The famous Campaign School Reports, a couple of months into my editorship. No pressure, then. Fortunately, Campaign has decades of experience and judgment within its ranks.

And no, before you ask, our ratings are not based on the billings that form the Top 100. Instead, the qualitative agency reports that follow – based on 2012 – are compiled after examining a number of criteria. These include new-business growth, the quality of creative output, key staff hires (or losses) and awards won.

Much thought and debate – and the occasional fist fight – occur before a rating is given and, even then, they are subsequently reviewed to ensure that they are fair and justified. Of course they are subjective. That’s the whole point.

What emerges is highly encouraging. Looking afresh at this fascinating snapshot of the UK creative agency scene, one is struck by what an incredibly diverse, dynamic and lustrous sector exists within these shores.

Indeed, at a glance, this glut of top-notch agencies looks like an oversupplied market. But we should bear in mind that these shops are increasingly exporting their creative and strategic consultancy around the globe (something that is not reflected in the Nielsen billings). And if one considers the innovation herein, we should be pleased and proud to observe such talent in a relatively confined geographical area.

But the pressure to perform has never been higher. Not only is the competition fierce, but any agency not reinventing itself on at least an annual basis is guaranteed to cede important turf. Clients are more demanding, technology is shifting faster than ever and the war for talent can only intensify. Hence those agencies that have scored highly are truly at the top of their game.

Fortunately, the economic and brand indicators are brighter of late. 2013 will not feel much easier on the ground (does it ever?), but there are certainly grounds for renewed optimism and growth in specific areas.
Danny Rogers, editor, Campaign

How the Top 100 is compiled

The compilation of the Top 100 tables is an ongoing process. Three months before publication, agencies on Nielsen’s database were asked to update their billings and give details of account moves (note that updating billings/account move data does not in itself guarantee inclusion). Reference to 2011 rankings is based on what is known now, so can differ from printed results last year. This is either as a result of agencies that were late in updating their data last year or because of other changes, such as mergers or agencies that have ceased trading.

The media measured in all tables in the report are television, display press, radio, cinema and outdoor (which does not include airports, ambient, international sites or point of sale). For the third year running, we now also include online display advertising spend. Direct marketing such as direct mail is not included, hence the low billings for most of the direct marketing agencies featured. Agency client assignments are compiled by Nielsen from data supplied by agencies and media owners on a regular basis, alongside information published in the marketing press. The figures are estimated costs of buying media space based on a number of factors, including ratecard, discounts and viewing figures. Data does not include actual billings or agency revenues. Press expenditures include an Advertising Association discount factor, which varies according to the sector and quarter.

Not surprisingly, agencies lobby hard to influence the way data is presented; the Top 100 tables, school reports and scores can affect everything from share prices to client perceptions to staff motivation.

But the objective representation of the dynamic agency market is crucial, so the tables are checked rigorously and analysed to ensure the data presented is a fair reflection of the information we are given.

In order for agency brands to be reported as a single listing within the table, the agencies need to have provided Nielsen with unequivocal proof that they are recognised as one legal entity, which is then checked at Companies House.

The Top 100 has been affected by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in the US, which prohibits the public release of unaudited financial information. Sarbanes-Oxley has led agencies owned by public holding companies listed in the US, such as Omnicom, Interpublic and WPP, to withhold financial data, hence the absence of declared billings and some income data in the tables.

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