Campaign's choice of Harrison Troughton Wunderman as Direct Agency of the Year is a testament to the agency's unswerving commitment to creativity while coming to terms with what was potentially a tricky business year.
When HTW formed 18 months ago out of the backwards merger between the creative hotshop HPT Brand Response and WPP's floundering Impiric network, very few saw grounds for optimism.
But at the end of 2002, the agency had successfully blended the two contrasting cultures into one that was capable of producing excellent work across a disparate client base. Financially, it was a solid rather than spectacular year for HTW, with profits and staffing levels remaining static. On the new-business front, the agency held on to all of its existing business, while winning five accounts.
In the early part of 2002 it was appointed as brand response agency by First Quench. It has since won AquAid and The Royal Marsden while consolidating its relationship with Vodafone by winning all of its business-to-business direct marketing work.
But HTW's finest new-business moment came in November, when it snatched the lion's share of the Nectar account away from WWAV Rapp Collins, the agency it had lost out to during the original pitch in February.
However, it's the quality of work that set HTW apart from its rivals last year. This is reflected by the fact that, with six golds, the agency was the big winner at last month's DMA Awards.
What particularly impressed Campaign was the agency's ability to produce consistently creative work for a wide range of clients.
In AquAid and The Royal Marsden, HTW certainly has its showroom clients with which it can afford to take risks.
But it has also produced original and highly creative work for the larger, high-pressure accounts such as Vodafone, the AA, Xerox, Virgin Money, Thresher and M&G. While many DM agencies can boast overstuffed trophy rooms, HTW has won awards and nominations for almost all of its clients, not just one or two bijoux accounts.
The jewel in HTW's crown last year was undoubtedly the press and poster campaign it produced for M&G, which tackled the unglamorous task of selling ISAs to the over-55s.
Brilliant long copy was combined with appropriate imagery and resulted in a 30 per cent rise in response rates, despite media spend being down by 35 per cent. The M&G work went on to win three DMA Awards.
HTW also performed the difficult task of turning Xerox into a creative showcase account. The agency was asked to come up with a big media idea to launch the Xerox 2240 and promote its main benefit of affordable colour prints at 10p each. In response, HTW persuaded the young British artist Gavin Turk to photocopy a new piece of artwork and sell it outside the Tate Modern for 10p. The result was a mass of press interest, numerous leads as well as a silver Lion at the Cannes festival.
The agency has also produced powerful work for AquAid and original special offer-based campaigns for Thresher, and it continues to deliver the goods for Vodafone. And in the first three months of last year, it produced an excellent multi-discipline campaign for the AA - a goodbye present to the client it lost at the end of 2001.
However, HTW was not the only below-the-line agency to perform well last year. In a difficult 12 months for advertisers in general, the direct marketing sector threw up five strong candidates for the DM agency accolade.
The former winner, Partners Andrews Aldridge, had another impressive year, boasting substantial increases in revenue and profit as well as a great new-business record - wins included Bupa, COI Communications and Barnardo's. Its strong case was bolstered by the consistent quality of the work it produced for its clients.
Craik Jones Watson Mitchell Voelkel was back on top creative form last year, winning four golds at the DMAs as well as the Grand Prix for its ATOC work. The agency also significantly boosted both its billings and profits last year, winning new clients such as Jaguar and the Ulster Bank.
TBWA/GGT Direct posted a strong new-business case, holding on to all of its existing clients while winning new direct marketing business from the likes of M&SFS, Hutchison 3G and Eagle Star, plus digital work from companies such as Cadbury, Eurostar and Thomas Cook. The agency also had a great financial year and can point to a continuing improvement in creative standards.
Proximity London also performed well, winning new accounts such as Britannia Music and Heinz Baby Food, while also maintaining high creative standards. Its chairman Chris Barraclough's reputation as an executive creative director is undergoing something of a resurgence - it's no coincidence that the agency walked away from the DMAs with ten awards.
Despite these impressive performances in 2002, few would argue against Campaign's choice of Harrison Troughton Wunderman as Direct Agency of the Year. Steve Harrison and Martin Troughton have proved that not all mergers are doomed to failure, and have succeeded in turning a network on its knees into one of the best creative shops in town.
Recent winners: Partners Andrews Aldridge; Craik Jones Watson Mitchell Voelkel; WWAV Rapp Collins; FCA!; Evans Hunt Scott.