Insights and influencers

Growth and client wins are great, but in this industry, it's about the output, says strategy editor Emily Wexler.

This story appears in the November 2015 issue of strategy.

I love Agency of the Year. I know I’m biased, but I get as excited about it as the winning agencies. Okay, almost as excited. Part of the excitement is guessing who the winners will be, as there’s usually a surprise or two (though I always accurately guess at least one of the winners, if I may brag).

What I love most is that it’s based strictly on the work. Some agencies have argued that there should be other criteria. They say, “Our work wasn’t as strong this year because it was a transitional year for us. But we grew 20% and won these three huge clients.” Well, to that I say, hopefully you enter and win next year.

Sure, there are a lot of factors at play to make a successful agency, but when it comes down to it, this industry is about output. Think your agency is great? Lay your work out on the table and prove it.

This year’s second consecutive Gold winner, Leo Burnett, proved it all over the world this year.

Leo seems to have a knack for the “aha” moments – tapping into insights we might know in the back of our minds, but never really thought about. Its work for Always is a prime example, but the agency is able to do it across a variety of brands. Look at its work for the Government of Ontario, which took a difficult topic – sexual harassment – and tackled it in a new way. Instead of sympathizing with victims or threatening potential perpetrators, it targeted the rest of the world – the bystanders. Brilliant.

The AOY issue is also a good time to reflect on industry trends, and in last year’s issue, I wrote about the topic on everyone’s lips: data. Many of our winning agencies were seriously investing in beefing up their data and analytics capabilities, and that momentum continues this year, especially with our Digital and Media winners.

But this year there’s another big buzzword: influencers. The concept isn’t new – brands have used celebrity spokespeople ever since they realized that people trust (and listen to) celebrities. But this new breed is different. They’re not on movie or TV screens, because they live somewhere else – YouTube, or Instagram, or Vine. And working with them is different. You can’t script a commercial and have them appear in it. You have to integrate into what they’re already doing. They have a bigger seat at the table, and if you don’t know how to navigate that world, you won’t get anywhere with them.

That’s probably why our winning PR shops this year, led by Gold winner MSLGroup, are positioning themselves as influencer experts. They’ve looked ahead to the future and realized that it’s crucial to know how to fish where the fish are.

For example, while Leo Burnett’s “#LikeAGirl” campaign was creatively brilliant, it was MSL’s seeding of the campaign to influencers that gave it the push it needed to be seen by the world.

And that’s what’s great about this crazy industry. The way we talk to people is changing almost daily. New communication methods come and go, and what’s hot today can become positively old-school tomorrow. But those brilliant insights – those “aha” moments – will be around forever. You just have to know how to get them out there. Congrats to all of this year’s winners.