A fifth consecutive year of double-digit growth and major new-business wins helped The Partners take top honours as Marketing's Branding Agency of the Year.
This year, the agency boasted an enviable new-business conversion rate of 50%, with these clients accounting for 30% of its revenues. As well as also achieving strong revenue growth, The Partners notched up record levels of profitability for the company, which the judges felt was a significant accomplishment in a tough trading year.
The agency was particularly lauded for its client wins, which included Vodafone and energy company Chevron, and its stand-out creative work for freesheet Metro, which featured a 'spontaneous bunch of flowers' as a cover-wrap.
For Vodafone, the agency reviewed its global brand identity and devised fresh guidelines for the mobile operator's international marketing teams. The Partners' status as 'European brand guardians' for eBay also caught the judges' attention (see Focus on).
As well as strong brand work, judges felt that The Partners demonstrated a sound approach to sustainability and CSR. It showcased impressive results for the Deloitte PlanetSaver; the program, which it created, automatically powers down staff PC screens when not in use, and was claimed to be the world's biggest green initiative of its kind.
The panel also praised the agency's pro bono work for the United Nations' Decade of Action for Road Safety initiative. Rather than designing a logo that might have dated over the course of the 10-year campaign, The Partners created a wearable tag in the mode of charity ribbons and wristbands.
The Partners' core management team has now been in place for the past five years, and the agency believes that this stability has contributed significantly to its success. Those to have joined The Partners this year include former Imagination creative director Tony Phillips as head of digital.
The judges described The Partners as a 'very bright agency, with independent spirit', combining big-brand activity with innovative, small-budget work, such as its support of the Jerwood Visual Arts summer exhibition for emerging artists, on behalf of the Jerwood Charitable Foundation.
Such work has helped the agency push the boundaries in creative thinking. As chief executive Jim Prior said earlier this year: 'Creativity is the future of business success.'
Focus on - eBay Fashion Outlet
When eBay devised its Fashion Outlet site, it called in The Partners to position the hub as a credible destination for consumers seeking deals on clothing brands.
As part of its ongoing role as 'European brand guardians' for the auction site, the agency was asked to come up with a 'distinctive, flexible and hard-working visual personality'.
Its solution was to blend eBay's traditional logo with a more fashion-oriented 'hot pink' colouring; it also made stylised photography a prominent feature of the site. The Partners worked with ad agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty to launch the eBay Fashion Outlet in the UK, France and Germany, where it has become the company's fastest-growing sales channel.
Sales have already exceeded £4m across the brands featured on the site, which include Karen Millen, Ted Baker, Superdry and Office. The auction site estimates that 2.3m people visit its Fashion Outlet every month.
Best of the rest
Figtree was described by judges as a relative 'new kid on the block, but showed a point of difference'. The agency impressed the judges with its ability to 'strongly demonstrate' return on investment for clients, which is vital in the current economic climate. Although founded only in 2004, the company recorded enviable growth, regardless of the low base figure, with revenue up 52% in the past year. Most impressive was the fact that two-thirds of revenue came from new-business wins, and three-quarters of these were from international clients.
Figtree's activity with mobile phone manufacturer HTC to create its first consumer-facing brand particularly stood out for the judges - especially as the campaign steered clear of over-hyping the product and the sector's traditional focus on lifestyle. The 'Quietly brilliant' positioning succeeded in bringing HTC to life, according to the panel.
The judges were equally impressed by its Fig Ventures initiative, which gives entrepreneurs branding advice in return for some equity in their businesses.
Judges noted the demonstrable ROI of Interbrand's work. It performed particularly well in thought leadership, including its ranking of most-valuable brands, published annually in its 'Best Global Brands' report.
The Omnicom-owned agency picked up 21 new clients, including Virgin, ING, RAC and New Look. Although these new-business wins were fewer than the 29 bagged by Interbrand last year, they represented more than £4.3m of billings, compared with £3.5m in 2009.
Elmwood's new clients, which included Danone, Nestle, Colgate-Palmolive, Arla Foods and Kimberly-Clark, helped boost turnover by 18% to £10.3m.
On the sustainability front, Elmwood created a joint venture, named Tickety Boo, which advises clients on how they can reduce the environmental impact of their brands through more intelligent design. Judges believed that the venture demonstrated strong thought leadership and entrepreneurial spirit on the part of the agency.
They also praised Elmwood's creativity, and singled out its work with The Saucy Fish Co for its design credentials. With a relatively small budget, the seafood-and-sauce brand is projected to achieve £10m in retail sales in its first year.
The Brand Union, last year's winning agency, was lauded for its creative work, particularly that for Shell and Welsh vodka brand Five.
It added 17 clients over the year, bringing in £3m in new business. Judges also cited its work on a logo and interior design for a struggling cafe near the agency's offices; The Brand Union says the cafe now has a lunch queue that stretches into the street each day.
BrandMe was also shortlisted.
2009: The Brand Union
2006: Wolff Olins