Editorial Agency of the Year an industry choice

Maclaren:Lintas National Creative Director Bill Durnan, a prominent figure in Canadian advertising, is understandably confused by the discrepancy in reportage between two trade publications that cover his industry's news.Durnan points out in a letter to the editor on page 4 that...

Maclaren:Lintas National Creative Director Bill Durnan, a prominent figure in Canadian advertising, is understandably confused by the discrepancy in reportage between two trade publications that cover his industry’s news.

Durnan points out in a letter to the editor on page 4 that while we at Strategy named Geoffrey B. Roche & Partners Agency of the Year – a citation that essentially identifies the top performing agency of 1993 – one of our competitors, Marketing magazine, gave the same award to Scali McCabe Sloves. Yet Scali did not even make it onto our list of top 12 agencies.

How could this have happened, Durnan asks.

We have chosen to respond in detail, partly because we believe Durnan and the rest of our readers and advertisers deserve a full acccounting. And even more so because we wish to protect the integrity of a process in which we, and many others in the marketing community, have invested considerable time and thinking over the past four years.

As to how Marketing arrived at Scali as its pick of the best agency of 1993, we have no idea.

But here is how Geoffrey B. Roche & Partners was selected.

First, the process.

From the outset we believed that naming an Agency of the Year would be an important role for us to play. We saw a need and an opportunity to create a clear benchmark of individual agency accomplishment, recorded on an annual basis.

We also recognized that if done well, with authority and fairness, this citation could become the year’s pre-eminent award. To achieve such status the process needed, above all, to be fair, open, and beyond a shadow of suspicion.

As journalistic specialists covering the advertising industry, we certainly felt qualified in being able to identify the past year’s top agencies, in the same way that, say, sports journalists are acknowledged as authoritative sources in selecting top seeds in the sports they cover. But beyond that – to go so far as to say who among those leading agencies was the best on any particular day – we felt to be presumptuous, and too arbitrary a call.

Potential manipulation

Also, keeping the selection process entirely behind closed doors, we felt, would expose it to potential manipulation from the more persuasive or public relations-conscious in the industry. And we mean this with no disrespect. After all, agency people are in the persuasion business.

So, we said we would select the year’s top seeds and then invite them into a competition of our making. An Olympics-type contest, in effect, judged by a panel of qualified and impartial experts.

From there, may the best agency win.

Even in establishing the top seeds, we sought advice beyond our own editorial department.

We began by reviewing the news of the year. Any time an agency distinguished itself, either through an interesting new campaign, a major new business win, or if it could be cited as having helped a client achieve strong business results, the name was recorded.

This first stage yielded 24 names this year.

Next, we took those 24 names to the community and after interviews with some 40 people arrived at a final list of 12.

(For the record, Scali McCabe Sloves, Toronto, was included on our list of 24. The discussion over whether to include Scali among the top seeds invariably revolved around the agency’s Labatt Ice and Maximum Ice advertising, in particular the television executions. Reaction was consistently negative. When we advanced the argument that Labatt Ice beers had achieved remarkable sales results, the common opinion was that the beers’ success had as much to do with product innovation as advertising. In fact, most people – admittedly not representative of Labatt’s target market – said they were discomforted by the television advertising’s rather dark appeal to youth.

(There is no question that Scali’s Labatt Ice advertising, and the media coverage it engendered, drew attention to the agency last year. But even had others in the agency community responded more favorably towards the campaign, we said that an agency needed to have done more than one notable project to make it into our competition.)

Judgment calls

Obviously, we made judgment calls in a number of borderline cases. However, we stand by the dozen agencies we selected as being a fair representation of the ones that led the pack in 1993.

Once the 12 agencies were invited to participate, it became an equal contest. Agencies were evaluated by a panel of 12 client and agency judges from across the country on the basis of the work that the agencies had created over the past year. The work – five advertising ideas – was judged from a strategic marketing and a creative perspective. The judges reviewed the work independently. A full explanation of the mechanics and rationale were presented in our Dec. 13 issue.

(We should point out that the Agency of the Year competition has no connection whatsoever to our Creative Report Card, which is a numerical formulation applied to the awards that agency people had won at Canadian advertising awards shows throughout the year.

(Nor is the Agency of the Year contest related in any way to the Best Media Operation, which is another competition we have created to showcase and evaluate the media planning and buying function.)

We know that the industry agrees with us that our Agency of the Year award is important. Beyond the speculation that builds every year as we come closer to publishing the announcement of the winner, consider the amount of time the industry puts into it. We asked a number of agencies how time much they invested in preparing their submissions. The least reported was three to four days. The most was ‘at least two weeks’ when all the internal discussion and writing of strategic backgrounders was taken into account.

Conservatively, then, agencies invested about 12 weeks, or three months, of cumulative work.

The amount of time spent on individual judging also varied. The very least it would have taken to go through 12 submissions that included five campaigns each would have been six hours. One juror asked us for an extension and admitted that he had needed 16 hours to fairly review all the work.

Again, using a very conservative estimate, the judging process would account for 120 hours, or, say, another three weeks’ investment.

In total, then, the industry commited 15 weeks of its time towards Strategy’s 1993 Agency of the Year selection.

Our own time is more difficult to quantify, but we guess it to be a solid three weeks’ work, not including design and layout.

It all amounts to a combined investment of more than four months’ work, involving, in various ways, about 100 people across the advertising and marketing communications industry.

Surely, that is a meaningful and important statement, and one that does not deserve to be associated in any way with lesser endeavors.

The effort speaks for itself.