Ah, irony. After three consecutive near misses, Palmer Jarvis DDB has finally nailed its first-ever Agency of the Year title, earning the highest average score from Strategy's 12-member panel of clients and agency creatives.|
This hard-earned victory comes less than two months after the much-publicized departure of national creative director Chris Staples - a loss that has, inevitably, prompted a good deal of speculation about the agency's chances of maintaining its current status as a creative powerhouse.
That's the kind of year 1999 has been.
Consider some of the biggest stories of the past 12 months: Molson Breweries' split with its agency of long standing, MacLaren McCann; the defection of key personnel from the likes of Roche Macaulay & Partners, Cossette Communication-Marketing and TBWA Chiat/Day; Procter & Gamble's new plan to introduce performance-based agency compensation; and the slow, painful death of Eaton's. There's something in the air lately, and it smells a lot like uncertainty - a nagging sense that there's nothing in this business one can count on completely these days, least of all long-term success.
Maybe this accounts to some degree for the restive mood that Strategy encountered early in the fall, when it began polling advertising industry contacts in an effort to determine the Agency of the Year shortlist. Many showed a marked lack of enthusiasm for the overall quality of the creative product out there in 1999, and for the state of the advertising business in general.
Agency people were particularly critical of the work currently being produced by some of this country's most prestigious shops, with the result that several hardy perennials were conspicuous by their absence from the 1999 shortlist: Cossette (whose work for Bell Canada was the agency community's punching bag of choice this year), Leo Burnett and TBWA Chiat/Day.
About Palmer Jarvis, however, scarcely a harsh word was spoken. The agency - a top-three finisher in this competition every year since 1996 - was a near-unanimous choice for inclusion on the shortlist.
As it turned out, the judging panel for our competition was similarly impressed.
Palmer Jarvis DDB's submission featured work done on behalf of Sun-Rype, McDonald's Restaurants of Canada, Alberta Distillers, Insurance Corporation of B.C. and Lever Pond's Finesse shampoo.
Ammirati Puris Lintas took second place, falling short of the title by a mere quarter-point margin. Third place went to comeback kid Young & Rubicam, a shop that had been absent from the Agency of the Year shortlist since 1993.
The other agencies invited to participate in Strategy's 1999 Agency of the Year competition were, in alphabetical order: BBDO Canada, Gee, Jeffery & Partners Advertising, Holmes & Lee, Ogilvy & Mather and TAXI Advertising & Design.
(Roche Macaulay & Partners, our winner in 1997 and 1998, was also among the agencies named to the shortlist, but declined to participate, citing time and staffing constraints.)
A note about the competition: Although we've said this before, it always bears repeating that Strategy's Agency of the Year contest does not exist to honour the biggest newsmaker in the business, or the best-liked agency. It's not about who picked up the hottest account, or performed best at the awards shows.
It's about the work, pure and simple.
In Strategy's view, the prestige that the Agency of the Year competition enjoys within the industry is a function of the fairness, openness and integrity of the process.
While we select the participants (based on extensive consultation with the community), the final call rests with an independent group of qualified experts. Each agency submits a selection of its best work over the past year - five advertising ideas in all - and each judge reviews that work individually. (A fuller explanation of the judging process appears here).
There is no scope for lobbying in this process. The only determinant of a judge's scores is the professional expertise that he or she brings to bear in reviewing the contents of those portfolios.
The results of any industry competition such as this are inevitably open to second-guessing and debate. Agency of the Year is no exception. But it is our conviction that the very nature of the process ensures a winner that can stand up to scrutiny.
Well-deserved congratulations, then, to Palmer Jarvis DDB, and to all of the other agencies that took part in this year's competition.