OMD's role in the most exciting media campaigns of the year - from ad-funded programming for Vodafone's TBA gigs to Sony Bravia's blog - make the agency a worthy victor of Marketing's Media Agency of the Year 2006.
Rather than focus solely on buying muscle, OMD has built its UK business this year through innovation and investment in digital platforms, as well as a clear positioning.
Although its key competitors picked up more new business wins, OMD put in a solid performance in the UK, which, alongside Germany, is regarded as one of the network's strongest markets. The agency pitched for 55 accounts this year, winning 31, and is the fastest-growing UK media agency, according to Recma.
It picked up a total of £78m in new business in 2006, with key wins including the £10m Emap First launch and the £14m Boots healthcare account. The agency also won business fromWaitrose and John Lewis and gained incremental work from Coty; following its sterling work on Rimmel, Coty consolidated its £19m UK media planning and buying account into OMD.
The agency has benefited from a clear proposition, with its two main brands being OMD UK and Manning Gottlieb OMD. Its mid-sized subsidiary M2M, meanwhile, has established itself as a credible alternative for businesses that do not want a big agency, and has attracted clients including Pringle and Estee Lauder.
OMD's early investment in emerging formats is also paying dividends and the agency has established itself as a front-runner in the branded content and ad-funded programming (AFP) arena through OMD Fuse. The division has worked on the successful Vodafone TBA gigs and secured a place on the COI sponsorship roster for the first time.
The Vodafone activity involved six secret gigs at UK venues, featuring bands including The Killers. Consumers could text Vodafone for a chance to receive tickets via their mobile. OMD then tied with Channel 4 for the broadcaster's biggest-ever AFP deal: all six gigs were shown on E4 and T4.
Other AFP deals include The Beat - a show screened at 6pm on a Sunday night to promote Police Community Support Officers.
The agency has been at the forefront of interactive TV technology, and its 'Old Lions' campaign for Carlsberg had the longest average time per view of any interactive TV work. Awareness of its World Cup sponsorship was 124% higher among interactive viewers.
OMD has also boosted its digital offering - once criticised as its weakest discipline. OMD Digital has appointed Sheryl Norman, previously head of integrated marketing services at Coca-Cola GB, as head of digital; she is overseeing an integration of the digital offering of OMD UK, Manning Gottlieb OMD and OMD International.
The agency also spearheaded online work for Sony Bravia - creating the www.bravia-advert.com blog about the ad and how it was made. More than 18,000 blogs linked to the site in 23 countries and it was viewed by more than 1.8m people prior to going on air. The activity cost £55,000; Bravia sets sold out by week three of the campaign.
OMD has continued to invest in media research, including Outright 2006, a study of 18,000 gay and lesbian consumers in the UK, commissioned in conjunction with Channel 4 and Gaydar Radio.
The agency has also successfully built its European presence over the past five years, and is now second only to Carat in European billings, according to Recma. Simon Francis, who was appointed managing director of OMD Europe earlier this year, appears to be a safe pair of hands, with a solid record of new business wins including Sara Lee, Sony BMG, Carlsberg and Kia.
OMD will do well to repeat its performance - Nick Manning, who has done a solid job of developing the agency's offering, is to step down as its group chief executive in January. Having been with OMD for 15 years, he is something of an institution within the industry and will be a tough act to follow.
BEST OF THE REST
In 2006 Carat built on the momentum that it gained last year and leapt straight to the top of the new business league. For this reason it was a very close contender for Marketing's Media Agency of the Year. It also garnered the most votes in our email survey of agency peers.
With a resurgent network bringing in big business, such as General Motors, Adidas/Reebok and Black & Decker, its new business record was second to none. Domestically, Carat also performed strongly and it is to the credit of managing director Neil Jones that he has turned the agency back into a UK media powerhouse, despite the turmoil of last year when it lost some of its key talent in Colin Mills and Mark Jarvis.
Campaigns from Carat continued to impress - its work for the Department for Transport's 'Think!' teen road safety was particularly notable. The DfT used social networking sites for the first time to communicate with a teenage audience. Carat's 'big idea' was to get teen friendship groups to create and distribute the message via a viral film on a mobile phone, which was seeded on the internet without any branding. This was followed by a TV and cinema campaign as well as a media first of ads in youth clubs.
The results of the campaign were spectacular - 29% of teens saw the viral within five days of its launch and 90% of them said they would be more careful as a result of the campaign.
This approach is typical of an agency that prides itself on its structure, which allows it to offer solutions that go beyond traditional media. Its digital media billings increased by 155%, sponsorship by 35%, direct by 31% and the agency's data planning and evaluation team grew its income by 20%, with an increasing number of agency clients using the service.
The ongoing saga of a potential Havas takeover of parent company Aegis underlines how impressive Jones and his team have been in focusing on the job at hand.
Mediaedge:cia (MEC) also put in a creditable performance in 2006 and if there had been a category for most-improved agency, it would likely have won hands-down. It received the second-highest number of peers' votes.
Structural changes instigated by managing director Tom George have reaped significant rewards, the sweetest being the £38m Danone media business - the second-biggest pitch of the year. Other wins included Nintendo, Blockbuster and the COI anti-smoking brief. Its impressive new business performance was tempered only by the loss of NTL/Telewest and the Royal Navy.
MEC has also picked up a number of strategic projects for the COI - including the anti-smoking brief - reflecting the strength of its strategic planning. The agency is now positioned around the idea of active engagement - a premise born out of the increasingly fragmented media landscape and the greater control consumers now have over how they inform and entertain themselves. This has meant that MEC has a breadth and depth of skills, with traditional media planning and buying accounting for only 50% of the agency's revenue.
MEC's digital and direct division, MEC Interaction, and sponsorship specialist MEC Sponsorship have grown significantly and allow the agency to live up to its promise of delivering diverse communications solutions.
The ability to plug into WPP's media-holding company, Group M, which includes sister agencies MediaCom and MindShare, has undoubtedly provided MEC with buying clout. Arguably it has benefited most from the creation of the Group M buying structure. But George and the stable management team with which he has surrounded himself must be credited with turning around what was once considered a basketcase of an agency into one with a distinct positioning and offer. They have managed to get on new business lists and, more importantly, convert them. It is also notable that the agency has picked up business from its WPP rivals.
Walker Media also deserves a mention for securing the prized £30m Barclays media planning and buying account from Starcom. Bedding down such a sizeable piece of business would be a challenge for any agency, yet the fall-out has been negligible, with just Blockbusters and Coca-Cola Enterprises leaving the agency.
The win shows the strength of the relationship that Walker's founding partners, Christine Walker and Phil Georgiadis, have with senior business leaders and their understanding of the wider implications of business beyond the media world.