While 2011 was another testing year for the economy, it proved the most successful for a decade for Interbrand, which has been named Marketing's Branding Agency of the Year.
Interbrand, which last won the title in 2008, brought in new business worth £5m, an increase of 30% year on year, figures that held sway with the judges. The agency claims to have had an 80% creative pitch success rate this year, and among the clients it added were Asics, the RFU, British Airways, Sage, PepsiCo and the BBC.
The agency says its approach has addressed two particular client needs that have emerged during the recession: that of showing brand-led KPIs and ROI and that of embracing change rather than 'sitting on your hands'. As well as opening more international offices, Interbrand has been winning overseas business from its London base, including work in Norway, Turkey and the UAE.
Interbrand's record on thought leadership was also noted by the judges. Last month, for example it launched a client club, RedBook, which strives to offer a platform for 'privileged conversations' between brand leaders through various tools and events.
It also unveiled a quarterly publication this summer, Interbrand IQ, designed to showcase the work of the world's innovators and highlight good ideas in the art and science of branding.
While championing external voices, Interbrand has by no means neglected its own talent. As well as hiring two design directors and three creative directors, the agency has hosted domestic and international student visits, offered student placements and held design competitions.
'There's a real credo of people development going through its business,' said one judge. 'It thought very hard about how to grow and stimulate its talent.'
The agency also scored highly for its improved creative output. One such project was its work with British Airways as part of the airline's new 'To fly. To serve.' brand campaign.
Interbrand was briefed to help build 'supporting behaviours' among BA staff, including creating an internal visual style to reflect the airline's fresh approach. The work encouraged staff to share their stories and experiences, under the title 'Join the conversation'.
Interbrand's achievements in 2011, from new business to brand benchmarking - have certainly got the industry talking.
FOCUS ON MCDONALD'S FULL BEAN COFFEE
In 2010, McDonald's leapfrogged Costa to become the biggest seller of coffee consumed outside the home. Interbrand was integral to this achievement. The fast-food chain offers coffee made from Arabica beans, but the overwhelming consumer perception had been that McDonald's sells only low-quality instant coffee, without a bean in sight.
The market opportunity for McDonald's coffee offer was to distance itself from the world of fast-food brands and assert its credentials as a quality coffee outlet. Interbrand took up the challenge, creating a sub-brand, Full Bean. It developed the visual identity, masterplan for delivery and brand guidelines for ongoing clarity.
Introduced late last year, the brand proposition 'quality, fresh ground coffee, carefully considered', allowed McDonald's to offer a low price and swift service, but with the assurance of 'real' coffee. Last year, it sold 84m cups of coffee, but McDonald's said sales in 2011 'exceeded all expectations'.
BEST OF THE REST
Elmwood has once again been a top performer in the branding category, enjoying a strong year during which 35% of its revenues came from new-business wins. According to the judges, there was only the slimmest of margins between Elmwood and the winner, Interbrand.
A significant creative achievement for the year was the agency's work with Asda to devise the concept and strategy for the Chosen By You own-label range. This was championed as Asda's biggest own-label launch in its history. The work was critical, as the range makes up 85% of the supermarket's business.
Elmwood's packaging expertise also came to the fore in its work for Anchor. Once the UK's top butter brand, a fall in sales had pushed it down into third spot, so Elmwood was asked to help stem the decline and reignite consumers' 'latent affection' for the brand. The result was an impressive boost to sales, up from £87m pre-launch to £98m, while volume sales increased by 9.2%.
The agency has also been strengthening its management in the past year, both in the UK and overseas, including Australia, New York and South-East Asia. While big client wins fuelled its growth, Elmwood has an ongoing string of free projects for start-ups, family and friends, whereby the agency donates 'design time' days. 'Elmwood was particularly impressive in pro bono areas,' said one judge. 'Whereas for some agencies pro bono work can be like a tick in the CSR box, there is genuineness in Elmwood's approach.'
Judges noted that a blend of thought leadership and creativity was particularly prevalent at The Partners. The 2010 Branding Agency of the Year has grown its revenues and profits by 30% in the past year, as well as picking up a Gold Lion award at Cannes - all in all a 'strong performance', said the judges.
Developing its work with existing clients was the focus for 2011, with 80% of revenues coming from these long-term relationships. The Partners is global brand agency for Vodafone, and it worked on the mobile network's biggest outdoor campaign to date, with the branding of 500 London cabs in Union Flag livery.
The agency also stepped up its international expansion, opening an office in Singapore. The UK management has been strengthened by the creation of managing director and creative director roles, while chief executive Jim Prior and his team build the agency's global reach.
Fitch grew the turnover of its London office by 34% in 2011, scoring a new-business win-rate of 51%, while almost doubling business from existing clients. High-profile additions to its clients included the BBC, UBS and John Lewis. Judges highlighted Fitch's 'New customer journey' tool, which joins up touchpoints in the digitally enabled world of retail, as evidence of solid thought leadership.
Also shortlisted were Brand Union and Landor.
2010: The Partners
2009: The Brand Union