Claydon Heeley Jones Mason combined an unrivalled new-business performance with outstanding creativity to scoop this year's accolade as Campaign's Direct Agency of the Year. The agency was a regular contestant on pitches for some of the year's most exciting pieces of business. Its success rate was high: of the 14 pitches in which it participated, Claydon Heeley won ten. Egg, Mercedes-Benz and Dunlop, which account for £35 million in billings, were among the brands added to an already enviable client list.
No other direct agency has come close in what has continued to be a difficult climate in which to do business.
The agency held on to all but one of its clients: Virgin Holidays. Nevertheless, its £2 million spend, which would normally be considered substantial in direct terms, was dwarfed by the size of the accounts the agency went on to secure.
Under its creative directors, Peter Harle and Dave Woods, the agency's work has proved an irresistible calling card to clients. It has won plaudits for creativity and effectiveness, particularly on campaigns for The Guardian, which picked up silvers at this year's Campaign Direct Awards and IPA Effectiveness Awards.
The agency continued to innovate for this prized client with work that demonstrated an intimate knowledge of the newspaper's audience. Golfers were enticed to read its Ryder Cup coverage by camouflaged golf balls, which were mixed in with the traditional ones at driving ranges. A Saturday edition, containing a free Franz Ferdinand CD, was promoted to music-lovers with a hand-stamp. The Friday night before publication, venues stamped the hands of gig-goers with a specifically designed promotional stamp to remind them to buy the paper the next morning. Pieces for Selfridges and PlayStation also displayed a thorough understanding of their target markets, with the quirky and beautifully executed work which is fast becoming Claydon Heeley's trademark.
The agency's impressive new-business and creative performance was complemented by able management decisions. The exit of the managing director, Jonathan Harman, to rmg:black cat was handled seamlessly. Harman was replaced by Ben McCormack, who returned to the agency as the group business director after a spell at Heresy.
The chairman, Jon Claydon, and the vice-chairman, Leo Campbell, became more hands-on, working alongside the chief executive and strategic brain, Nigel Jones, and further strengthening the agency's leadership.
Their commitment to nurturing their staff has been demonstrated by initiatives such as three-month personal development sabbaticals. The breaks are fully paid on the condition that staff return to the agency with relevant insight to aid the agency's growth.
The agency also arranges outings for staff each month. And staff ballots are conducted for big decisions, such as pulling out of a pitch.
Claydon Heeley's position at the top of its field has been achieved in the four years since the agency was formed out of the merger between Claydon Heeley and Jones Mason Barton Antenan.
The agency stands independently from its above-the-line Omnicom stablemates. However, this has not deterred it from building its own group, including Agency Republic and the sales promotion company Alcone. Its efforts this year have been rewarded by a 70 per cent leap in pre-tax profits to £1.6 million, a margin of 20.4 per cent. The agency's declared billings rose 18 per cent to £165 million and all this took place against the backdrop of the economic downturn.
Had Claydon Heeley not made such a sterling effort to secure its place at the top of the direct industry, Partners Andrews Aldridge would almost certainly have scooped the honour this year.
The agency, now eight-years-old, cemented its place as the sector's leading independent hotshop. No longer considered one of the industry's start-ups, it has created a model that many will aspire to follow.
In 2004, Partners Andrews Aldridge has maintained its uncompromising creative standards alongside an unfaltering new-business and client retention record.
The agency has clocked up more than £20 million in new-business billings.
These came from the existing clients Lloyds and COI Communications, as well as new accounts from the RAC and Wales Tourist Board. It lost no clients.
Partners Andrews Aldridge's standard-setting work is testament to its creative partner Steve Aldridge's unswerving commitment to creativity, which shows no sign of abating. Work for Lexus, Barnardo's and the Art Foundation continues to collect creative plaudits across the board.
Aldridge's department has also been bolstered by some new hirings this year, and saw the promotion of Shaun Moran to become the creative director.
A commitment to strategy was also displayed in the hiring of Kate Waters, from Euro RSCG London, who joined as the planning director.
The agency's turnover rose by 24 per cent to £4.3 million in 2004 and income grew by 36 per cent to £3 million. These figures, along with the purchase of its independence from Havas and new offices in Soho, prove it's a business in great shape.
The other strong contender for the title this year was Harrison Troughton Wunderman, which continued its inimitable success rate at every award ceremony from Cannes to the Direct Marketing Association Awards, for which it was shortlisted 17 times.
Its new-business performance was unflinching, including account wins from San Miguel, Dunlop Aerospace, Macmillan Cancer Relief and Learn Direct. It also won business from existing clients Star Alliance, Nectar and Citibank. HTW achieved all this in the year that it bedded down a large slice of the $400 million Microsoft business awarded.
However, the loss of the chief executive, Martin Troughton, and the uncertainty surrounding his replacement for several months, weakened its case this year.
Recent winners: Craik Jones Watson Mitchell Voelkel (2003); Harrison Troughton Wunderman (2002); Craik Jones Watson Mitchell Voelkel (2001); WWAV Rapp Collins (2000); FCA! (1999).