Three Times a Charm

Arising tide may lift all boats, but in stagnant seas, everybody has to row like hell. So it was in 2003, as shops struggled to move forward in an economy that was only beginning to recover despite positive signs like the huge upfront and a suddenly vibrant stock market.

Some agencies were dead in the water. Others showed progress. Only a handful sailed clear of troubled waters. The few, the lucky few, are our Global, U.S. and Regional Agencies of the Year.

DDB fared the best of all global ad-agency networks last year. The philosophy of encouraging local control by creative entrepreneurs did not inhibit—indeed, in many ways it enhanced—the Omnicom Group agency’s ability to act as a true network, with multi-office partnerships functioning smoothly and delivering new business and effective work on three continents.

The network added $1 billion in new billings and was as solid on defense as it was on offense: It registered a 99 percent account-retention rate—a truly noteworthy feat for an organization that comprises more than 200 offices.

DDB’s work around the globe was superior—at times superlative. From its humorous Budweiser work in the U.S. to its quirky Bussekspress campaign in Norway, the network’s creative was the best among its global peers.

Furthermore, its creative chops helped it triumph in two of the biggest global ad contests of the year: Royal Philips Electronics’ $600 million consolidation and McDonald’s roster-shop search for a worldwide branding campaign. Philips cited DDB’s creative prowess in choosing the network over Leo Burnett. And German DDB shop Heye & Partner wowed the fast-food giant with “I’m lovin’ it,” which was then executed worldwide by more than a dozen DDB offices.

For its performance in 2003, DDB has earned our Global Agency of the Year honors, edging TBWA, which also laid claim to a strong year. The DDB feature begins on page 18.

2003 also was the year Berlin Cameron/Red Cell staked its claim as a national player. The New York-based WPP Group shop more than doubled in size and staged the U.S. creative coup of the year with its win of the Coca-Cola Classic business. That was in January, but Berlin Cameron didn’t stop there. It broke into pharmaceuticals and telecommunications with Zyrtec and Boost Mobile and bolstered its executive ranks with the addition of Bill Grogan and Jon Steel.

The growth spurt transformed the shop overnight but was years in the making, engineered by a core group that stuck together under Andy Berlin and Ewen Cameron through various agency iterations. Now an $800 million agency, Berlin Cameron is approaching the size of the shop at which Berlin first gained national recognition: Goodby, Silverstein & Partners.

The feature on Berlin Cameron/Red Cell, our U.S. Agency of the Year, begins on page 22.

Choosing a single Regional Agency of the Year—rather than six, as in past years—was no easy task, partly because there are so few single-office shops left that have the reach and creative heft to elevate them above the local pack. We chose Boston independent Modernista! because it has done what practically every shop in every second-tier market says it wants to do but rarely does: great creative for a handful of blue-chip clients.

Fresh details are seen in each viewing of the shop’s “Happy Jack” spot for General Motors’ Hummer. GM rewarded Modernista! with Hummer dealer business. Anheuser-Busch was impressed enough to add the shop to its roster for Budweiser and invite it to participate in its annual Super Bowl shootout. And the little contender knocked off two Goliaths—WPP’s Ogilvy & Mather and Omnicom’s TBWA\Chiat\ Day—to win TIAA-CREF’s $25 million account. Not bad for a 5-year-old shop that lost a creative calling card, Gap, in 2002.

Our story on Modernista! begins on page 26.

Congratulations to all the winners.