Agency of the Year: Digital Agency of the Year - Agency Republic

A return to its full-service digital agency roots has placed Agency Republic at the head of the pack, writes Ben Carter.

There was a dearth of digital pitches this year, despite the apparent increased interest in online marketing from advertisers. The AAR conceded that it handled only 15.

Of the 11 pitches Agency Republic was involved in this year, it won eight - an impressive conversion rate of 72%. It is these wins, good creative and the retention of clients that has seen revenue grow and staff levels almost double, making it Marketing's Digital Agency of the Year.

Over the past 18 months, Republic has honed its model of converting bricks-and-mortar brands into online players with long-standing client O2. The mobile giant now allocates nearly a third of its advertising spend to digital marketing.

Its new business track record has added several blue-chip clients to Republic's roster, including Parcelforce, Blockbuster and most recently Egg, which it won with sister integrated agency Claydon Heeley Jones Mason.

At the start of 2004, Omnicom-owned Republic decided to return to its roots as a full-service digital agency. It has reaped the rewards with revenue growth of 77% and an aggressive recruitment drive. It now employs 45 staff, compared with 25 a year ago, at its Battersea offices.

Unlike some of the other digital agencies in the running this year, it now offers media planning and buying as well as digital marketing. This combination boosted its offering in pitches, and it is now subsequently handling media for a number of new accounts, including Parcelforce.

In October, the Royal Mail-owned delivery service gave online a vote of confidence by handing Republic all its digital business, reported to be worth £3m. It shifted its focus from above-the-line to the web, despite awarding its advertising account to Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO a few months earlier.

Rental giant Blockbuster tasked Republic with developing and launching its online DVD rental service this year and allocated it a seven-figure online marketing budget. Confidential statistics shown to Marketing prove the launch has been a success, with Blockbuster owning nearly half of the market and directly attributing the majority of its customer sign-ups to digital marketing.

In March, Republic resigned the high-value BT consumer marketing business to dedicate more resource to O2, which significantly upped its digital marketing spend.

It has been a successful year for new business, but Republic has also increased its work for existing clients such as BBC Worldwide and O2. Every marketing campaign that O2 runs now has an integral online element, created by Republic, such as recent online acquisition activity for its O2 Friends initiative and an integrated push around its O2 X-range of mobile phones.

Republic was credited by O2 for playing a major part in winning the Grand Prix at the IPA Effectiveness Awards in November, alongside lead agency Vallance Carruthers Coleman Priest.

As a direct result of Republic's work, O2 plans to increase its digital marketing budget next year and has praised online as its most successful retail channel. O2 Ireland has given Republic its £250,000 digital marketing business on the back of its fruitful relationship with its UK counterpart.

For the BBC, Republic has developed multinational and bilingual digital campaigns including its first Spanish activity that ran across Central, South and North America to promote the Spanish news site www.bbcmundo.com, which acquired 1.4m users. In July, having developed a Russian campaign, it was reappointed to promote the global online news services.

On the charity front, Republic strengthened its relationships with a number of fundraising organisations and its charity arm, Social Republic, was hired by Friends of the Earth to develop awareness-building campaigns.

With many advertisers, some of which have never used online before, now planning to go digital for either direct response or branding campaigns, the outlook and opportunities for Republic are huge.

Still, the agency lacks a place on the rosters of most major FMCG advertisers. Its challenge in 2005 will be to win business from the food and alcohol brand owners as they take advantage of the relaxed regulatory landscape online.

PREVIOUS WINNERS

2003: Glue London

2002: Agency Republic

2001: Zentropy Partners

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