Agency of the Year: Sponsorship Agency of the Year - Best of the rest

As sponsorship grows in importance within the marketing mix, independent specialists are making their presence felt. Chief among these is Karen Earl Sponsorship, which in recent years has grown into arguably the main rival to the big network agencies in pitches for the most lucrative client contracts.

This year has proved no exception. Karen Earl has enjoyed some big-name business wins, including consultancy work for British Airways and Npower's sponsorship of Test cricket, as well as gaining extra client work from Direct Line, Wilkinson Sword, Sprite and Coca-Cola, the latter involving the negotiation and management of Coke's title sponsorship of the Football League and involvement in the Olympic Torch Relay.

The internal structure adopted by Karen Earl is often cited as an exemplary business model for an agency that wants to provide a comprehensive sponsorship offering. Karen Earl's four specialist in-house divisions - consultancy, integration, event management and public relations - cover the basic cornerstones of the discipline and give the agency's pitches a clarity that has proved highly successful in winning business.

Like Karen Earl, Redmandarin, a subsidiary of Incepta Group, has reported significant growth over the past year. Unlike many of its counterparts, Redmandarin does not sell rights or work on behalf of rights holders. Instead, it concentrates entirely on impartial consultancy. This focus on consumer insight and research means that much of its work cannot be disclosed under confidentiality clauses. But with turnover up 50% from 2003 and profitability up 150%, it is clear that Redmandarin is doing something right.

Among the client work the agency can reveal is a new contract with Philips. Redmandarin has created a sponsorship strategy and internal sponsorship governance processes for the electronics company, and is supporting its partnership with the 2006 FIFA World Cup.

The other major client win of the year for Redmandarin was an unnamed international telecoms company, boosting the agency's international credentials - 70% of its revenues in 2004 came from global briefs.

On the staffing side, Redmandarin was the top agency in Marketing's 2004 table of the best employers in the marketing industry.

One of the most noticeable trends of the year has been music sponsorships, a growth area The Works London has capitalised on by setting up a specialist music division. Named Jungle Jim, the unit identifies a brand's challenges, then finds or creates a music platform that meets them.

Jungle Jim has signed up Tiger Beer and Heineken since launching earlier this year. The latter contract saw it expand Heineken's global dance music programme Thirst, organising a tour of 30 countries.

With Canon hiring The Works for its Euro 2004 sponsorship and hospitality programme, this year proved to be the agency's most successful in its seven-year history, and by the end of 2004, turnover is expected to have risen by 32% from £13m in 2003.

Music sponsorship may have been a growth area in 2004, but in the year of the Athens Olympics and Euro 2004, sport remained the leading sponsorship category. For a number of years, the two biggest sports marketing agencies, IMG and Octagon, have taken the bulk of the contracts for big global events, simply because of their ability to deliver on a worldwide brief. The client lists of both companies make impressive reading.

The death of IMG's founder Mark McCormack in late 2003 meant the agency's year was dominated by a restructure of its business, following a buy-out by investment bank Forstmann Little. Although IMG remains the biggest sports marketing company in the world, rumours persist that some of its divisions will be sold off. Despite these structural concerns, the agency was heavily involved in the Athens Games, representing a number of the International Olympic Committee's sponsor partners.

Interpublic-owned Octagon has had problems following the sale of its motor sports arm, but won its fair share of business in 2004. Coca-Cola, Colgate, LG Electronics, Victor Chandler and Tesco signed deals with the agency, and additional business was won from NatWest, MasterCard, Vodafone, Zurich and IBM.

Octagon launched three divisions in response to emerging market trends, the highest-profile being Brandcasting, a subsidiary that offers expertise in the creation, development and execution of advertiser-funded programming.

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