What was left has been subjected to the withering gaze of journalistic scepticism. It has been interrogated, poked and prodded for substance, tabulated, calculated, shouted at and locked into a small dark room by itself just to see whether it is made of the right stuff.
We have, without question, identified the best of the best in 2004. It hurt us, almost as much as it did the agencies that didn't make it (well, almost) but someone has to assess the best-performing agencies across all the disciplines - and only Marketing does.
Much as we don't relish seeing an advertiser change agencies without a very valid reason, Agency 2004 represents a dream list of creative, effective and blossoming agencies that any marketer would benefit from having on their next shortlist.
The criteria we use are simple, but they work: effectiveness, creativity, organisational change, new business and incremental business from existing clients. Those five measures throw up many compelling stories from our 11 Agencies of the Year.
Among the winners there have been management buyouts, extraordinary pitch conversion rates, outstanding tales of staff development and retention, client crises that have been overcome and record-breaking awards hauls.
There are winning agencies that are the biggest in their field, and others that started 2004 with a single client. Some stood head and shoulders above their rivals; others have taken the title by a whisker.
Marketing speaks to many experts about agency performance over the course of the year. A few went out of their way to narrow down the search for the top agencies in 2004. Our special thanks to: Crispin Manners, The Public Relations Consultants Association; Alex Young, Peggy Connor, Julie Constable, Juliet Blackburn and Paul Phillips, AAR Group; The Institute of Public Relations; Deborah Dawton, Design Business Association; Julia Hutchison, Association of Publishing Agencies; Nick Fennell, Archway Management; Penny Bousfield, CM Insight; Andy Pearch, Billetts; and Pip Hainsworth, Media Audits.