Digital Agency of the Year: Dare

Marketing's Digital Agency of the Year has had a storming 12 months, defying the recessionary gloom, increased competition from traditional ad agencies and client budget cuts.

Barclaycard Rollercoaster Extreme branded app
Barclaycard Rollercoaster Extreme branded app

While other agencies have spent the best part of 2010 struggling to emerge from the post-recessionary quagmire, Dare's unwavering strategic vision has seen it pull away from the pack to earn Marketing's Digital Agency of the Year accolade for a second successive year.

The judges felt that the agency, which marked its tenth anniversary this year, combined outstanding business, creative and strategic credentials to make it a sure-fire winner.

On the whole, 2010 was far from a vintage year for digital agencies, as they battled against economic uncertainty, deep budget cuts and increased competition from an array of traditional creative shops keen to muscle in on their territory.

However, Dare excelled against this backdrop, focusing on creating strategies fit for the digital world rather than simply churning out digital strategies. This new positioning caught the imagination of both new and existing clients, helping the agency bring in £6m-worth of incremental business during 2010. This, in turn, boosted Dare's gross income to a robust £15.7m, a figure achieved in spite of decreasing UK marketing spend.

Long-term relationships with brands such as Barclaycard, Premier Inn and Sony Ericsson were strengthened, thanks to breakthrough campaigns resulting from the pairing of technology experts with concept teams during the early stages of the creative process. This investment in 'creative technology' has also helped attract a line-up of new clients including EA Games, Johnson & Johnson and Penguin Books.

Dare's senior management team, overhauled as part of its merger with sister Cossette agency MCBD, continues to be one of its biggest assets, with Lee Leggett taking on the role of chief executive, alongside John Owen in the new position of deputy chairman, while new stars are also rising within Dare's rapidly expanding ranks. The talents of executive planning director Nick Emmel and senior social media planner Helen Lawrence, in particular, have come to the fore during the past year.

At a time when agencies of all disciplines are striving to reinvent themselves in readiness for the realities of the convergent media future, Dare has done more than most to prepare. Its merger with MCBD is now complete and looks set to propel the combined entity onto even bigger and better things during 2011 and beyond.

Focus on - EA Games

EA Games appointed Dare to its digital marketing account last September and handed the agency a brief to promote the launch of multiplayer shoot-'em-up game APB: All Points Bulletin.

To generate a buzz around the global roll-out, Dare recruited a free runner, Josh, to undergo a real-life transformation into a 'human avatar'. Communities of online gamers were asked to customise an APB character and whatever options they chose were applied to Josh. He had his hair and clothes restyled, and even agreed to getting a piercing and a tattoo. Despite having no associated media spend, the 'Human avatar' was featured in all the major gaming magazines and blogs. At the peak of the activity, 47% of visitors to Thehumanavatar.com voted on the transformations, while 30% kept returning to the site to check on Josh's progress.

While Dare's three-week 'Human avatar' campaign is primarily an example of outstanding creativity on a shoestring budget, it also reflects the agency's ability to succeed in a world where engagement, rather than interruption, is key.

Best of the rest

AKQA missed out on Marketing's top spot by a whisker, despite cementing its position as one of the world's most innovative and exciting agencies in 2010. Its creative output, including work for Nike and Heineken, helped it stand out from the crowd. However, it was 221B, a multiplayer online game to promote the cinema release of Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes movie, that truly broke the mould. The piece acted as a prequel to the film, encouraging people to play together as characters Holmes and Watson to access exclusive behind-the-scenes content.

These strong creative credentials helped AKQA attract £5.9m-worth of new business over the past 12 months, boosting its revenue by an impressive 22% year on year.

This year glue London morphed into glue Isobar in the culmination of a prolonged merger process. As well as beefing up its strategic and analytics capabilities, glue's integration into the global Isobar network has also helped prepare it for a future where aboveand below-the-line distinctions no longer exist. In terms of new clients, 2010 was an eventful year for the agency, which pitched for and won £3.7m-worth of new business, including Birds Eye, Codemasters and Sprite.

The agency also rolled out impressive integrated campaigns for Google Chrome and Toyota, as well as standout digital work for Burt's Bees, Visit Sweden and Nokia. An integrated campaign for Three captured the public's imagination over the summer.

Three-year-old Work Club has had an outstanding year, it bolstered its client roster, which includes Kraft and Coca-Cola, with 10 high-profile wins, among them Pernod Ricard and Opodo. For PZ Cussons, the agency is developing a global ecommerce strategy. Work Club has also strengthened its senior management team this year.

Things could have gone terribly wrong for Poke following the departure of founding partners Iain Tait and Simon Waterfall. However, it has gone from strength to strength, building on its already outstanding reputation for creativity and innovation. Over the past 12 months Poke has deepened its relationship with long-standing clients including Orange, for which it launched the second instalment of its 'Balloonacy' 'virtual' balloon race. The agency also pitched for and won accounts including LoveFilm, helping boost its fee income by 6%.

This year Skive has shot from relative obscurity to establish itself as one of the UK's most original and fastest-growing digital agencies. Revenue is up by 175% and its client list is growing; in 2010 it has worked for brands such as Aviva, L'Oreal and Nestle. Boosted by its acquisition of a controlling stake in digital shop Soup last year, Skive is set for even bigger things in 2011.

Previous winners
2009: Dare
2008: Agency Republic
2007: Dare
2006: AKQA