The fantastic performance of Campaign's Media Agency of the Year, PHD, looks even more impressive in light of the challenges it faced in 2004.
A year ago, this magazine expressed doubts over the future shape of the agency in light of the loss of several key clients, including HSBC, O2 and Pizza Hut. Despite a restructure under the "Pioneering from PHD" banner, it seemed the agency, stranded without a global network, was being pushed backwards into a niche.
But this year, PHD came out all guns blazing. The investment and repositioning of the company in an attempt to regain some of its planning heritage paid off in new-business terms, with PHD landing a total of £63 million in buying billings from the likes of the AA, Bayer/Roche, SwitchCo, Sainsbury's Bank, and Yell. It also won an extra £33 million in planning business for BMW, Mini and COI.
Its only significant blow in new-business terms was losing the coveted Transport for London business to Mediaedge:cia.
In general, though, it was an impressive new-business year for an agency without a network on which to rely for business growth.
Perhaps the most significant factor in PHD's case is the extent to which creativity sits at the heart of the company - not just in terms of work for clients, but in the structure and approach of the agency itself.
In 2005, PHD launched a new approach to planning called ETNA. Underpinning this was an investment in neuroplanning - MRI scan research into how different media works on different parts of the brain. This has changed the way the agency functions, signalling a shift from PowerPoint presentations to interactive workshops with clients and other agencies.
Structurally, PHD also experimented. Building on 2004's PHD Seed joint venture with Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO (essentially a media planning unit within a creative agency), PHD continued to collaborate with its sister advertising agency.
PHD's Rocket division created Lunar - a creative agency within its office - in conjunction with AMV. The senior AMV creatives Daryl Corps and Ben Kay joined Lunar to work on its launch client, BT. Soon after this, PHD merged Rocket with the London office of Compass, its regional operation, to create an agency with greater scale.
It wasn't long before PHD was collaborating again, this time with the ad agency Campbell Doyle Dye, launching a business called Sherlock Communications to offer creative and media solutions under one roof.
Other pioneering business ventures included the creation of a branded-content business with in-house production facilities, DrumScreen. This led to a significant piece of content in the form of The Guardian Sports Show on Channel 4.
The agency also aimed to take advantage of a substantial growth sector with the launch of its own online search company, PHD iQuest.
In creative terms, the agency's work for Adidas, eBay, The Guardian, the RSPCA, Nando's and BT especially caught the eye.
PHD also impressed in the area of people development, introducing a formal programme of coaching and one-on-one development during the year (in addition to the skills-based training already offered).
The perception that PHD is taking an active involvement in the industry was enhanced by the election of its chief executive, David Pattison, as the president of the IPA.
PHD's management team also remained stable and performed well over the year. Jonathan Durden, the agency's president and co-founder, remains hands-on for three days a week while the chairman, Tess Alps (bottom, second from right), the managing director, Morag Blazey (bottom, far right), and the senior planning team of Mark Holden (bottom, second from left) and Louise Jones make up a strong unit.
Pattison was also involved in news that came as a massive boost for PHD in the UK, namely Omnicom's investment in a global roll-out of the PHD brand.
This should at last give the agency the means to bring in global and regional business and learnings from other markets, leaving it less exposed in what is becoming an increasingly international industry.
The agency that came a close second to PHD, the digital specialist i-level, is a very different beast. It has dominated the online media market this year, winning almost every big digital-only pitch of 2005.
In April, the agency picked up Orange - an £8 million piece of business for which it had to pitch against four other agencies, including the incumbent, Initiative. As a result of that win, i-level resigned BT, an account it had worked on for five years and the only business to go out of the agency all year.
A month later, it won BSkyB's online media account in a pitch that included MediaCom, Sky's above-the-line media agency. It also snared the AA and EA Games accounts as well as a place on the BBC's digital advertising roster. All of this helped the agency achieve billings of £50 million by the end of the year, a vast improvement on the impressive £30 million it recorded during 2004.
Over the past 12 months, i-level has also launched an affiliates division, spun off Generator (its digital management consultancy) as a standalone business and increased staff numbers from 65 to 80.
As the pre-eminent UK digital marketing agency, i-level is also behind many of online's best media innovations, including the blackout of the MSN homepage for Specsavers.
The other runner-up was ZenithOptimedia, which deserves recognition for a strong new-business year, consistently good levels of work and an excellent management team. It brought in £117 million in billings from clients including L'Oreal, Richemont and Allied British Foods.
Its work for O2, COI, Toyota and UIP helped it win awards and its management team, led by the chief executive, Antony Young, and the managing director, Gerry Boyle, has the right mixture of planning talent and buying discipline.
ZenithOptimedia's digital division, Zed, also had a great year, winning the £15 million BT online planning and buying business, among other accounts.
Recent winners: MindShare (2004, 2003); Naked (2002); Starcom Motive (2001); BBJ (2000).