Agency of the Year: Public Relations Agency of the Year - Frank PR

Trend-tapping ideas and a determination to prove ROI have fuelled the agency's second year at the top.

It can be all too easy for a PR agency to come unstuck the year after winning a giant haul of new business. So all credit to Frank for being able to manage its huge expansion, maintain a creative staff culture and bring in an array of new accounts.

Aside from a £1.6m new business haul - one of the biggest sums brought in by a PR agency this year - Frank's staffers continue to come up with ideas for clients that are demonstrably more inspiring than those of other agencies.

They also go much further in trying to prove the commercial impact of their work - a notoriously tricky area for PR. Despite years of searching for a more specific evaluation method than advertising value equivalent (AVE), much of the industry continues to rely on it. Frank, however, pushes for more direct links between its work and the client's bottom line.

The agency's unashamedly populist campaigns consistently tap into the public mood - one reason why its cuttings are so extensive. For HP, it followed up last year's snooker work with a 'Save the proper British cafe' campaign. It published a survey that illustrated the demise of the classic British cafe, organised a petition, distributed brown campaign wristbands and encouraged HP to set up a 'fighting fund' to subsidise cafes in trouble. Coverage was worth an estimated £1.5m in AVE from a budget of £42,000, including a piece on the front page of The Daily Telegraph. Trade orders for HP Sauce rose 16% in the month following the launch of the campaign.

Frank was also briefed to heighten the profile of Cancer Research UK's Race for Life. As this took place just before the World Cup, it invited a team of footballers' wives and girlfriends to take part.

Frank's casting turned out to have been particularly inspired - and lucky - when Theo Walcott was selected for the England squad: his girlfriend, Melanie Slade, was already in the Race for Life team. This unexpected turn meant the photocall to unveil the Cancer Research UK team drew extensive international coverage; 4000 women signed up to participate in the race.

The World Cup was also the backdrop for Frank's 'Adopt-A-German' campaign for Puma, part of a plan to compete with Nike and Adidas over this crucial period. Much media attention in Germany accompanied the search for 12 'ambassadors' to represent the World Cup host cities. Each had a blog set up for them - an element of the campaign that proved very popular.

One of Frank's most radical (and media-enticing) ideas of the past 12 months happened last Christmas, when client 3 asked it to raise the profile of its 3G offering. The agency set up a webcam on a turkey farm, put named bibs on 50 turkeys and offered the mobile operator's customers the chance to pick a turkey that would be delivered to them (oven-ready) for Christmas. Vegetarians were offered the chance to save one.

An intrinsic element of the agency's ability to consistently generate great ideas is the motivation and experience of its staff, and in 2006 it made some key hires. Claire Da Breo was brought in from her role heading Xbox's European PR and Jane Hill was poached from New Look, both becoming associate directors.

Frank also moved into experiential marketing with the hiring of Damon Statt from Revolver as head of new division Sneeze, which put actors on London's streets for its maiden campaign, promoting the launch of thelondonpaper. Frank ran another experiential campaign to publicise a new menu at Pizza Express. It created a dramatically shortened version of The Godfather trilogy and hired actors to perform it in restaurants. Not only did it gain coverage in The Times, The Guardian and Financial Times, but Pizza Express' website received more than 15,000 hits from consumers looking to find out where they could see the show.

Frank's 2006 new business wins list features projects for big brands in dynamic sectors. It took on its first financial services brand, Virgin Money, plus Virgin Holidays, Whitbread's Costa Coffee and Premier Travel Inn, WD-40, Pizza Express and Foot Locker, and launched the BlackBerry Pearl.

It has also won more projects from its client Unilever, for SlimFast, Birds Eye Fish Fingers (now owned by Permira) and Colman's Mustard, and worked on the launch of soft drink Adez.

PREVIOUS WINNERS
2005 Frank PR
2004 Lexis PR
2003 Shine Communications
2002 The RED Consultancy

BEST OF THE REST

Lexis made a splash in the PR world this year, winning a clutch of accounts from high-profile brands as well as creating some of the louder media noises of 2006. It handled the launch of Coke Zero in July, focusing on the classic media-relations fodder - radio promotions ('stag dos without getting married' for Xfm) and tabloid features aimed at pushing the 'Zero downsides' brand message. It also coined the 'Bloke Coke' phrase that gave the brand's marketing so much traction.

The agency also moved the Dove 'Campaign for real beauty' to its next phase by running workshops to encourage mums to help improve their daughters' self-esteem. Another Unilever brand, Birds Eye, hired Lexis to use its Captain Birds Eye character to deliver nutritional advice, backing the reduction of the brand's salt levels.

Lexis was also very successful in its new business effort, swelling its fee income by 12%. It won business worth £1.6m from brands including Norwich Union, M&S Food, Ask.com, Burton's Foods and Capital One - although one-third of the sum was derived from incremental activity. Aside from the Coke Zero campaign, Lexis also worked on Twenty20 cricket for Npower, eBay Motors, Toblerone for Kraft, plus projects for 3, the Rugby Football Union and Samsung.

All this work led the agency to hire 26 extra people in the 10 months to October - a 30% expansion.

Financial services PR firm Lansons Communications achieved great success on the new business front this year, taking advantage of a marketing bonanza in the sector. Its £1.9m haul includes work from Prudential, Direct Line mortgages, First Active and NatWest International, which led it to boost its staff numbers from 64 to 100. Lansons also launched a Digital Media division in October.

The agency's key campaigns in 2006 included work for Scottish Widows to increase awareness of its inheritance tax planning tools.

Shine Communications, Marketing's PR Agency of the Year in 2003, was also a worthy shortlist contender, raking in an impressive £1.1m worth of new business this year. Wins from such prominent brands as Sony PlayStation, Cadbury, Habitat and Evian continue to demonstrate that Shine is maturing beyond its hot-shop origins. It has also managed to avoid the trap many young PR agencies fall into of putting more effort into winning business than servicing current clients. Shine has grown the business from its biggest clients, Paramount Home Entertainment, Electronic Arts and Heinz, by 20% this year.

It has been responsible for a number of events-based PR campaigns for leading brands in 2006, including the first Vodafone Live Music Awards and the Heinz Beanz 'amnesty'.

Like Lansons, it has dipped its toe into the digital pond with the launch of Shine Online, attempting to get its clients' profiles raised within blogs, podcasts and viral activity.

Resonate earns a mention for the second year running after achieving a 48% rise in fee income in 2006. This reflects £520,000 worth of new business and takes the agency, still only three years old, over the £1m turnover barrier. It won accounts from 118 118, Habitat, gaming website 888.com and Buena Vista Home Entertainment, for which it gained £2.5m worth of media coverage around Winnie the Pooh's 80th birthday.

Last but not least, an agency that Marketing predicts we will be hearing more from. Idea Generation is owned by Hector Proud, brother of Proud Galleries founder Alex Proud, and is starting to move beyond its arts roots. Although retaining its relationships with existing clients, the agency has begun to move into the mainstream, handling PR for Amazon.co.uk and genealogy site Ancestry.co.uk, as well as magazines Star and New.

What really marks Idea Generation out is its policy on time management and media relations. From brief to evaluation, the time each task takes is calculated to the nearest 10 minutes and allocated to a staff member. Journalist contact is given the same rigorous treatment - a contact report is filled out for each call, which allows teams to refer to each others' calls.

This may not sound like rocket science, but it represents a much more organised approach than that of many other agencies; clients are clearly recognising its value.

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