Marketing's choice for Direct Marketing Agency of the Year for 2006 has grown over the past 12 months from its roots as a creative hot-shop to become an agency capable of consistently defeating bigger and more experienced rivals for some of the industry's most sought-after accounts.
Kitcatt Nohr Alexander Shaw has come close to winning on several occasions. In 2004 it was runner-up and last year was named among the Best of the Rest. Now approaching its fifth year, the agency has moved into a new league. The agency's year was summed up by one senior industry creative, who commented: 'If Kitcatt Nohr does not win it this year, it never will.'
In 2005, its new business wins were highly respectable, and included brands such as Cancer Research UK and Logitech. But in 2006, the agency has won some of the biggest accounts in key sectors including automotive, finance and retail.
As the year began, the agency rocked EHS Brann by wresting away its Citroen direct marketing account. Then in August, it entered the lucrative healthcare market when it won the Norwich Union Healthcare account (worth £2.5m) over rival Partners Andrews Aldridge, after incumbent Bright dropped out of the pitch.
The significance of this win became all the more apparent in November, when Kitcatt Nohr scooped the lead role on Norwich Union Direct's motor and niche business accounts. The business is estimated to be worth £15m to the agency, but with the world's fourth-biggest insurer planning to increase its spend further in 2007, it should become even more important over the coming months.
Kitcatt Nohr continues to increase its headcount, growing by another seven staff this year to 46. On the back of its latest Norwich Union win, it plans to break the 50 barrier in early 2007.
The most protracted direct marketing pitch of the year eventually saw Kitcatt Nohr pick up the coveted COI anti-smoking campaign. The appointment was no surprise to observers, given the outstanding, award-winning work it had produced for the account in 2005.
The agency then took its first step into the supermarket sector when it saw off stiff competition for the direct marketing account for Waitrose following a pitch process handled by the retailer's marketing director, Christian Cull. The business is understood to be worth £5m.
There were also a number of smaller, but significant, new clients won without a pitch, including LA Fitness, Channel 4 Learning, Sightsavers, Plan UK, Avery Dennison and Booktrust.
The agency passed one other milestone this year: in July, founders Paul Kitcatt, Marc Nohr, Vonnie Alexander and Jeremy Shaw bought out their original investors, Mentor Marketing & Investment, and now own more than 90% of the company. The four founders are supported by a raft of important hirings made in 2006, notably Lazar Dzamic, who was hired as planning director while retaining the same role at sister agency Underwired, in which Kitcatt Nohr purchased a minority stake earlier this year, in a move intended to ensure its digital capabilities for the future.
Creativity remains at the core of the business - Kitcatt Nohr has already collected more than 20 awards this year - but the agency is producing effectiveness in equal measure. A viral campaign for Logitech earlier this year was one of three golds picked up by Kitcatt Nohr at the DMA Awards; it resulted in 200,000 webcam sales, generating more than £5m of revenue. The overall return on investment for the activity was an impressive 100:1.
Another existing client, Virgin Holidays, can be equally as satisfied with Kitcatt Nohr's performance in 2006. Among other projects, the holiday company briefed the agency to boost bookings to Florida over the summer months. The resulting integrated 'Get more' campaign generated a 230% year-on-year increase in enquiries.
In its work for LA Fitness, the agency courted controversy and received a rap from the Committee of Advertising Practice. Despite this, the 'Enjoy your body' campaign delivered for the client. In total, more than 26,000 people responded to the offer of a free five-day pass.
2005 Tullo Marshall Warren
2004 Partners Andrews Aldridge
2003 Harrison Troughton Wunderman
2002 TBWA\GGT Direct
BEST OF THE REST
The ability of a direct agency to integrate traditional strategies and new media has never been of greater importance, and no agency has done it better in 2006 than this year's runner-up, Claydon Heeley, which now works in a digital capacity with all its clients.
Digital accounted for just 3% of Claydon Heeley's total revenue at the start of the year, but now contributes about 16%. This hike can be credited in part to the arrival of Sam Bertram as head of digital and Tim Miller as head of planning.
Miller has not only improved the agency's digital strategy, but also played an important role in developing closer links with other shops in Omnicom's Zulu digital and direct response network, which also includes Agency Republic and Weapon 7.
When Claydon Heeley saw off fierce competition to take 3's direct account in May, it secured one of the year's most significant wins. The business has since grown to be worth £25m.
Other wins included BUPA Hos-pitals (£4m), Investec (£2.5m) and Cogent (£1m), all following pitches, and QVC (£1.5m) without a pitch. Claydon Heeley's most proactive existing clients have been Mercedes-Benz, which has increased its spend with the agency by about 40%, Egg and Goodyear Dunlop. The agency also won the £4m Dodge account.
Rapier has undergone a metamorphosis this year: staff numbers were up 22 to 108 as billings rose by £46m to £216m. It has also been winning new business from direct and creative agencies alike. Having secured brand awareness briefs for Digital UK and The Co-operative Group, the agency went on a new business blitz to take two of the year's biggest accounts.
In October it grabbed the £14.5m PruHealth direct marketing account from Tequila\London, which repitched for the account with TBWA. Already the incumbent on NTL, Rapier saw off a number of creative agencies to claim the NTL/Virgin launch brief, alongside RKCR/Y&R. Rapier's portion of the account is understood to be worth more than £25m.
The agency's commitment to digital was made evident in January when it hired John Hatfield from EHS Brann as head of digital. It now handles digital work for 80% of its clients.
In Marketing's survey, Rapier received the most votes from its peers, just ahead of Claydon Heeley and Archibald Ingall Stretton, which was one of only two direct shop to win an IPA Gold for Effectiveness this year, the other being Proximity London.
The accolade, coupled with its £16m Abbey credit-cards account win, has made it a year to remember for the agency, which is planning to set up its first international offices. AIS also won Corgi's first direct account this year, as well as incremental work for O2. These wins saw it top £8m in billings for the first time as it grew in revenue terms by about 18%.
Any round-up of outstanding agencies would not be complete without Craik Jones Watson Mitchell Voelkel. Having already picked up 29 awards this year, the agency's work for clients including Unilever, First Direct and Refuge has also been recognised, with the Grand Prix at the DMA Awards for First Direct and four gold awards.
This has been a highly successful, yet turbulent year for 2005 runner-up Harrison Troughton Wunderman. It began by picking up Foster's first CRM account, worth about £5m, and business from Monster.com. It was named lead agency on Kraft's £20m pan-European CRM account, and ended the year as lead direct agency on the EnCams Keep Britain Tidy roster.
However, it also took a couple of hits, losing its £15m Star Alliance business and resigning its £2.5m M&G account following the arrival of a new marketing director.
The agency has begun working more closely with its European sister agencies following the appointment of Marcus Starke as chief executive of Wunderman EMEA.
Joint managing directors John Hiney and Suzanne Partridge have moved on as a management restructure saw John Butler take the role of chief executive. Meanwhile, hands-on founder and creative director Steve Harrison became chairman and assumed a new role: worldwide creative director of Wunderman.
Several small agencies made an impression this year, and special mention goes to Meteorite, which picked up an impressive range of wins. Among its most important additions were Royal Mail and BlackBerry, while it recently won its first pure digital account, for Italian food brand Sacla.
The agency has also proved its ability to innovate, launching Costa Coffee's pre-pay card, and its capacity to handle large-scale data projects for clients such as Homebase.