Agency of the Year: Market Research Agency of the Year - Best of the rest

In a year of acquisitions, mergers and consolidation, market research agencies have had to prove their credentials, as clients' desire to have an impact on the bottom line means they are looking further afield than traditional agency partners. One agency that has benefited from this is Synovate. Its claim that it is the biggest small research agency lends weight to the argument that small is increasingly beautiful. Its global revenues have confounded the market growth rate, rising to £218.9m, with organic growth at 6.6% - all in only two years.

This success has been fuelled by acquisitions and mergers that incorporate the best elements of each incoming company to reinvigorate the whole. One recent example was a merger with TRBI, which combined Synovate's global coverage with the responsiveness and personal service of the smaller company.

The ability to deliver on global contracts and the expertise the acquisition strategy has brought has helped Synovate win a number of clients. MTV has hired the agency to run its pan-European brand-tracking monitor, while in the UK, Capital Radio-owned station XFM commissioned the agency to carry out ad testing for the launch of a station in Manchester. Other wins include Masterfoods, Five, Hasbro, Foster's, Carlsberg and the Home Office.

Flamingo International has picked up some significant contracts by playing a strong role, in collaboration with ad agencies, in determining the right creative approach through research. The mid-sized agency has worked on brands including Levi's (501 with Anti-Fit), and Guinness ('Moths' and Extra Cold) campaigns.

With a 17% increase in turnover in the past 12 months to £7m, this dedication to creativity has its benefits. Word is certainly spreading, as the agency has enjoyed a 16% increase in enquiries compared with 2003.

The application of new areas of research such as ethnography and semiotics has been highly successful for the agency. Flamingo's expertise in semiotics was used by ad agencies on four pitches during 2004 (Bird's Eye, Castlemaine XXXX, Travelocity and Tetley's) with a 100% success rate.

The integration of semiotics into brands' strategic business ensured that Flamingo is now the exclusive supplier of creative development research to Unilever's Lynx/Axe deodorant brand on global campaigns.

Focusing on helping clients use research more effectively has led to a raft of incremental business for HPI Research Group. One such project was a major study for P&O, investigating consumer attitudes toward onboard entertainment, and proposed age ranges at which to pitch it.

Other work for Kellogg, Barclaycard and Mercedes has ensured that HPI has strengthened its market position despite the loss of founding partner Geoff Payne early in 2004. The group has also exceeded forecasts, with this year's revenue over 20% up on initial projections at £4.4m.

Fast-growing mid-sized agencies might have turned heads in 2004, but TNS looks reluctant to relinquish its leading position. Buoyed by its acquisition of rival agency NFO last year, TNS has continued its prosperous charge by winning major business from BSkyB and the European Commission.

The BSkyB contract, won in April, will see TNS provide a system that will bring together purchasing and viewing data to demonstrate to advertisers the purchasing power of its growing audiences. TNS will analyse the data, with first results expected in early 2005. The deal with the European Commission is on a four-year retained basis, with the agency measuring public opinion on social, economic and political issues across 33 countries.

Last year's winning market research agency of the year, Incepta Marketing Intelligence, has consolidated its growth in 2003 by focusing on value and building profitability. The strategy has been a resounding success, culminating in new business wins from Camelot, Reuters and Diageo, as well as incremental major global contracts for Orange and Tate & Lyle.

Niche specialist agencies have been proactive, most noticeably ESA. The agency has carved out a reputation in the retail and trade research sector with a win from Currys and retained work for Total and Iceland. The agency credits its growth to a bold approach in the face of a fragile economic recovery.

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