Bartle Bogle Hegarty's Agency of the Year win can't come as too much of a surprise to any of the three agencies shortlisted by Campaign.
In 2004, BBH beat Clemmow Hornby Inge in a photo-finish to scoop Campaign's top accolade for the second year running. Twelve months later, it has convincingly romped home to score a third consecutive win - an Agency of the Year first - with several lengths to spare.
No dilemma this year; no agonising debate over whether to pick an agency that continues to set the bar by which others are judged or to go for the aggressive arriviste with a new-business record that's second to none. 2005 was emphatically BBH's year.
If it's hard to over-emphasise just how successful the agency has been this year, it's even trickier to know where to start documenting its achievements.
Its reel is as good a place to start as any: strong work for Castlemaine XXXX, Sony Ericsson, Levi's and Lynx belies the general perception that BBH's output has not been vintage by the agency's standards. There was also a dramatic improvement in the quality of its print and press campaigns, including some impressive work for Barnardo's.
The fact that BBH was named Agency of the Year at the British Television Advertising Awards for a record fourth time in 2005 shows that its creative department, under the leadership of John O'Keeffe (bottom, right), continues to drive the creative product forward - and why it remains the destination of choice for many would-be creatives.
The desire to work at BBH isn't confined to creative departments. Campaign's survey of the IPA's younger members in July this year named BBH as the agency most young people would most like to work for. BBH took 21 per cent of the vote, eight percentage points above its nearest rival, Wieden & Kennedy.
In part, the agency's desirability is down to its output, but its management culture also makes it attractive. BBH's policy of recruitment from within, most recently evidenced by Ben Fennell's return from Singapore to the London office as the managing director, underlines the agency's commitment to nurturing talent. Fennell began his career in London as a graduate recruit in 1994.
This year's Agency Performance League, based on analysis from Willott Kingston Smith, ranked BBH as the fifth-most-successful UK creative agency, a leap of three spots on the previous year with a rise in income of almost 14 per cent to £43.7 million (the biggest increase within the top ten).
This year, BBH launched the Audi Channel, making the agency the world's largest developer of general ad-funded TV programming. It also unleashed a "fourth discipline" with its engagement planning department, headed by the Soul co-founder Kevin Brown. That move prompted the ZenithOptimedia chairman and Campaign columnist Simon Marquis to comment: "The agency I admire most is BBH ... When I read that Kevin Brown was to rejoin the agency's ranks as its media champion, my reaction was: 'how typical, how smart - how BBH'."
These achievements - together with a management structure that has smoothed the transition from the Johns Bartle and Hegarty (bottom, second left) to a new generation under the chief executive, Nigel Bogle (bottom, far left) and the worldwide chief operating officer, Simon Sherwood (bottom, second right) - would put any agency on the Agency of the Year shortlist.
This year, it is BBH's new-business record that pushed it into first place - almost all of its contemporaries conceded defeat once the news broke that the £60 million British Airways account had landed at the agency.
That win was followed by the £180 million Persil (Omo) business.
BBH's new-business strategy doesn't differ from any other agency's on paper: identify the gaps in the client list and fill them. But the success with which it has achieved this aim during 2005 has left many reeling.
More than £300 million of new business has been added this year, and in Omo and BA BBH won two of the three big pitches of 2005. Only Sainsbury's, retained by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, proved a pitch too far.
The consolidation of its relationship with Unilever also marks BBH out as a powerful global network and shows that agencies no longer need to be sprawling empires if they want to net big international wins.
And losses? The £2 million Bisto account departed in February (the client cited creative and strategic differences) and BBH resigned the £4 million ITV business the following month after the appointment of Clare Salmon as the marketing director at the broadcaster. Neither were significant enough to cause anything approaching a wobble at the agency.
So what of the pretenders to the crown? For WCRS, 2005 was the agency's first full year of independence after buying itself out of Havas. The year was characterised by senior appointments that have served to further strengthen the agency across the board. Matt Edwards was hired as the new-business and marketing director; Debbie Klein was promoted to chief executive; Will Orr returned as the managing director and Yann Elliot and Luke Williamson defected from Mother to become the joint creative directors. All these hirings add fuel to an agency already well-regarded for its creative output and its ability to swipe business from similarly creative shops: its 3 coup at the expense of TBWA in 2004 was repeated this year when it picked up the £22 million Abbey account.
Clemmow Hornby Inge is beginning to look like the perpetual bridesmaid to BBH's serial bride. Its runner-up status, shared with WCRS this year, was sealed when Direct Line announced it was moving its £35 million account into M&C Saatchi.
CHI's new-business machine cruises on, hoovering up ever-larger chunks of Saatchi & Saatchi's European Toyota business. Meanwhile, the agency's creative department has moved to address the belief among its peers that CHI is more concerned with wins than work. The hiring of Ewan Paterson as creative director in November demonstrated its commitment to the creative product. That said, this year's Gunn Report listed CHI as the 19th most creatively awarded agency in the world, placing it 13 spots ahead of ... BBH.
Recent winners: BBH (2004); BBH (2003); Mother (2002); Mother (2001); Lowe (2000).