Here at Adweek, the only thing we were dreading more than recapping 2001 in our Year in Review issue was revisiting those bleak 12 months yet again to select our Agencies of the Year.

It’s always a tedious, nerve-racking process. This time around, we thought it would be even tougher.

In measuring an agency’s success, a major factor—in addition to creative work, management initiatives, account wins and new hires—is financial performance. Given the economy, we knew some agencies’ numbers just wouldn’t hold up. For many, revenue gains would be minimal. For some, they’d be nonexistent.

Not surprisingly, someone eventually floated the idea of withholding some of our usual awards.

That semi-serious comment immediately brought me back to Cannes, 1995. It was the year Frank Lowe presided over a jury that refused to bestow the coveted Grand Prix, claiming that no single ad could be deemed the indisputable winner.

It was a decision that sparked a highly charged, weeklong debate. Some delegates sided with the jury. Most, though, evoked sporting events and other competitions, where there is always a winner, regardless of the level of play.

In all contests, achievement is relative, not absolute. It’s not just how you do, but how you do compared to everyone else. By that measure, even the most difficult advertising year has its champions.

In the end, we didn’t need to worry. Amid all the hardships of 2001, it wasn’t difficult to find two agencies that stood out.

BBDO, our Global Agency of the Year, is a perennial candidate for top honors simply because its creative is so consistently outstanding. Last year was no exception, as the shop produced some of the most memorable and high-profile work ever.

But creative wasn’t all. One of the agency’s most notable initiatives in 2001 was the hiring of Andrew Robertson, brought in to run North America and be heir apparent to Allen Rosenshine. And in a year when account stability eluded so many of its rivals, BBDO continued its solid record of retaining clients.

Then we looked at the numbers. The agency’s 11 percent gain in worldwide revenue is an enviable figure by any standard, and helped make our selection an easy one.

Our U.S. winner, Deutsch, posted yet another large revenue increase, 23 percent, and stepped up its creative in new work for clients like Direc TV and Snapple. Also, campaigns for new accounts like Verizon added a fresh dimension to the reel.

But 2001 was also a coming-of-age period for Deutsch as it registered its first big media-only win and added business in challenging categories such as pharmaceuticals. Just as important: A year after its sale to IPG, the shop’s tight-knit culture seems stronger than ever.

You will find our Global and U.S. Agency of the Year selections beginning on page 18. In the Jan. 28 issue, we will present our six Regional Agencies of the Year. Then, on Feb. 4, our interactive winner. Finally, our Media Agency of the Year selection will appear Feb. 11.

Congratulations to all of our winners.