Media Week All Stars: Agency of the year

Media Week All Stars: Agency of the year

Naked team: Agency of the year

They're Naked and we've chosen them as Media Week's Media Agency of the Year for 2001. There's no doubt about it, it's a controversial choice. Naked comprises seven full-time members of staff and they don't do buying.

But they certainly do media and we've picked Naked for very clear reasons.

In a business which has long been in danger of becoming little more than commodity trading, it's taken creativity and the will to change to move media agencies into a more lucrative, upstream position.

As in any industry, it often takes a small company to set the agenda for the rest and that's what Naked achieved last year with its brand communications proposition.

To pick Naked we felt that what the agency had achieved had to outweigh all the billings won, new initiatives, key staff appointments and innovations from this year's leading mainstream agencies.

At the end of our debate, we agreed overwhelmingly that Naked had.

What Naked has proved this year is that media can lead the communications process by acting as the focal point for a brand strategy, melding creative advertising, media planning, PR, point-of-sale - you name it - into an effective strategy for the client.

Naked sees its positioning in simple terms: while media companies are consolidating and going global, consumers are moving in the opposite direction with far greater power to make individual choices. Naked sees its role as nurturing closer brand and consumer connections in a changing world.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. So what has Naked done to prove this concept works?

Top of the list is producing a communications package for the relaunch of ONdigital as ITV Digital. The result of which has seen the unlikely scenario of a business that, in corporate terms is in dire straits, married to one of the most successful communications campaigns of the year.

Since Naked introduced the world to Monkey and Johnny Vegas' character Al, the number of consumers who say they would consider subscribing to ITV Digital has risen from the bottom of the pile at three per cent to second position on 17%, behind Sky.

As a case study, the success of the campaign is summed up nicely by advertising and in-store communications which offer the incentive of a free monkey with every ITV Digital subscription.

The Naked proposition has also proved popular with other clients: Selfridges, Reebok, Batchelors, Pedigree, Metro, the BBC and the Home Office's national police recruitment campaign (through the COI) are on the books, while the Tate, M&S Financial, Costa Coffee and English Heritage have handed Naked assignments.

In some ways choosing Naked doesn't set a precedent. In 1998, Media Week chose another small agency, Michaelides & Bednash, for staking out new territory with its strategic communications proposition.

Naked has picked up that ball and successfully run with it in a new ground-breaking direction.

But is this simply another communications fad? Is Naked a flash in the pan?

Well, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. PHD - where Naked's founding partners Jon Wilkins, John Harlow and Will Collin worked until they left to found the agency in the summer of 2000 - was quick to see the potential of the idea.

The concept of communications neutrality will, doubtless, be replicated in the big networks over the coming months, however they may struggle to replicate its communications-neutral positioning.

Interestingly, one of the other innovative things about Naked is the fluid way in which it operates. For major pieces of work it makes substantial use of freelance talent and forms temporary working teams in partnership with other business in, for example, the creative or PR fields.

One of the challenges for Naked will be in setting a limit on growth. Become too big and it risks imitating the major networks.

As we said in the piece opposite, choosing Naked will be controversial and, in some respects, begs the question whether it's possible to compare companies such as Naked with mainstream media companies. Some members of the Media Week team felt it wasn't.

However, choosing between the top performing media agencies of the year was an incredibly difficult task. At the top of the tree were, in no particular order, OMD UK, MindShare and MediaCom.

To take OMD first. Omnicom's UK outfit has consistently been in the running for agency of the year for at least the past three years. This year was no different. OMD lead the pack for billings won in 2001 and most notably scooped the £80m PSA account replacing Volkswagen, lost last year. Other account wins inc-luded Express Newspapers, Amazon and MoneyXtra.

A series of striking campaigns and sponsorships by OMD included work for Axa on its sponsorship of the FA Cup, The Dairy Council, Vodafone, Sony and E4. OMD was nominated for seven Media Week Awards and won Best Launch for E4.

MediaCom also had an excellent year. MediaCom's claim to be "the best media agency in 2001" was supported firstly by its total new billings of £60m in the UK, including the Met Police and GlaxoSmithKline.

The merging of MediaCom and Beyond Interactive last year brought the agency into the top three players in new media.

The agency is also in the rare position of not having lost any clients or any "person at management level" throughout the entire year.

Direct MediaCom remains the largest direct media agency in the UK and last year won the £5m media account for financial management company Gartmore.

According to MMS, MediaCom was the biggest riser in terms of increase in billings, jumping 17% throughout the year.

The highlights of MindShare's year range from senior management hirings and internal developments to new business wins.

Threshers, O'Neill's, Kodak Digital and United International Pictures were all among the top new business wins of the year, which totalled £45m in billings.

The agency has completed the introduction of its new management restructure following the departure of managing director Mandy Pooler last year and Simon Rees' promotion to managing director, and Nick Theakston was poached from MediaVest to take the role of head of investments.

MindShare ventured into new territory last year announcing a joint project with Elisabeth Murdoch-owned Shine Entertainment to form
a company to create new avenues for international advertisers to promote their brands through TV.

Elsewhere, Carat Group inevitably found it hard to match its amazing performance of 2000, but Carat still put in a solid performance managing to take the top spot in the UK billings chart from Zenith by the summer. Carat also ramped up its planning and data operations.

PHD bounced back with a focus on brand strategy and a new management line up including Tony Regan, poached from Michaelides & Bednash, but faced a series of major account reviews.

2001 was the first full year as a merged company for Starcom Motive and the expanded group won £40m in billings, with new assignments from Barclays, Nintendo and Liverpool Victoria.

Its efforts at original and innovative media work were rewarded with Media Week's long-term brand-building award for its work with Stella Artois.

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