Gold — DDB

Luck has nothing to do with it as DDB celebrates its seventh AOY Gold win (on top of six Silvers and four Bronzes) with its digital agency Tribal DDB nabbing its first DAOY Gold.

In fact, DDB is the most awarded AOY agency...ever. Since its first appearance on the list in 1996, there's seldom been a year that it hasn't made the top three.

The agency behind Subaru's now-famous Sexy Sumos and the Knorr animated salt shaker, was at it again with digital work for McDonald's that picked up a global response, a Canadian Tourism Commission campaign that propelled Canada to the most powerful country brand in the world and the first social media-powered Christmas tree.

"We do things our way and don't ask for permission," says David Leonard, president and COO, DDB.

Of course, its strong strategic insight, digital, social media and other teams busy at the agency's Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton and now Montreal offices probably have something to do with it as well. But it's been a long time coming to get its truly national footprint.

When then-Palmer Jarvis, the Vancouver shop founded by Frank Palmer, and DDB Toronto merged, the agency solidified as a cross-Canada shop, and in a unique twist on independent agencies swallowed up by multinationals, Leonard says, "It was more like Palmer Jarvis took over DDB than DDB took over Palmer Jarvis. The entrepreneurial, street-smart, street-fighter [attitude] has carried through. That's why we stayed strong."

But it wasn't until this past July when it announced its partnership with Montreal-based indie shop Bleublancrouge that it could truly represent all of Canada, Leonard says. "Without a presence in Quebec you're in a deficit when a government, crown corporation or ministry might look at you, certainly when a Quebec-based business [needs creative]."

The agency had been working towards a Quebec office for the past five years, but Leonard says they made it a top priority in 2012. BBR and DDB had worked together in the past and he says it was time to commit. Since then, they've worked together on the aforementioned McDonald's campaign, as well as some work for AutoTrader and Johnson & Johnson, and expect to see new business next year. "We're in the thick of it now," he says.

This new office caps off an almost-yearly ritual of launches, including its shopper marketing arm Shopper DDB in 2011, its recruitment team in 2010, and social media-focused Radar in 2007.

"We try and see what's coming and create offerings that are smart for clients," Leonard says. "And sometimes it doesn't work. We created Ecology [in 2008] around green marketing. Of course, the recession hit and no one cares about the environment when you're trying to put food on the table. It made sense [but] was the wrong idea for the time."

When asked how they make all these divisions work together cohesively, DDB chair Palmer says it comes down to leadership.

"We follow those who lead, not because we have to, but because we want to," says Palmer. "If a leader has a clear focus and knows where we want to go, then people trust them. [An integrated structure] just makes common sense. We're a company that's not afraid to try things that are new and different."

Going forward, Leonard says to meet client demands they'll push deeper into data, shopper marketing (including work with new clients Johnson & Johnson and Strategic Milk Alliance), and of course on its digital arm, Tribal DDB. "Digital is really the growth engine," he says. "Today itís probably 35% of our company. Mobile is probably the top of the list, and e-commerce is another practice we're going to have to get into."

And with digital comes the inevitable big data kick as more clients realize the potential. DDB plans to further bolster its analytics offering - something that all but disappeared when the agency lost the Dell account in the computer giant's global restructuring in 2008.

You need to have a number of doorways through which clients can walk, the gateways can provide a more holistic solution," he says. "If you come in through Tribal, that's fine, but we've got a whole suite of services to round that out. Creative is the number one priority for everyone in the company."