Marketing's Sponsorship Agency of the Year award has been scooped by MEC Access, marking its debut on the winners' podium.
For the past few years, the award has been dominated by Synergy and M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment, so the knowledge that they have broken the duopoly will be especially sweet for the members of staff at the three-year-old offshoot of Mediaedge:cia.
In fact, the judges noted that it was a 'very close-fought' competition and commended the two erstwhile winners for their 'excellent standards of entry'. However, MEC Access' raft of new business wins coupled with impressive creative work won the day.
The agency, run by managing director Jeremy Clark and UK managing partner Tove Okunniwa, has been building up to a great 2010, following a successful 2009 in which it won several industry awards.
Big-budget, multiplatform campaigns with gum brand Wrigley helped bring in additional sales of 2.7m packs, while MEC Access' work on Morrisons' 'Let's grow' campaign generated £52m in incremental revenue at the supermarket.
MEC Access' latest financial figures show revenues up 4% while profits grew 5% - good going against such a difficult economic backdrop. New clients over the past 12 months include Activision Blizzard, DHL, Lloyds Bank, Odeon Cinemas and Transport for London, while it created branded content programmes for Spar and Star Alliance.
Over the year the agency has not only retained staff, but also made some key appointments, including strategy director Pippa Rubin, who brought priceless experience to the agency, having worked on the successful London 2012 bid; and Louann Sugden, previously of MEC's digital business, who is now focused on activation campaigns.
The judges neatly summed up why the agency won the title: 'MEC has shown true diversity, creativity and innovation for its clients across a great spectrum of sport, culture and media.'
It could be a while before the sponsorship award returns to the trophy cabinet of the usual suspects, as the judges predict that MEC Access will continue to be a 'force to be reckoned with'.
Focus on - Specsavers
One of the key activities of the year for MEC Access was its work for Specsavers. The chain of opticians wanted a way to reach the crucial ABC1 45-plus demographic. Working with partners Cactus Productions and Channel 4, the agency relaunched the TV Book Club, a programme that started life as a slot on the Richard & Judy show, and features celebrities debating a book each week.
MEC joined forces with the book publishing industry through agency Agile Marketing to devise a promotional campaign, which included point-of-sale materials and stickers in books. The campaign helped the property reach nearly 5m consumers in the UK and achieve 54% awareness among Channel 4 viewers. Some 1m books stickered with The TV Book Club logo generated sales of more than 700,000 further books.
Best of the rest
Last year's winner, Synergy, had another good year, increasing its profits from £479,000 to £507,000, and winning more than £800,000-worth of new business and incremental client revenue.
It nabbed nine pieces of new business, including the strategy and activation work for BMW's Tier One sponsorship of London 2012, one of the most prestigious pitches of its kind in 2010.
Additionally, Synergy's performance was aided by seven significant project wins from existing clients, including high-profile work with Jameson Irish whiskey, aimed at helping to increase the brand's presence in international markets. The partnership between the agency and the Pernod Ricard brand continues to go from strength to strength: recently Synergy was appointed to support global consumer PR activation for Jameson.
Another flourishing relationship for the agency is a long-standing one, with the RBS Group. Synergy, which is the global sponsorship agency for the banking group, this year launched RBS RugbyForce - a nationwide community volunteer programme, which helps local rugby clubs to improve their facilities.
More than 400 clubs registered for online guidance and tools to help them co-ordinate a community-wide effort to give their club a 'makeover' and plans are under way to repeat the activity next year.
Digitally, Synergy carried out some innovative activity with Betfair, creating a video posted on YouTube that showed Manchester United footballers participating in a series of golfing challenges, to raise awareness of the gambling brand.
Headcount was maintained at the agency during a tough year, while client satisfaction ratings came in above the industry average.
M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment registered yet another strong 12 months, buoyed by a record rise in profits of £793,000, the latest in a run of consecutive years of growth since 2004.
Highlights of the year include significant pitch wins, such as News International-owned newspapers The Sun and News of the World, along with RBS and Morrisons.
M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment was bolstered by the expansion of its Reebok business in the UK, Europe and further afield, and the snaring of additional music-related work from long-standing client Orange.
Over the year it created several TV shows, including a 60-minute cricket documentary to celebrate NatWest's 30-year tenure as a sponsor of the sport. Perhaps its standout TV achievement, however, was its goal celebrations campaign for Coca-Cola during the summer's FIFA World Cup. It aired in more than 60 markets.
Also on a football note, the agency developed an engaging position for engine oil brand Castrol - a stiffer challenge than doing so for a soft drink, but one it rose to. The agency created the Castrol Rankings system for the World Cup and UEFA Euro 2012 sponsor, which covers players from Europe's top five leagues, based on the brand's desired proposition of 'providing insights into what it takes to deliver a winning performance'.
Also shortlisted were Brand Rapport, Limelight Sports, Hill & Knowlton Sports and Fast Track.
2007: M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment
2006: M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment