After only three years on the scene, Work Club has conquered all comers to be named Marketing's Digital Agency of the Year 2011.
Led by former Agency Republic chief executive Martin Brooks, Work Club has prevailed, due in large part to its recognition that cutting-edge creative digital work still has a place at the forefront of brands' marketing strategies.
The judges said that Work Club demonstrated a fantastic combination of creativity and effectiveness across a range of businesses and produced clever, innovative and engaging campaigns.
Against the backdrop of longer-established digital agencies being distracted by mergers or acquisitions, Work Club has, along with several other shortlisted agencies, proved definitively that independent digital agencies remain well-placed to push the industry forward.
Highlights of 2011 included defining technology brand Sharp's long-term pan-European strategy, based on measuring the passion of football fans in the run-up to UEFA's Euro 2012 tournament.
Work for Ballantine's whisky (see box), Kraft and the McLaren F1 team also caught the judges' attention. As well as winning Sharp's European account, Work Club recorded new-business wins from BBC Worldwide, Old El Paso and Nature Valley.
The agency has applied a sound business approach to marketing - an area in which many digital shops are found wanting. The businesslike Brooks acts as a counter-balance to the increasingly recognised creative talents of Andy Sandoz and Ben Mooge. The fact that all six founding partners are still in place shows that the agency has also had stability.
This combination has led to Work Club being named lead agency for six brands in 2011, proving that digital agencies can lead, while ad agencies follow.
The judges also praised Work Club for its significant contribution to societal issues. A campaign for the World Society for Protection of Animals (WSPA) helped stop the introduction of a US-style 'mega dairy', or factory-farm milk production, to the UK. The 'Not in my cuppa' campaign also helped build the WSPA brand.
The agency's commitment to the industry was lauded, too. In 2011, Work Club created the CSR-driven White Pencil for D&AD - the organisation's first new award in 50 years.
As the digital industry matures, some agencies will be bought, while others will reposition as above-the-line outfits. Where Work Club has struck gold is in recognising that what brands want is innovative marketing, and delivering this by developing digital as the basis from which all else is derived.
FOCUS ON BALLANTINE'S
Pernod Ricard-owned Ballantine's is the world's number-two Scotch whisky brand. Its primary market is Spain, where 'Scotch and cola' is a popular drink with young adults. Work Club was asked to connect the brand with young consumers internationally through a global campaign. The promotion centred on the 'Leave an impression' strapline, using technology for a modern twist.
Work Club employed artists to 'leave an impression' during a series of four-hour, live-streamed videos upon which consumers could comment through Facebook. Tattoo artist K.A.R.L. created 'the world's first animated tattoo', which changed its appearance when QR codes were read by smartphones; ice sculptor J.A.M.I.E. created an ice robot with LEDs that moved through stop-frame animation; and 45.R.P.M. created unique animated graffiti with spray cans, screens and uploaded photos.
Ballantine's achieved a 109% increase in Facebook 'likes', while the tattoo video attracted nearly 2m views on YouTube, with a total of 3m views for all videos associated with the campaign.
BEST OF THE REST
No other digital agency is as consistently brilliant as AKQA. Ajaz Ahmed's outfit rightly remains the envy of all aspirational digital marketers, and to miss out by a narrow margin, for the second year running, does not do justice to AKQA's contribution to marketing and the UK's digital scene.
The judges said that creativity continues to shine through in the agency's work, along with a consistently innovative use of technology to push the industry forward.
Its Heineken Star Player app is a first in recognising the potential of dual-screen technologies and executing it superbly. The Human Body iPad app it created for Dorling Kindersley was breathtaking, while its work for Nike Training Club provided further evidence that AKQA can deliver ever-more innovative work for the world's biggest brands.
This was the year Profero bounced back. New UK chief executive Dale Gall dragged the agency out of a spell in the doldrums by being brutally honest in his assessment of it, imposing an 'evolve or die' mindset. Its successes included being named global agency of record on Smirnoff, joining Barclays' global roster and winning mobile brand HTC's EMEA account. Remarkably, Profero went from pitching for Marks & Spencer's digital media account to win both the digital media and digital creative business.
Having won Smirnoff in February, Profero came good on the Diageo brand's ambitious Nightlife Exchange Project campaign, through its digital activation work. The judges said the agency applied creative thinking and execution to its work and demonstrated excellent effectiveness for brands' marketing investment. They also noted a strong all-round performance from a hard-working, fun industry contributor.
LBi is enjoying a sharp upward curve. New-business wins in the past 12 months included Coca-Cola, Sony Ericsson, SABMiller and Asda.
One reason to put down 2011 as a landmark year for LBi would be its breakthrough in creative work. Known as an agency that can deliver big web projects on time and on budget, LBi has added a cutting edge-slant to the work it produces. A partnership with 'digital boot camp' Hyper Island has helped the agency build its reputation, while work on Sony Ericsson's Xperia Studio and leading Skype's move into infographics has demonstrated creative flair.
The agency also excels in useful marketing, as demonstrated by its E.ON Energy Fit and Lloyds Money Manager work, which was both effective and helpful. LBi finished top of Marketing's league table of agencies ranked on turnover in 2011. With restless UK chief executive Anil Pillai as a driving force, it is fast climbing the creative and effectiveness leagues as well.
Also shortlisted were glue Isobar, Poke and Saint.
2008: Agency Republic