A funny thing happened on the way to identifying the best agencies of 2003. Had we spotted this unifying theme among the winners earlier we might have shaved weeks off the rigorous selection process; and yet it is only by looking back that we can see how the paths from ten separate marketing services disciplines have converged.

The common thread among the best agencies of 2003 is that they proved to be as committed to their clients' business objectives as were the clients themselves. Whereas 2002 turned out to be the year of the creative hotshop - Mother, Naked, Williams Murray Hamm were all deserving winners - this year, effectiveness and the desire to structure the agency to meet changing client needs have become the defining qualities.

Without exception, our winning agencies for 2003 have either added to the services offered to clients, prioritised evaluation internally, or redefined the nature of their work for clients.

At this juncture we can expect those agency individuals who believe creativity is an end and not a means to stop reading - and we will be well rid of them. It is another ugly and yet undeniable characteristic of the advertising recession that those who believe a 'creative reputation' is all they need to prosper find their voice.

Still reading? Good. Then you will be with us to see that the top agencies identified in Marketing's Agency 2003 were also responsible for some of the most creative and inspired campaigns, strategies and events of the past 12 months.

The following pages recognise those agencies that have produced the greatest work for their clients and, by no coincidence, the greatest results. The criteria Marketing uses to measure agency performance are: effective work for clients, which requires real numbers, rather than claimed success; applied creativity, where it has resulted in 'big ideas' that have broken through the clutter; new business, as it shows how clients perceive an agency; incremental business, because it shows whether the existing clients agree; and innovation, by which we mean new products or services offered by an agency to clients.

We make no apology for this client bias. We expect and hope that the winning agencies will celebrate this recognition of their achievement, but back-slapping is not our primary purpose. Agency 2003 is intended as a client guide to the best-performing agencies. It does what it says on the cover: Agency 2003 is the 'biggest and the best' because it is the only report on agency best practice in all ten principal marketing disciplines.

Such an undertaking cannot be done in isolation, and Marketing would like to thank all the industry experts who gave their input to Agency 2003: Lisa Barnard, Juliet Blackburn, Nick Bowman, Martin Child, Peggy Connor, Julie Constable, Deborah Dawton, Peter Jackling, Kathryn Jacob, Martin Jones, James Kelly, Graham Lancaster, John Mathers, Danny Meadows-Klue, Andrew Melsom, Andy Pearch, Paul Phillips, Juliet Soskice, Suki Thompson, Hilary Weaver, David Whethey, Alison Williams and Alex Young.


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