In a rapidly growing market, a brilliant new-business performance and consistently strong creative work in 2005 have made Dare Campaign's Digital Agency of the Year for the third consecutive year. Although online adspend reached £1 billion in 2005, according to the Internet Advertising Bureau, the number of large-scale retained accounts up for pitch remained limited, with much of the growth coming from increased spend from clients that already use online.
Dare eclipsed all competition in new-business terms and triumphed in arguably the biggest digital pitch of the year, when it won the AA's £15 million account, after a four-way pitch against AKQA, Wheel and DNA.
The AA needed an agency to overhaul its website, as well as produce online ads and, as a result, many wrote off Dare's chances from the start - it has far less web-design heritage than the other three shortlisted agencies.
That Dare won the three-month-long pitch is testament to its web-design work for Barclays and to the ability of its management -- Mark Collier, the managing director, Flo Heiss, the creative partner, and John Owen, the planning partner -- to gain the trust of senior clients.
Web design is not the sexiest side of the business, but it is lucrative, and Dare's move into this area will help build its bottom line over the long term by allowing it to compete for big full-service accounts that include web design and online advertising.
Dare also picked up the Jacob's Creek creative account, got on to the BBC's online roster in partnership with i-level and won the AAR-managed pitch for Onken. It won two further pieces of COI business, including the NHS anti-smoking campaign, and was part of the integrated Bartle Bogle Hegarty team that won the global Omo account.
But it was the strength and depth of its creative product that really impressed in 2005. Having hired James Cooper as its creative director at the end of 2004, Dare set itself a target of producing at least one outstanding piece of creative work every month. By and large, it succeeded, with great campaigns for Lynx, Wanadoo and Sony Ericsson, in particular. It also won the most category awards (four) at the first Campaign Digital Awards.
Its outstanding piece of creative as far as awards were concerned was the viral site produced for Lynx (Axe outside the UK) at www.axefeather.com.
The work, which won three Campaign Digital silvers, features the scantily clad Slovakian model Silvia Valcikova, lying on a double bed and writhing around when "tickled" by the user's cursor.
Dare won another silver for its work for Wanadoo, which featured an ice-lolly being melted with a hairdryer and a book of matches that was set on fire. There was more good work for Barclays, Sony Ericsson K750 (including an exclusive online tie-up with the photographer Martin Parr) and COI's NHS anti-smoking campaign. Dare also convinced Sony Ericsson to allow it to make an alternative online ending to its Walkman TV spot, which involved the main character jumping out of the ad on to the computer screen.
The agency made its first steps towards international expansion in 2005 by hiring Emil Lanne as a senior art director and Peter Karlsson as an account director to work in a digital advertising cell out of BBH New York. So far, they have picked up projects for Unilever's soap powder brand All (Surf in the UK), Axe and Johnnie Walker.
All of this has resulted in substantial growth - income leapt 62 per cent compared with the previous financial year, from £2.6 million to £4.2 million, and employee numbers grew from 46 to 60.
If Campaign's Digital Agency of the Year were awarded on the basis of individual achievement, then glue London's Mark Cridge could have argued that the sale of his agency to Aegis for £14 million was enough for glue to claim the top prize. The sale was a brilliant achievement for the glue founder, who rescued the business four years ago after the dotcom crash, courtesy of a loan from St Luke's. But the agency itself has had a quiet 12 months in new-business terms.
At the start of 2005, glue made the decision, in effect, to close its doors to new clients. As a result, it did not figure on any of the big digital pitchlists throughout the year. However, it did pick up some uncontested pieces of business from MTV and Electronic Arts and pitched for and won the COI FSA account with VCCP.
Glue also resigned Pot Noodle - the brand on which the agency built its creative reputation - citing differences over strategic direction but the resignation is unlikely to affect the agency much in billings terms.
And with the earnings targets imposed as a result of the Aegis buyout, it's clear the agency will no longer work on business that wins awards but makes no money.
Glue spent the year embedding existing accounts and now works principally on retained business rather than on project work. Fee income grew from £2.7 million at the start of the year to £4.5 million and the headcount grew from 40 to 80, with all growth coming from existing clients.
Creatively, the agency had a strong year, with some excellent work for the Royal Marines, Snickers, Virgin, T-Mobile and the Royal Navy. It also hired Miranda Ross to head a newly strengthened planning department and promoted James Sanderson and Jo Hagger to joint managing directors, freeing Cridge up to work on future growth opportunities for the agency.
Agency.com, Campaign's third shortlisted agency, also had a very good 2005 following a couple of years of turmoil and last year's staff exodus from itraffic, the agency it merged with in 2004. The agency was one of only a few digital specialists to produce consistently strong creative work across the year, with campaigns for Dulux, the NSPCC and British Airways, in particular. It also won the first gold at the Campaign Digital Awards for its "Someone to turn to" campaign for the NSPCC, but lost the account later in the year.
It had a strong new-business year, with wins for Ladbrokes, the DVLA, John Lewis, Channel 4 and InterContinental Hotels. Its tie-up with TBWA\London should provide greater opportunities for growth in 2006.
Recent winners: Dare (2004); Dare (2003); glue London (2002); no award (2001); i-level (2000).
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