TOP PERFORMERS OF 2000: New-Media Agency of the Year - i-Level I-level proved that experience does matter as the 'veteran' agency fought off competition to pick up Campaign's inaugural New-Media Agency of the Year award.

The year 2000 was the end of the beginning for the dotcom industry. But although it was always clear that there were going to be more starters than finishers in the dotcom business race, the new-media agencies thrived.

The year 2000 was the end of the beginning for the dotcom industry. But although it was always clear that there were going to be more starters than finishers in the dotcom business race, the new-media agencies thrived.

Campaign took a very broad view when selecting its first New-Media Agency of the Year. The e-business and new-media design agencies were up there alongside the digital advertising and marketing specialists. The digital agency sector is increasingly fragmented and specialised, yet all of them offer new-media marketing services, be it online branding or internet ad strategy.

After much deliberation, Campaign opted for the online media planning and buying specialist agency i-level to take the first ever New-Media Agency of the Year award.

A veritable veteran of the new-media scene, i-level is now more than 18 months old and was one of the first original independent online media shops. I-level's founders have a firm grounding in advertising: Charlie Dobres (bottom, left) founded Lowe Digital, Andrew Warmsley (middle, right) once headed Bartle Bogle Hegarty's digital branch and Craig Wilkie (top, left) was a founding member of The Guardian's New Media Lab.

The agency began the year by bringing in BBH's founder John Bartle as the non-executive chairman and since then it has grown from just four to 32 people.

I-level also managed to tempt Saatchi & Saatchi's management consultant for interactive TV, Alan McCulloch, over to its ranks as the managing director.

The agency's founders, Dobres, Warmsley and Wilkie, scotched rumours of a takeover with the announcement of an expansion into Europe during the summer, starting with a Benelux branch based in Amsterdam.

Highly respected within the traditional advertising as well as the new-media industry, i-level has worked alongside a number of the top advertising agencies. Both Western International Media and John Ayling Associates outsourced all of their clients' online media planning and buying needs to i-level during 2000, with the agency working on clients including Tesco, Vauxhall and TD Waterhouse.

Client wins for the agency last year included the internet bank Smile (middle, left), Umbro (bottom, right), Charcol and Peoplesound, and these brands joined existing clients such as Yell.com and Intersaver. The agency made it on to COI Communications' new-media agency roster and finished the year by netting the BT (top, right) online media account, worth an estimated pounds 4 million.

I-level was the first new-media agency to be accepted into the IPA, and at the IPA Effectiveness Awards last year the agency won both a four-star award and the Charles Channon Award for new learning for its work with EasyJet. The agency's brief was to drive online sales for EasyJet and six weeks after the launch of a banner advertising campaign, planned and bought through i-level, the brand's online sales jumped by 47 per cent.

The agency picked up on the growing clamour for accountability from online advertisers and, with online user tagging technology and real-time campaign management, increased the efficiency of EasyJet's online spend, though EasyJet is no longer an i-level client.

In a world gone WAP mad, i-level used a rare common sense approach to mobile marketing by being one of the first UK players to negotiate a sponsorship deal on SMS text messages. The penetration of WAP phones is still relatively low, but virtually all mobile phone users can receive SMS; through a deal with Yahoo!, the agency placed its client, the financial brand Motley Fool, on every share price text message update that Yahoo! sent out to its customers.

A talented specialist and a new-media pioneer, 2000 really was a fantastic year for i-level.

Credit is also due to Beyond Interactive, which rebranded from media21 after it was acquired by the Grey global interactive network. Media21 was one of the original new-media specialist independents alongside i-level, but since the acquisition Beyond has extended its services to become a full new-media advertising agency and is putting the finishing touches to its own in-house creative department. The most significant work from BI last year was the pioneering visual and audio WAP ad campaign for VNU.net, as well as its advertising for the brand on personal digital assistants. Towards the end of the year, the agency added MTV to its portfolio, which includes brands such as BOL, QXL and 365 Corporation.

AKQA, one of the country's largest independent new-media agencies, was also worthy of note last year. Accolades rained down, confirming that 27-year-old founder Ajaz Ahmed has created one of the coolest, most high-profile players in the industry. The past 12 months saw the agency's ranks swell to 130, and the shop won work from Nestle, Lloyds TSB and Sega's Dreamcast to add to existing clients such as BMW, Nike, Microsoft and Orange.

Last, but by no means least, is Deepend. Another agency on everybody's lips last year, the group expanded to New York, San Francisco, Sydney and Toronto over the past 12 months. Sleeper, an interactive TV advertising agency, was launched as a joint venture between Deepend and the production company Blink. Deepgroup also took total control of the creative advertising web shop Gluemedia when its other shareholder media21 had to sell after being acquired by Beyond. Deepend clients Ikea, the BBC and Telewest were joined by wins including Nokia, Interbrew and Panasonic.



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