And the MAA Agency of the Year is…..

Yes, it is indeed that time again.

When we first did this we weren’t sure that the ad world needed another such selection but, gratifyingly, it seems this prize is increasingly sought after.

So, without more ado, here’s the shortlist (in alphabetical order): adam&eveDDB (the winner for the past two years), BETC Paris (the first time we’ve ventured over the channel), CHI, Lucky Generals and Mother.

Even arriving at this list was pretty hard work, there are lots of other agencies who might have made the cut. London’s independents had a pretty good year and the likes of 101, Brothers and Sisters and Isobel are worth a mention in despatches, as is Karmarama which pulled off the deal of the year in selling itself to Accenture.

But the criteria for Agency of the Year are creative excellence and new business success (which you might argue with) and they didn’t, in their different ways, have quite enough of either

Of the big holding company-owned networks IPG’s McCann and FCB Inferno were the stand-outs. One industry luminary put forward WPP’s Grey as it appears to have ridden out the departure of Nils Leonard and co. to do their own thing. It certainly has the respect of its peers. AMV BBDO remains a fine agency although it lost Sainsbury’s to Wieden+Kennedy. W+K itself, also a one-time Agency of the Year, deserves credit for overcoming the loss of Tesco and bouncing back with Sainsbury’s.

For all these though it’s thanks but no cigar.

Right, to our shortlist.

Adam&eveDDB can make a convincing case for being the best agency in the UK, maybe the world. It seemed to have a quiet year in new business terms in 2016 (largely because it doesn’t have many gaps to fill) but pulled off a major coup late in the year by landing a big chunk of Samsung in the US. But that’s the thing about A&E. Ever since it started in 2008 it’s thought big: big accounts and ambitious work.

In 2016 it won buckets of awards, including the usual haul of Grand Prix at Cannes and also won the IPA Effectiveness Awards Grand Prix for the third time in a row, another first. Founders James Murphy, David Golding, Ben Priest and Jon Forsyth effectively replaced themselves with a new management team in preparation for..what? We don’t know if they’re leaving after their earn-out or if DDB has a bright new future for them. We suspect the latter.

And the agency produced its usual glittering performance in the run-up to Christmas: another terrific John Lewis ad, a brilliant effort for Waitrose and an off-piste delight for Harvey Nichols (below). BBH used to say it zagged when others zigged and so does A&E. Its films are usually so good you sometimes think it could make movies. What’s not to like?

But it is enough to be Agency of the Year yet again? Hard to say No.

BETC Paris is very like A&E. Its the biggest agency in France (A&E is probably the biggest in the UK in terms of income). It’s the jewel in a network, in its case Havas. It’s bold and ambitious: in its work but also in its brave decision to a move to a vast new HQ, which should result in the regeneration of an unremarked part of Paris. My colleague Michael Lee describes it here. Michael also suggested BETC was that fabled beast “the agency of the future.” It just might be.

One of the issues with choosing an agency in a different country is you only see the work it sends you, not the clunkers. But everything I’ve seen from BETC Paris is some combination of fresh, funny, sexy, moving and French (in a good way). It can even take the mick out of its own industry (below). As with A&E, it’s hard to say No.

At half-time in 2016 CHI wouldn’t have been in the frame. Not that it had done badly but it hardly stood out. It had signally failed to convert a number of big pitches and the work was solid rather than outstanding. CHI’s work, usually, scores better with the public than its peers, which doubtless keeps its clients happy.

Then, kapow! Johnny Hornby’s assiduous pursuit of Toyota pays off spectacularly (CHI has handled Lexus for a while) pays and the agency’s international outfit The&Partnership lands Toyota’s European creative account (and some media) in what was undoubtedly the new business coup of the year. The artful Hornby does this without investing in expensive network bricks and mortar too, filching a leaf out of Oliver’s book by setting up &Toyota units in Toyota offices. It already runs such a unit, Pulse, for News UK.

But CHI/T&P (sooner or later the agency is going to have to decide which one it is) still has work to do. Hornby has to find 200 or so people for &Toyota and the agency’s new joint ECDs Micky Tudor and Yan Elliott (from Lucky Generals) need to produce good work (like the campaign below) across the board. Not the easiest of tasks as the company has embraced a “data-driven” model.

Lucky Generals is the stand-out among the new wave of indie agencies. In its short life it’s done pretty much everything it could have hoped for: winning business and producing a string of lively campaigns. It is, so a headhunter told me, where everybody wants to work.

The most interesting work to emerge has been its ‘Great place to start’ campaign for Premier Inn, not the fireworks for Paddy Power and Hostelworld, you expect bright young agencies to do that. ‘Start’ (below), by contrast is solid verging on the stolid. The strategy is clear but you wonder if Premier Inn can really be a destination. But it’s the kind of campaign you expect from a big agency and, sooner or later, Lucky Generals had to do that if it is, indeed, going to be a big agency.

As far as Agency of the Year is concerned though this jury’s still out.

Which leads us, handily, to Mother.

Winston Churchill described Russia as a “riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma” (something our present politicians might do well to remember when they’re tweaking the bear’s tail).

In rather less momentous adland, so is Mother. To some they’re the control freaks of Shoreditch, to others canny operators who have succeeded in going their own way by insisting on doing it their way. It doesn’t actually matter very much because they’re extremely good at it.

Back in October we asked: is anyone producing better work at the moment than Mother? And the answer’s still the same. It’s easy in these deliberation to be swayed by what happens at the end of the year, particularly by the many and varied Christmas offerings. This rather militates against those agencies, including CHI and Lucky Generals, that don’t have a Christmas spectacular. Neither, as far as we know, does BETC Paris – the French don’t do Christmas the way we do.

But Mother’s produced good stuff at Christmas as well, notably for Boots (below). It divides opinion along the way, notably for MoneySuperMarket which I can’t bring myself to like but it surely works; now in its sixth year and a tabloid favourite.

It’s new platform for Stella Artois, ‘Be Legacy,’ had some people spluttering into their cappuccinos but the campaign, as a whole, is proper advertising.

It produced what it calls “the world’s first (and sauciest) social soap opera” for new client Baileys – ‘When Coffee met Baileys.’

Its New York office (Mother is still independent) produced an outstanding campaign, ‘Real Is Rare,’ for the Diamond Producers Association.

It won the global relaunch relaunch of Nokia phones and Innocent’s European account. These may or may not turn out to big pieces of business (Innocent has a habit of promising a lot but not delivering as far as ads are concerned). But, in a year when there weren’t many major moves, they’re still noteworthy.

Best of all, though, is its ‘The Wonderful Everyday’ work for IKEA.

This is arguably the outstanding global campaign de nos jours.

Two years ago we had this lovely ad.

And in October this year this rather grittier effort, ‘Welcome Home,’ showing a young lad worried about his mum.

Some people say there’s no room for big ideas any more in this fractured digital world. Well there is and this campaign shows there is.

And ‘Welcome Home’ is outstanding: it’s not ‘Here for Good’ but it depicts everyday people with unusual care.

Advertising with a moral compass, if you like.

That’s a big achievement, one of many for Mother this year.

Which is why it’s, deservedly, our 2016 Agency of the Year.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

One comment

  1. Mother UK puts out much superior work to its US counterpart, and the US counterpart has been continually on the losing end of new business pitches. Without denigrating the wonderful work you’ve shown above, please note that it’s two different calibres of work. One is wonderful. One is average at best.

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