Michael Lee and Jerry Judge: the official MAA US Agency of the Year is….Wieden+Kennedy

Last week George Parker, in his review of 2015, chose Goodby Silverstein+Partners as his US Agency of the Year, partly because of its long-term record combination of good advertising allied to good behaviour. Here Michael Lee of Madam and Jerry Judge of Fearless Group choose their official winner for us (we’ve very happy to have both).

2015. That Was The Year That Was

A walk through Manhattan will tell you another year has flown by. Offices and stores are decked with hollied halls. Which means it’s time to have a look at 2015 US Agency Of The Year. Stephen asked Jerry Judge and I to get together and come up with a plan. And for me to put my writing mittens on.

We had the respectable lunch one has these days at Kat and Theo on 21st Street just off 5Th Ave to review Agency Of The Year contenders, talk about agencies who rose to the occasion, agencies who dropped balls, agencies who shot themselves in the foot, agencies who shoulda, agencies who coulda, agencies who just kept their head down and successfully got on with it, and a few other odds and sods on the way.

Three agencies who had a terrific year:

The Martin Agency

Firstly, this year marks TMA being in business for 50 years. A pretty amazing year right there. Much of it led by the great Mike Hughes who sadly passed away a couple of years ago.

They picked up some nice pieces of business, Sunglass Hut, Optimum, Wheat Thins, NY Knicks, Tic-Tac and Land O’ Lakes.

And produced one of the stand-out pieces of creative thinking with the ‘Unskipabble’ online campaign for GEIKO which won a bucket load of awards from all around the world. And gained ridiculous 17m views on YouTube for some of the films. But this is my favourite.


Finally it appears they’ve got NY and LA sorted (never easy). It always felt to me like two very different agencies, but with Mike Sheldon, Pete Favat and Winston Binch being appointed to North American roles, Linda Sawyer taking the chair, and Donny Deutsch taking his leave, it finally feels like Deutsch is truly underway. Clients like Samsung, Price Waterhouse and Anthem seem to think so because they’ve added more assigments to the agency. Allowing them to declare its best year ever financially. Which is no mean feat these days.

Going to be interesting to see how they contribute to the VW crisis of course.

Now if they could only get their website to load a tad more quickly…..

Pretty impressive year for them. Who can argue with the new business wins they’ve landed in 2015. Each one of them presenting a different challenge ahead. Which probably played a role in why they chose the agency in the first place. If I were BBDO, I’d take that as a huge compliment.

Subway, how they handle the post Jared years will be critical. Priceline, is Shatner out? I quite liked him. Toys-R-US, a tough business with Amazon hovering like, and with, drones. And Bacardi, with the consumer shift to the brown liquids of whiskey and bourbon (I’m one of them), the white spirits, after years of being the tipple of choice, are suffering big time.

A few odds and sods that popped up over desert:

Questionable move of the year

Cadillac opened their new headquarters in SoHo New York early in 2015. I doubt it was overly well received by the other GM brands. Remember Lincoln relocating to LA? That didn’t last long. And I’m not sure about this move either. Have a feeling it may well end in tears.

And not convinced a Caddy looks that great lounging around the cobblestone streets of TriBeCa.

Do we really need this?

Do we really need an Ad of the Day? Adweek seem to think so. Have we finally arrived at that level of attention span, and need of instant recognition as an industry?

You sure you want to do that campaign?

It must have created a huge amount of joy within Anomaly when it was announced that they had prized the Johnny Walker account away from BBH. Trouble is they turned that emotion into the campaign.

Won’t go into details, George Parker did that so eloquently last week.

But the last brand to think ‘Joy’ was a good idea to wrap around its brand was BMW. I recall the agency lost the business soon thereafter.

Self-foot shooting of the year

CP+B, had a mixed year, picking up American Airlines, but losing Met Life and Applebees. The biggest issue for me was the disatrous handling of the ouster (and that’s a kind word) of Andrew Keller after 17 years. Having said that, it did inspire this marvellous editorial contribution from Tor Myhren, CCO of Grey: ‘Lets try that goodbye to Andrew Keller again.’ Thank you Tor.

Agencies who moved up a division

I’ve always had a eye on the guys at Argonaut in San Francisco, and it looks like they’ve made a a bit of giant leap forward in 2015.

Continuing doing a nice job on AT+T’s Cricket account, Appointed by Fitbit, and getting assignments from Hershey’s, but the big news is them picking up the MetLife account from CP+B. The Argonauts are apparently ones to watch in 2016.

And last but not least..

Our first point of agreement on Agency of the Year was that there was no particular standout agency performance that made the decision a doddle. Some shops had had a terrific year. Just doing what they do best. Doing great work on big brands and moving their companies in the right direction. Easier said than done these days. But it’s decision time:

2015 US Agency Of The Year


Quietly, W+K have been doing what they do best: Putting together an outstanding body of work throughout the year for many clients (see below).

And sadly, what they do worst: regularly losing business, Weight Watchers and Heineken.

But who cares when you replace it ten-fold and do some remarkable work on the way.

In 2015, KFC hired them to get the ‘Fingerlickin’ Good’ brand back on people’s tongues.They cleverly re-introduce us to The Colonel himself, via a series of look-alike Colonels (is it really The Colonel flogging a $20 ‘family fill-up meal’)?

They picked up a large branding assignment for Verizon Wireless.

Yes, Heineken fired them (after they did some terrific work on the brand), but who cares. Bud Light must have had the agency on speed dial, because they got a call 20 minutes later with $350M burning a hole in its pocket.

I happen to love the quirky and charming Yoplait work featuring an Amelie-like waif and a dapper Kray brothers offspring who’s been hanging out on Venice Beach.

They keep finding a way of refreshing the brand stories for existing clients like Nike, Southern Comfort and Old Spice with some stand out work.

They have a knack of executing simple ideas extrordinarily well, as the Nike spot ‘Coming in Last’ demonstrates.

As for complicated executions, W+K handle those rather deftly also. For Old Spice, Terry Crews takes on Isaiah Mustafa in the insane ‘Make A Smellitment’ work.

They’ve ingeniously burned the words “ShottaSoCo” into my brain forever with a clever content strategy for Southern Comfort recently featuring Danny McBride who delivers his nightmantra: “before I hit the dance floor, I’ll hit the bar- ShottaSoCo.”

And finally, the one thing that agencies are spectacularly poor at is hiring senior creative leadership that can remain in place longer than 18 months (there’s a reason Agency Spy names its section ‘revolving door’). W+K have made what I believe is a smart move by promoting from within. Karl Leibermann from the Portland office is on his way to run the NY office. Nice one W+K, and Karl, good luck mate.

Thanks Jerry, excellent lunch. Good to see you again. A bientot.

Check please!!

(Wieden+Kennedy highlights)

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About Michael Lee

Michael Lee is a former ECD of Euro RSCG New York handling Volvo Worldwide. Born in England, he spent 20 years working on integrated accounts including Intel, JP Morgan, ExxonMobil and Jaguar. In 2012 he set up agency search consultancy Madam.