During this year’s Media Agency of the Year judging, we focused on three core areas: the quality and creativity of work; the success of the management team in steering the ship and communicating the direction of travel; and new-business growth.
It proved to be a tough task, with no one shop sweeping the boards at industry awards this year. But our four outstanding agencies have been recognised in various guises for consistent, quality campaigns from teams all at the top of their game.
In the end, WPP’s MediaCom was our winner. Having spent the past two decades as the agency to beat, it is testament to the chief executive, Karen Blackett, and her team that the shop has managed to overcome the Manchester United effect – "Let’s pick anyone but them" – to take centre stage in 2013. We’re not alone in this view: MediaCom was the only agency all the other contenders conceded would be a worthy winner apart from themselves.
Such begrudging recognition has something to do with MediaCom’s work this year. The 920-strong agency ended up with another cabinet of awards, including five Media Week Awards, three Newsworks Planning Awards and two PPA Awards (including Agency of the Year).
MediaCom’s role in the groundbreaking and multi-award-winning "TA live" campaign for the Army, filmed from Afghanistan in February, has been rightly celebrated for its innovation. A partnership with its sibling creative shop JWT London, as well as ITV and ITN Productions, resulted in the first military recruitment drive of its kind. Each one-minute ad transported the viewer directly to the front line.
"TA live" is an example of the kind of collaborative work going on behind the scenes. Other new partnerships included the first product placements with the chef Jamie Oliver in his TV series and book.
Meanwhile, for the purists, the tie-up with Google for the digital part of the "you’re not you when you’re hungry" Snickers campaign was an outstanding example of the media becoming the message. Bidding on the ten million misspelt words typed into Google search every day resulted in some funny copy ads. The cost of acquiring these words was minimal but the impact, as measured in terms of click-throughs, has been well above industry norms.
With the emergence of "native advertising" – a strong contender for industry buzzword of 2013 – we know brands are looking to connect with consumers in new ways, and MediaCom has taken a proactive role in leveraging this. Content marketing initiatives included Abbey Road Studios: In Session With VW Beetle, created with Channel 4, which involved TV content featuring Paul Weller, music on Spotify and social activity on Facebook. The agency’s commitment to develop this area was underlined when it became the first media shop to join the Content Marketing Association in the summer.
Blackett’s management team – comprising Josh Krichefski, the chief operating officer; Claudine Collins, the managing director; Sue Unerman, the chief strategy officer; and Jane Ratcliffe, the chairman – is proving to be a potent combination of experience and drive. Collins’ commitment to forging new partnerships is second to none, but many thought the agency would lose her last year amid tempting offers from elsewhere. Blackett’s ability to retain her senior staff while incentivising emerging talent such as Krichefski shows a deft human touch.
MediaCom’s chief executive leads from the front. Whether that’s sleeping rough on London’s streets to help raise awareness and donations for Centrepoint or talking to Westminster about diversity, Blackett remains an omnipresent, positive force.
The UK’s leading media agency has continued to blaze a trail on the new-business front too. No-one really expected it to retain the monster Direct Line Group account this year. MediaCom has handled media for the company, which owns Direct Line, Churchill and Green Flag, for the past ten years and change was clearly in the air.
Before the review, swathes of incumbent agencies and suppliers had been culled from DLG’s roster. However, MediaCom’s team at its best is a force to be reckoned with. Kerry Chilvers, the DLG brand director, said "MediaCom pulled it out the bag" with a "fantastic pitch" that harnessed its buying power with "first-class strategic input".
In addition to this strong retention, MediaCom has added more than £70 million in new-business wins this year, including Sony and Coca-Cola. Few can doubt that the media agency everyone loves to hate continues to set the benchmark for the industry.
Recent winners: Goodstuff Communications (2012); PHD (2011); PHD (2010); MEC (2009); MediaCom (2008)