Why AOY matters

Why AOY matters

Due to this issue’s hugeness, our Agency of the Year coverage doesn’t contain the annual Peer Review section this year. Lest you feel deprived (with only 96 pages of brilliant work to peruse), I’ll share a few of the remarks collected during the AOY shortlist industry poll:

Most improved creative at a big agency? BBDO, Cossette, Ogilvy, Dentsu and, curiously, Taxi.
Most improved creative at a small agency? BleuBlancRouge, Zig, Sid Lee and, curiously once again, Dentsu.
Best talent wins? Cossette, Saatchi, BBDO (for its Juniper Park team).
Best spot of the past year? Dove’s ‘Evolution.’
Agency of the Future? Sid Lee, Zig, O&M – ‘influenced by what they did with Dove.’

As you can see, outside of ‘Evolution’ being the hands-down top spot, little is unanimous. Interpretation varies greatly, even when it comes to qualifying an agency as big or small.

That, in a nutshell, is what’s wrong with a lot of award schemes, and why Agency of the Year matters to the agency community (who covet it) and the marketing community (who use it as an RFP reference). Our much-scrutinized process goes to great lengths to identify the organizations that are truly doing great work, and while subjectivity can never be entirely eliminated, we try.

It starts with getting an informed opinion as to which agencies’ work merits an invitation to participate. We ask Canadian agency brass to send a list of recent top work, and poll over 50 senior ad and marketing execs, asking which agencies should compete based on those efforts. The result is the shortlist immortalized in icing on the cover. The contenders each submit five campaigns, sharing objectives, insights, strategies and impact. An agency jury and a marketer jury then score the cases on creative and strategic strength.

Is it flawless? One of the objections we hear is: ‘Do the people polled know all the agencies’ work intimately?’ No. How can they? However, the folks I’ve polled tend to give the benefit of the doubt to an agency outside their market if one or two of their campaigns resonated. And really, if an agency doesn’t have any campaigns industry execs have heard of, it doesn’t have a shot.

Another criticism we hear is that showpony work gets the spotlight, as opposed to hardworking, results-driven campaigns for big clients. That’s not true. The majority of people polled did comment on work that garnered buzz for its creativity, innovation or awards won, but also assessed whether it worked for the client, how it affected the category and its market impact. A comment I heard frequently about Dentsu’s recent work was how amazing the Lexus ‘Moments’ creative was, and, in the same breath, how well the branding was doing for Toyota.
Finally, folks have said that agencies with smaller clients have an unfair advantage, as they are more willing to take risks. Again, untrue. If it were so, the winners’ cases would be dogwalker work for insignificant clients. If you look back at who has won over the years, you will find a few pro bono efforts, but the majority of the campaigns are for big brands – banks, big retail, pharma, auto, CPG – this year including Subaru, Kraft, Ikea and The Bay. AOY judges are chosen for their acumen, and recognize serious work.

Ultimately, AOY matters because it’s a five-campaign contest that shows bench strength across categories, assessing the impact of creativity and sound strategy in equal measures. One spot – even if it is ‘Evolution’ – does not take the cake. Or cupcake, as the case may be.

In our ongoing assessment of AOY, we did find one hole. The cases profile advertising, but agencies are increasingly translating their consumer insight, strategic and creative skills into non-advertising projects for their clients. So last year we launched the B!G awards to recognize the work agencies are doing for large clients outside the ad realm. They’re back this year, with even more diverse entries. And Media Agency of the Year has also been repatriated into this Winners Issue.

So read on. See who is getting it right, consistently, and note their winning formulas.

Congrats to all! mm

Mary Maddever / exec editor strategy / MiC