This year has seen a true renaissance in new media and as a result the market is flourishing. A number of agencies have stood out from the crowd but it is Dare Digital that has emerged with the strongest mix of outstanding creative work, solid management decisions and new-business wins.
In 2003, Dare reaped the rewards of a shrewd management decision made in late last year. Led by the managing director, Mark Collier, Dare formed a strategic relationship with Bartle Bogle Hegarty. BBH took a 25 per cent stake and in return Dare gained the experience and credibility of association with an admired agency as well as access to its clients. A bargain by any measure.
In terms of new business, Dare has shown strength through adversity in winning accounts with a mix of leveraging links with BBH, hunting down new clients and maximising existing client relationships. The relationship with BBH allowed Dare to form a deeper relationship with its existing client Lever Faberge, giving the agency the inside track to win the launch of Lynx Pulse in the UK and Axe across Europe.
The BBH relationship, as well as John Bartle's advice as a member of Dare's board, again paid dividends through an introduction to Sony Ericsson.
The result was inclusion in a global pitch against five international agencies. Dare won to produce a global product portal and a series of campaigns to promote the launch of new handsets.
Perhaps the biggest win of Dare's year came from Barclays, an existing client won before BBH picked up the above- the-line account. In a massive vote of confidence in the agency, Barclays appointed Dare as the sole digital agency of record for the entire Barclays Group - a position no new-media agency has been awarded before.
Separately, Dare was chosen as the lead digital creative agency for Barclaycard, a decision made months before BBH secured the account.
The online travel company Travelocity Europe, a client for which Dare won the UK account last year, awarded the agency its pan-European creative business as the agency of record for its major markets of Germany, France and Sweden.
Dare gained a valuable position on O2's roster in a combined pitch with Archibald Ingall Stretton as the agency of record for e-mail marketing and online direct marketing.
Other wins included beating glue London and Lateral, two of the sharpest creative agencies around, to Lego's online advertising account. It also gain a coveted position on COI Communications' creative roster and won a four-way pitch run by the Department of Trade and Industry to produce the online campaign for the National Minimum Wage.
Creative mettle is of paramount importance in selecting an agency of the year and Dare's Lynx work, developed by the creative director, Flo Heiss, is one of the stand-out creative campaigns of 2003. In a fresh creative concept, the geeky dancing guy from the TV ad was re-filmed and transformed into a dancing dotman and his female sidekicks became hand-drawn silhouettes reminiscent of classic James Bond title sequences. Elements were subsequently incorporated into the TV spot.
Dare's creative campaign to launch Sony Ericsson's T610 picture phone was also a highlight of the year. The campaign used the internet's strength of community to capture consumer imaginations with an online gallery where phone users could send in pictures based on themes that are changed monthly.
In looking to the future, Dare hired John Owen, the director of Starcom's Intelligence Unit and chairman of the IPA's Digital Marketing Group, to be its first planning director. Owen was hired to bring strategic insight to Dare's clients with the aim of getting the new-media element of advertising further upstream in the client's decision-making process.
The full-service agency Profero is to be applauded as a runner-up. A strategic alliance with Batey, part of WPP's Red Cell network, opened the door to Asia with an office in Singapore and China on the horizon for 2004.
This year saw Profero really blossom in successfully developing its creative offering - which had perhaps played second fiddle to its core competency of media planning and buying in the past.
A strong body of creative work included Profero's first foray into creating and producing a clip for viral distribution for the Home Office to raise awareness of the theft of property from cars. The agency has been prolific on the new-business front with 14 wins in the UK and a total of 34 wins across its European and Asian network - an 86 per cent success rate.
Key wins include Dell UK & Ireland, Tesco.com, Bank of Ireland, Black & Decker, COI and Lufthansa.
To get the agency on the radar of traditional ad agencies, Profero formed an advisory board comprised of senior adland figures including Christine Walker and Amanda Walsh.
In rounding off 2003, an honourable mention has to be made for the independent digital media planning and buying agency i-level. I-level won the fiercely contested winner-takes-all battle for the jewel of this year's media pitches when it was awarded the £6 million account for all of COI's digital planning and buying work. The win mean that alongside its existing client BT, i-level handles two of the biggest domestic accounts, and it also confirms the validity of the model of the independent media specialist championed by the likes of i-level for so long.
Recent winners: Glue London (2002); no award (2001); i-level (2000).