May: AKQA Film launches. Guy Wieynk, the managing director of AKQA New York, returns to London as the digital agency's European managing director. The Cesc Fabregas Show launches.
June: AKQA Film creates a TV ad for Nike, "the most wanted". The agency launches Nike PHOTOiD, which enables consumers to customise the colour scheme of their trainers by taking a picture on a mobile phone.
September: Wins global digital advertising account for Heineken.
October: Develops eco:Drive with Fiat, a dashboard application that assesses fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.