And the MAA Agencies of the Year for 2017 are…..

It’s been a funny old year in adland with holding companies and their media agencies in full scale retreat but some creative independents rising to the fore.

A new breed of client seems happy to go with indies: local, regionally and even globally.

As such, what are always difficult choices for agencies of the year have become more so. How do you compare big with smaller, local with global?

We’ve been hugely impressed by the work of some French creative agencies this year but is it fair to compare them directly with UK agencies? For the former we see their best work, for the latter the clunkers as well.

Our three criteria for these awards are creative work, business success and ambition.

Contenders for UK Creative Agency of the Year are adam&eveDDB, Anomaly, Droga5, Mother (last year’s winner) and Wieden+Kennedy.

Adam&eve (which won in 2014 and 2015) had another outstanding year, producing some great campaigns (below), managing the transition to a new management headed by Tammy Einav and Richard Brim with Mat Goff and Alex Hesz and gaining a foothold in the US with Samsung.

It also secured a £100m plus earn-out for founders James Murphy, David Golding, Ben Priest, Jon Forsyth and some of the staff from no doubt grateful buyer Omnicom. All remain apart from Forsyth.

Did it sparkle though, by its own stellar standards?

Anomaly, owned by MDC Partners, had a great first half of the year with some outstanding work and expansion in the UK (after a sticky launch) under CEO Camilla Harrisson.

Similarly Droga5 finally hit its stride with regular mentions in our Best ads of the Month for mostly smaller clients. New CCO David Kolbusz clearly made a difference.

As with Anomaly, though, the second half of the year failed to match the first although one must beware of underestimating agencies who don’t have a big Christmas campaign up their sleeve. AMV BBDO suffered from this, having lost Sainsbury’s to W+K.

Mother won in 2016 for combining hard-hitting campaigns for the likes of with thoroughbred work for Boots and IKEA. Boots, alas, departed to Ogilvy & Mather in a WPP deal although, judging by the number of ads from Mother early in the year, it didn’t want to, while there wasn’t an unforgettable effort for IKEA. Mother, though, remains of one of the shining lights of UK creativity. It also expanded its network in 2016 with new offices in China and America’s west coast.

Others considered were Ogilvy, which won a raft of new business and VCCP likewise. But the work, in our view, didn’t quite match up.

Which brings us to Wieden+Kennedy, winner of our inaugural award in 2013. W+K is at the other end of the creative spectrum from adam&eve. Adam&eve is a thoroughbred, capable of winning over all distances under all conditions. W+K has an astonishing turn of foot but occasionally gets hot and bothered in the paddock.

W+K’s Portland mantra is “fail harder.” Not adam&eve’s style at all.

Not this year though. The big challenge for W+K this year was Sainsbury’s, which it won at the end of 2015 from long-serving AMV. W+K had previously suffered as it tried to grapple with Tesco, which was all over the place under former CEO Phil Clarke. New boss Dave Lewis abandoned W+K for BBH, which has done a decent job.

But W+K needed to rediscover its mojo and, just as important, show it could produce a consistent campaign for Sainsbury’s. An economical one too as Sainsbury’s, like other grocers, is battening down the hatches. It would have been easy to be cautious.

But W+K, as always, grasped the nettle and the campaign that began with ‘Food Dancing’ developed nicely over the year and ended with a Christmas karaoke number that, although it divided opinion like much in this campaign, did the job nicely – and boldly. Here’s a mid-season number.

There were other highlights too, notably Finish for RB. For some reason known only to RB the business moved to Havas halfway through the year but it remains an outstanding example of highly original, compelling, consumer goods advertising. And there isn’t much of that around these days. Other goodies included the always excellent Three and, of course, Honda.

On the new business front the agency ended the year strongly with Formula 1 and the UK’s Football Association, for the England men’s football team. If W+K can win the World Cup for England in Russia next year then no-one can argue.

So Wieden+Kennedy triumphs as our UK Agency of the Year in the hardest of hard-fought contests with adam&eveDDB.

Are French clients braver than those from other countries?

The best French work suggests so. We remain a fan of the mighty BETC Paris but our International Agency of the Year is Buzzman, also from Paris.

Buzzman, recently voted French agency of the year, has been hard on the heels of BETC for a while now and, over 2017, produced a number of campaign that were fresh and original and seemed to nail very difficult advertising tasks with aplomb.

Produce a funny ad featuring an absurd game show? Most agencies would disappear up the nearest orifice.

Dazzle with a Burger King price promotion?

People lament creative standards these days (they always have done) but Buzzman would be outstanding in any era.

To the US then. Not a vintage year but some agencies caught the eye. Anomaly (Ad Age’s choice last year), W+K (Adweek’s this year), 72andSunny, the always excellent Goodby Silverstein & Partners. New girls’ club Joan is worth keeping an eye on too.

But, consistently, Droga5 has delivered: classy, increasingly thoughtful it seems (below) and still capable of kicking ass (as they put it over there) now and then.

It’s taken a while for D5 to pick up speed again following the WME deal but it now seems to be firing on full throttle again. So Droga5 is our US Agency of the Year.

What do do about media agencies? They’ve had a terrible year, still suffering from the fallout from the US Association of National Advertisers (ANA) report a couple of years ago which put paid to some of their more lucrative, off-piste deals. How do you assess them when so much seems to be on price?

So we’re not having one although UK independent the7stars would be a contender if we were, with £270m of non-holding company billings.

But there’s a big role for media in our Network of the Year which goes to Johnny Hornby’s The&Partnership. T&P’s two building blocks are UK agency CHI&Partners and m/SIX, which began as a boutique media agency, closer than most to the creative side of the business. Which is where media should be, surely?

M/SIX came within a whisker of landing Sainsbury’s/Argos media at the start of the year and has been playing a key role in T&P’s giant £200m Toyota Europe account.

T&P has established a European network from scratch for this, including a number of on-site agencies, as it has for other clients too including News Corp and RBS. The idea may have been nicked from on-site specialist Oliver (now working with Unilever) but it seems to be what clients want and Hornby has always been good at detecting this.

But T&P has also been excelling in North America (New York and Canada) on both fronts and, from nowhere really, has created the nearest thing to a successful full service agency we’ve seen in decades. Here’s a cracker from CHI New York for The Wall Street Journal.

Hornby says: “It’s an honour to win this award and a real credit to our team and to our clients. What seemed like a radical idea three years ago – a one-team, single-bottom-line, full-service model – now starts to feel like it might suddenly be becoming the new normal. Taking this new data-driven model across 14 new markets this year has made for a truly transformative 2017. Thanks to all at The&Partnership who worked so hard to make this happen.”

It’s been an annus mirabilis for holding companies, chiefly because of media agency travails. But others are eating their lunch too, most notably the big consultancies with Accenture Interactive in the van. You could easily make a case for Accenture Interactive as International Agency of the Year.

But one holding company seems to have bucked the trend and that’s, unlikely as it sounds, MDC Partners.

For years MDC Partners was founder Miles Nadal’s plaything but now, under new CEO Scott Kauffman, it seems to be turning the corner. Certainly it’s been the only holding company to have shown good organic growth this year with eight per cent. It’s much smaller than WPP, Omnicom and the rest but its line-up of creative agencies (Anomaly, 72andSunny, CP+B etc) are assets in a changing marketing world. Another is its non-dependence on media.

The jury’s still out to a degree on MDC but it’s a worthy choice as Holding Company of the Year.


  1. I would love to know who the French creative agencies this year were that you were hugely impressed by?

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