And our Agency of the Year for 2019 is…

It’s an important day in the country’s calendar and there’s also a General Election. So let’s get on with our final choices of the outstanding denizens of adland.

Network of the Year

There are three candidates for Network of the Year in 2019, the mighty McCann which built on its traditional strengths in the US and UK to spruce up its offering elsewhere; Sir Martin Sorrell’s S4Capital spearheaded by digital production agency Media Monks which grew like topsy to a value of $1bn and last year’s MAA UK Agency of the Year, Mother.

A tricky choice because we certainly aren’t comparing like with like. But the criteria, as ever is business success and creative performance and our Network of the Year is Mother, now ensconced in Shanghai, Singapore and Los Angeles as well as London and New York.

It’s fiendishly difficult to build an independent agency network these days, without holding company or private equity backing but Mother, under global CEO Michael Wall, appears to be succeeding.

New York where Mother has long had a presence – enjoying (or not) various ups and downs – was perhaps the standout, winning global business from TripAdvisor, Wrangler and RoC Beauty. It also built on existing Facebook duties with a brief to encourage shopping for Instagram and, biggest of all, landed retailer Target’s huge holiday business. Mother Design also won assignments from Instagram Threads, Bodily, Filthy Foods, Strava and Eyebeam.

Work wise, highlights include The New York Public Library’s ‘Insta Novels’ which seems to have succeeded in the seemingly impossible – bringing a new, younger audience to classic literature. Awards included a gold at Cannes and an Innovation by Design nod from Fast Company.

Mother also ventured east with significant wins for Mother Shanghai with Converse, Airbnb and Oppo mobile while The Secret Little Agency – Mother in Singapore – landed a string of local gongs and won the Singapore National Library and National Archives, work from Chinese online giant Alibaba, and Singapore icon Tiger Beer.

CEO Wall says: “Whilst we’re happy to compete against the networks, we’ve always seen ourselves as different to them. We’re a family of creative minded and talented people who all believe in the independent spirit of Mother. And in so doing we can punch above our weight wherever we are in the world.”

The key to any network, particularly invaders from Europe into the US, is keeping it going. But Mother’s revamped network has made a promising start and is a worthy MAA Network of the Year.

Media Agency of the Year

Another tricky one as so many deals are now struck on a holding company basis and on the basis of who’s cheapest?

In the UK there are some lively independents including the7stars and Goodstuff Communications while WPP’s MediaCom, the biggest agency in the GroupM bundle, is firmly at the top of the tree in terms of billings.

Manning Gottlieb OMD is a veteran of the UK media scene, originally a spin-off from Simons Palmer. But it’s hung in there over the years and is now said to be the biggest UK agency in Omnicom Media Group with a hefty billings increase of 36 per cent and some able media work – winning good reports from the creative agencies it works with – for Apple and John Lewis among others.

So Manning Gottlieb OMD is our Media Agency of the Year.

Also worthy of note is Out of Home agency Talon Outdoor, which often partners with Manning Gottlieb on Omnicom business. Talon (disclosure – Talon is one of our Content Partners) has pushed the boundaries of Out of Home planning and buying with a praiseworthy commitment to research and analysis alongside its trading skills.

UK Agency of the Year

Creative agencies are an endangered species in some people’s eyes and, as we close one decade, it’s interesting to speculate about who, even what, will be the contenders as we go into 2020 and beyond. Will it be traditional ad agencies or a representative of one of the new-style digital networks like S4C or David Jones’ You & Mr Jones?

The contenders on our list have all, to an extent, re-invented themselves for a changed world.

The&Partnership has, arguably, created the best business model in the agency sector: combining traditional virtues with substantial on-site operations – at News UK, the Wall Street Journal and RBS among others – plus a substantial, partly on-site and full service (including media) European operation for Toyota.

Johnny Hornby’s creation also enjoys robust finances and its UK flagship, ably led by Sarah Golding, also reinforced its reputation for retaining major business by leading leading a successful WPP repitch for longstanding client Centrica and turned its connection with RBS into a successful bid for its flagship NatWest account. Creatively it’s showing steady improvement, topped by a Christmas winner for Argos (not the easiest of tasks.)

Great things were expected when Nils Leonard, Lucy Jameson and Natalie Graeme broke away from Grey London to form Uncommon Creative Studio and, for a while, not that much seemed to happen apart some some (expected) ‘look at me’ ads for smaller clients and a number of sustainability initiatives, praiseworthy no doubt.

But 2019 has seen Uncommon hit its stride, with more noteworthy work for smaller clients or clients new to advertising, praiseworthy again as bringing new advertisers into the market is more than valuable (below.)

In November though it won the substantial Dreams beds business from the unfortunate M&C Saatchi, beating BBH and former home Grey in a pitch. Other clients include Grants whisky and WWF.

Uncommon says it builds brands that “people in the real world actually wish existed.” Which is handy for these woke times. Wonder what they’ll do when a great big company that lots of people wish didn’t exist comes knocking – and it will. Which means that Uncommon is now firmly on the map.

Uncommon is the most successful London start-up since Lucky Generals (which also had a good year, notably for Amazon) and maybe even adam&eve (now adam&eveDDB) 12 years ago, which brings us to our third and final contender.

It was a year of transition for A&E, with the last two founders James Murphy and David Golding leaving to set up a new agency in 2020. But the dynamic duo left a robust structure in place, headed by joint CEOs Mat Goff and Tammy Einav, creative supremo Rick Brim and global CSO Alex Hesz.

A&E is now comfortably the biggest agency by income in Omnicom’s UK stable so conflict is an issue with new business but it still managed to top Campaign’s new business league with £88m in added media billings from clients including PlayStation (our campaign of the year) Virgin Media and, in the hottest pitch of the year, Lucozade against Droga5 (another rising star), Lucky Generals and Mother.

Creatively there are bound to be average moments from such a big agency with such big clients – the National Lottery is still to sparkle although, it seems, sales are up plus those Lloyds Bank bloody horses – but there were lots vintage moments too.

And, maybe not vintage John Lewis (now combining with Waitrose) but the latest in a series showing almost unbelievable consistency and creative rigour (from the client too.)

But that’s why adam&eveDDB is one of those rare ‘go-to’ agencies for clients: the work is original, often brave, lots of digital smarts, with impeccable production values – and it sells. You almost never see an A&E ad and think, “what’s all that about?”

So Adam&eveDDB is (for the third time) our Agency of the Year.

Joint CEOs Einav and Goff say: “2019 has been a fantastic year. We have won a string of brilliant new clients, made big, famous work and picked up a string of creative and strategy awards. Thank you to MAA for the recognition as your Agency of the Year. It’s testament to the ongoing commitment and brilliance of all the talented people who work so hard to keep pushing the agency forward.”

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About Stephen Foster

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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.