Editorial: Praise of good work

The choice of MacLaren:Lintas as Strategy's Agency of the Year will no doubt raise a few eyebrows.Many people are bound to wonder how an agency that lost two presidents and went through two creative directors could be judged the year's best.There...

The choice of MacLaren:Lintas as Strategy’s Agency of the Year will no doubt raise a few eyebrows.

Many people are bound to wonder how an agency that lost two presidents and went through two creative directors could be judged the year’s best.

There are a couple of answers to this question, one simple and the other complex.

Quite simply, MacLaren was judged by a group of 12 industry peers as the agency that produced the best ‘body of work’ last year. These dozen judges, all of them respected ad agency and client professionals, studied the creative output (five advertising campaigns) of 10 agencies. They evaluated all of the agencies on the basis of their work, and their work alone.

The judges were never asked to bring any other ‘context’ to the process. They focussed their attention only on the advertising product presented before them, privately, and at their own pace. They voted individually. Their collective judgment was determined by totalling their scores.

In this contest, MacLaren came out the winner.

While, on the one hand, given all that MacLaren endured last year – significant layoffs, top-level executive changes and a draining effort to preserve the Molson Breweries business, an account that helped define the MacLaren culture – it is understandable how a public impression may be forming ‘out there’ on the notoriously fickle, often mean-spirited Toronto grapevine that MacLaren is in a state of questionable health. On the other hand, there is no hard evidence to suggest that this is so.

Therein lies the complexity.

Agencies are in the image business. The perception that becomes attached to an agency at any point can have a direct and sometimes even a measurable effect on its business, more so, arguably, than companies in other industries. Any agency that tries to pretend that image is not important usually lives to regret it, either because of the damage from a bad reputation, or the missed opportunity from no reputation at all.

Yet image is still just that – image, surface, an illusory thing that frequently has surprisingly little to do with what is real. The discrepancy between image and reality can apply equally to an agency’s inexplicable ‘hotness,’ as it can an agency name suddenly gone sour.

MacLaren’s Tony Miller learned in the intense blaze of the Madison Avenue spotlight all about the frailty of image. He says being named Agency of the Year is a vindication, of sorts, and also serves as a reminder of what really makes the difference between success and failure.

‘The key word, here, is `distractions,’ ‘ Miller says. ‘If you allow them to get in the way, like making decisions based on how you think the market will react to what you are doing, then you’re working to the wrong agenda.

‘When you’re `hot’ you can get seduced by that, and start to believe that every decision you make is a good one. That can be as damaging as being preoccupied by the negative things people may be saying about you, and having that influence your decisions.

‘I think a lot of people will pay attention to the fact that we won this award. And, I think they will take away from this a reaffirmation… of some core values. All it takes is good people, focussed on the work, and some really good clients.’

Praise of good work is the core value of Strategy’s Agency of the Year award.