TOP PERFORMERS OF 2000: Agency of the Year - Lowe Lintas. The industry might have sneered at the merger but Lowe Lintas survived any marriage jitters. It also boasted a first-rate business and creative performance

Merging two weak agencies doesn't make one strong one' were the sniping words of one senior agency figure when he heard of the merger of Ammirati Puris Lintas with Lowe Howard-Spink at the end of 1999.

Merging two weak agencies doesn't make one strong one' were the sniping words of one senior agency figure when he heard of the merger of Ammirati Puris Lintas with Lowe Howard-Spink at the end of 1999.

He was not alone. The cultural abyss that separated the two agencies had the industry predicting political troubles for the merged outfit.

Lowe, founded by Frank Lowe (top, centre) in 1982, had a long-standing reputation for taking the creative high ground no matter how much it cost or how long it took to produce. Lintas, on the other hand, was known for producing pragmatic work for its giant founding client, Unilever.

Both approaches had cost the agencies dear in 1999. Lowe lost its global UDV business to J. Walter Thompson, a massive blow to the London outpost which had produced creatively acclaimed work for Smirnoff. Lintas' grip on its flagship Unilever business was weakening, with shops such as HHCL & Partners and Mother snatching business. The deadly blow, however, was the agency's loss of the pounds 40 million Rover Cars account.

Interpublic, the parent of the merged networks, recognised the financial validity of a merger and did a clever thing. Round the world it made Lowe dominate the management of the merged networks. In the UK, Lowe's Paul Hammersley (top, right) became chief executive and the creative reins were handed to the Lowe firmament. Chris Thomas (bottom, left), formerly the chief executive of APL, was made managing director of the merged agency, however.

Although ruthless treatment of Lintas, the structure acknowledged the historical failure of that network to merge with others - most recently in 1994 with New York's Ammirati & Puris, which turned out to be a marriage of convenience.

In terms of new business, Lowe Lintas had an outstanding year. It won two important, big-billing, pieces of business: Orange (bottom, centre) and Merrill Lynch HSBC. Wrestling Orange from the bosom of WCRS took six months and was totally unexpected. It was one of the most prestigious account moves of the year.

The agency proved its planning credentials by taking the Grand Prix at the IPA Effectiveness Awards for its long-running campaign for Tesco (top, left). It also received a five-star accolade for the Stella Artois campaign (middle, right).

But it was in creative terms that the agency really triumphed. Its work for Weetabix (centre) has enabled the brand to overtake Kellogg's Cornflakes as the number-one cereal brand by value.

Stella Artois' press work won the Grand Prix at Cannes, the second year that the creative department, headed by Charles Inge (bottom, right), took the prize.

Most importantly, the agency defied industry predictions and has managed to start producing more creative ads for Unilever. It produced its first high-profile campaign for the company with its Carte D'Or work (middle, left), starring an overly honest granny informing her grandson of his dubious parentage. Reebok too, for which the belly chasing ad emerged at the end of the year, has got the industry and consumers talking.

Lowe's work for Vauxhall starring Griff Rhys Jones has proved underwhelming.

However, the agency's ability to convince the car giant of the benefits of an umbrella campaign has enabled it to secure the entire pounds 60 million account - a piece of business it had to share with McCann-Erickson and Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe the previous year.

The agency's performance outstripped its rivals by a fair distance, but nevertheless several other agencies also enjoyed a good enough year to be considered for the Agency of the Year title. Firstly TBWA/London, which for the third consecutive year will have to swallow the bitter pill of coming second.

Yet again, TBWA's new-business performance was strong. Its win of the Labour Party advertising account was a triumph, as was its ability to retain the Holsten account in a competitive pitch. It won and has produced a high-profile campaign for N-Power and also secured the prestigious global Unicef business.

Creative high points include managing to build on its work for PlayStation with the David Lynch-directed launch campaign for PS2. It also extended its fcuk campaign to a TV debut. However, its questionable dominion over the NatWest account, with M&C Saatchi now creating ads for the bank counted against the agency.

Mother too had an enviable 2000: it built its relationship with Unilever with the brief to extend its excellent Supernoodles work into the rest of Europe as well as launch the company's East West Noodles brand. It also won a pan-European slice of the Mars-owned Pedigree Masterfoods.

The agency upheld its image as one of the best creative shops in London, but in pulling in such mainstream, big-billing accounts it undeniably proved that it is much more than a flaky little boutique.

Fallon too was shortlisted as a contender for Agency of the Year. Its high-profile work for Skoda was one important reason, but it also had a good year in terms of new business.

It defended its ground in the BBC's review and won a place on Budweiser's roster.

Finally, Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy, 'the grown-up start-up', showed the industry its muscle despite its youth. Having won several key pieces of business from a wide range of clients including UDV (Bell's), Dyson, BT (Syntegra) and Aristoc, its output has been prolific.

Recent winners: M&C Saatchi (1999); BMP DDB (1998); St Luke's (1997); Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO (1996, 1995).