Top Performers of 2005: Direct Agency of the Year - Rapier

Top-quality campaigns for clients and impressive new-business growth put Rapier ahead of its rivals to be Direct Marketing Agency of the Year.

With all three shortlisted agencies giving such impressive performances in 2005, choosing Campaign's Direct Marketing Agency of the Year was going to be a tough call.

But Rapier's impressive financial performance, fuelled by aggressive new-business growth and strong creative output, made it the natural choice for the top accolade.

In a flat year by DM's usually buoyant standards, the agency trounced its more mainstream direct marketing competitors in the 2005 new-business league, with a tally of more than £35 million in new billings.

As a result, total billings for the year were up £49 million to £170 million, boosting profits by a substantial 26 per cent.

The fact Rapier is wholly owned by its management team (with the majority share belonging to the managing partner, Jonathan Stead, top portrait) is one explanation for its unparalleled success. Another, more surprising, factor is its unique positioning: Rapier delivers direct marketing over any channel - without compromising on creativity - but specialises in service brands.

While some might think that restricting its offering in this way could limit the agency's potential, this positioning proved irresistible to its target audience in 2005.

The capture of the £30 million ntl account was the agency's biggest win of the year. Rapier already held the integrated account for Telewest Broadband, and convinced ntl to add its integrated account to that business just weeks before the two companies confirmed final plans to merge.

It is evidence of the management's negotiating skills and of the strength of the Telewest work that Rapier secured the business just as ntl was poised to call a formal pitch.

Rapier picked up more DaimlerChrysler business, adding the Mercedes vans account to its work for the Smart marque.

It also benefited from its position on the COI roster, which it retained during the roster review. The agency beat Clark McKay & Walpole and Tullo Marshall Warren to the Disabilities & Discrimination Act task and was awarded the Health & Safety Executive account after a pitch against Claydon Heeley Jones Mason, Craik Jones Watson Mitchell Voelkel and TMW.

Other account wins included the brief to promote Barnardo's Big Toddle over the next five years. Rapier also managed to squeeze a further £10 million out of its AA client, despite losing out in the pitch for the AA Roadside Assistance business. If it had won that pitch, Rapier would have become the AA's only creative direct marketing agency.

You don't become as successful as Rapier has been this year without a good, stable team and happy staff.

Stead has been with the agency 20 years and the creative partner, John Townshend (bottom portrait), joined ten years ago. Alison Meredith, a former Proximity head of planning, runs the agency's planning department and Catherine Ince - whose Rapier tenure spans 18 years - is the new-business director. In 2004, David Prideaux took over the day-to-day running of the creative department from Townshend, and this year he hired Steve Broadhurst, one of DM's most experienced creatives, as Rapier's senior art director.

Given the stature of its creative and planning teams, it is no wonder that Rapier's work - the true gauge of an agency's ability - is of such a high standard, despite the creative limitations imposed by a client list consisting exclusively of service brands.

This year, its DRTV campaign for AA Insurance, featuring Bev and Kev, won a silver award at the Campaign Direct Awards, and its posters for South Eastern Trains made the final at the Campaign Poster Awards.

Once again this year, Partners Andrews Aldridge is the bridesmaid of the direct marketing industry - the agency has been shortlisted every year since it won the title in 2001. Such a consistent performance is testament to the strength and stability of this seven-year-old agency and its talented management team.

The combined experience of the creative partner, Steve Aldridge, and the managing partner, Phil Andrews, was put to the test this year after they bought the agency's independence out of Havas in 2004. If anyone thought the buyout might be a distraction for the partners, they couldn't have been more wrong.

This year, the agency had an impressive new-business haul, winning places on the BSkyB and Vodafone rosters and retaining its place on Lloyds' roster.

Its creative highlights for Lexus and Video Arts both won plaudits at the Campaign Direct Awards.

The agency put in a strong financial performance, with income up 17 per cent to £3.8 million and profit up by 7 per cent to £600,000. At the same time, the agency boosted its management team by hiring Kate Waters as the planning partner, while Jon Gowar also joined as the group account director.

That 2005 was Tullo Marshall Warren's first appearance on a shortlist for Campaign's DM Agency of the Year is something of an anomaly given its age, size and consistent success.

Over 20 years, the agency has grown steadily into the largest UK independent DM shop, with more than 200 staff, and the business has doubled its turnover in the past decade to £20 million. It also has an enviable client port-folio, which includes Diageo, Unilever, British Airways, Nissan and T-Mobile.

In the same way that Bartle Bogle Hegarty has to turn down pitches because its client list is too full, TMW gets a punt at almost every brief in town but has to turn many away.

Highlights for 2005 included winning the pitch to become Lloyds' lead strategic agency and increasing its existing business for the bank following a roster pitch.

One of the reasons for the agency's success is the founding partners' commitment to the business. The creative partner, Paul Tullo, the managing partner, Chris Warren, and the new-business partner, Richard Marshall, are all still full-time at the agency.

Financial performance at TMW was also strong across 2005. Turnover rose 17 per cent over the year, profit before tax grew by 20 per cent and fees jumped £13.2 million.

Recent winners: Claydon Heeley Jones Mason (2004); Craik Jones Watson Mitchell Voelkel (2003); Harrison Troughton Wunderman (2002); Craik Jones Watson Mitchell Voelkel/Partners Andrews Aldridge (2001); WWAV Rapp Collins (2000).