Everybody loves a comeback kid and you can't ask for a better turnaround story than Publicis Blueprint, which has been named Marketing's Customer Publishing Agency of the Year 2011.
Back in 2008, at the height of the recession, the agency was forced to retrench and regroup following several high-profile departures and account losses. Three years on, its fortunes have improved dramatically.
The agency took the top spot in Marketing's annual customer publishing league tables, reporting a £12.9m growth in turnover and a 46% upturn in revenues year on year.
In a tight field, the judges were particularly impressed by Publicis Blueprint's ability to work both as a lead agency and collaboratively with other agencies and suppliers globally. Despite being one of the biggest agencies in the UK, Publicis also managed to be fleet of foot with innovation.
The judges highlighted the agency's ability to offer innovative creative work and integrated activity across multiple channels for brands including Cath Kidston, HP and Orange. The self-titled work for designer Cath Kidston, like so much of the agency's content, was highly effective; an insert in Easy Living drove a 56% increase in online customers, while the full customer magazine delivered a 33% uplift in mail-order and online sales.
The judges also praised Publicis Blueprint's now-stable management team, whose members have 63 years of combined company service between them. Credit for a phenomenal year must also go to chief executive Geri Richards. Known for her self-deprecating style, she has galvanised the agency through her fierce loyalty to her staff and understated, but effective, ego-free management style.
The agency has continued to invest in talent, despite the challenging economic climate. During 2011 it appointed 32 new staff, a 45% year-on-year increase. Additionally, the agency has worked hard to boost the skills of existing staff, increasing its investment in training by 32% year on year.
CSR is more than just a bolt-on afterthought at the agency, which has invested time and effort in regular staff charity fundraising initiatives. Particular mention goes to the 15 employees who participated in the annual Royal Parks Half Marathon, raising £2365 for the Multiple Sclerosis Society - a figure that was matched by the company.
While it has had a great 12 months, Publicis Blueprint's Agency of the Year victory is also testament to the results of a hard-fought, three-year turnaround drive. Here's hoping its Friday drinks trolley stocks some well-earned celebratory Champagne.
FOCUS ON ASDA
The agency's long-term relationship with Asda was cited by judges as an example of an impressive and genuine strategic partnership; Blueprint works with 500 of the supermarket's suppliers and agencies.
Research has shown that Asda Magazine was directly responsible for a £260m uplift in sales annually, including £5.6m for clothing brand George.
The title continues to be the UK's most-read women's monthly with 5.3m readers. According to ABC figures for January to June 2011, it is now the UK's highest-circulation magazine.
Investment in it is paying dividends: customers who read the publication spend an average of £167.73 a shop, £72.91 more than non-readers.
BEST OF THE REST
In a year of outstanding performances, Seven came in a close second. The agency's thriving consultancy business is credit to the depth of thinking delivered by chief executive Sean King and the team.
The judges picked out Seven's focus on bringing quality content to digital channels. They detected a palpable excitement about the way in which digital and multimedia are transforming the industry to help Seven push the boundaries with its clients.
There is no doubt that, while some competitors have struggled to integrate digital into their offering, Seven is leading the field in migrating to earned-media platforms. The agency has also established itself as a hub of thought leadership in the industry; digital development director Mike Burgess regularly speaks at events.
Seven also scored highly on effectiveness, both in terms of generating direct sales and 'return on engagement'. The judges heaped praise on Seven's cross-platform work for Sainsbury's, CIMA and New Look, among others, and the quality of its management and editorial teams.
The agency found time to scoop some important new-business wins, too, including McDonald's, restaurant operator D&D London and Virgin Atlantic's social travel site, V-travelled.
A raft of creative and ground-breaking work ensured that Sunday caught the judges' attention. The tough economic situation has had little impact on Sunday's bottom line, with a 65% increase in turnover and a 198% rise in pre-tax profits. Its growth came on the back of an extraordinary tranche of big-name new-business wins, including Sky, Vodafone and Marks & Spencer. The agency also created the winner of the APA's Launch of the Year award, A Thousand Little Things for Boden.
Wardour celebrated its 15th birthday with flair in 2011, with British Airways among a series of impressive new-business wins. The agency has continued to innovate, being the first publisher to invest in iPad publishing using Adobe's DPS platform. A worthy competitor in a tough field.
Last year's winner in this category, FST, continued to prove it was at the top of its game when it came to delivering truly integrated cross-platform media work. Organic growth from existing clients including Calvin Klein and Toni&Guy reflected the continued strength of the agency's branded content offering.
Redwood's emphasis on developing a multichannel planning proposition caught the judges' eye. One of them noted: 'The focus on shifting the industry from publishing to planning strategy and execution of brand stories to engage consumers was impressive.'
Redwood has forged ahead with new ways of working and produced 148 videos this year. In addition, the agency created its first ever in-store digital content for Marks & Spencer's Style Online.
Also shortlisted were August Media and Think.
2010: Fitzgerald Shurey Tarbuck