Agency of the Year 2007: Digital Agency of the Year - Dare

Innovation and high creative standards have kept Dare at the top of its game.

The £10m price tag that Dare commanded from Cossette Communication Group to seal its acquisition by the Canadian media giant in July marked the high point of a particularly impressive year for the agency.

Already a best-in-breed digital shop, Dare enjoyed a 100% success rate in pitches during the first half of 2007, adding ITV and Sony Europe to its list of clients. It expects to have expanded by 65% by the end of the year, with its income nearly doubling to £10m and profits rising from £710,000 to £1.3m.

These new business wins prompted Dare to close its doors to pitches for the second half of the year so that it could concentrate on existing clients, including Barclays Group, Vodafone and Woolworths. This strategy has paid dividends, with growth hitting 30% as a result of increases in spend by key brands. Over the past 12 months, Dare has strengthened its relationship with Vodafone, picking up the brief to oversee the redesign of its consumer-facing website and online shop. The agency was also appointed to handle digital marketing for Barclaycard, and was selected by Sony as its preferred digital partner in the UK.

These expenditure increases have fuelled a rapid expansion in headcount, with Dare now employing 158 full-time staff, up from 102 at the start of the year.

The agency's top-class creative thinking impressed the judges, as it focused on long-term consumer engagement rather than one-off ads. It broke fresh ground with a project for Vodafone that enabled consumers to transfer bookmarks for their favourite websites from their PC to their mobile phone to access them on the move. An online film initiative for Sony Vaio, meanwhile, invited web users to complete a film script started by actor John Malkovich, then submit it for his scrutiny. Dare's work for Lynx Blow was recognised at the Cannes Cyber Lions and Golden Award of Montreux festivals. These high creative standards were underpinned by a number of effectiveness awards for its work for clients including the AA and Sony Ericsson.

Despite a skills shortage in the digital sector, Dare founders Mark Collier and John Owen, along with managing director Lee Wright, have maintained high standards of creative output, strategic planning and client service. The agency is committed to recruiting the best talent through its Dare School initiative, whose graduates have been taken on as full-time employees over the past year. The agency has also introduced a formal graduate trainee programme for account managers and planners.

With the boundaries between digital and advertising agencies blurring, innovation and thought leadership have never been so important. With this in mind, Dare has invested in Dare Labs, a bespoke new product development department charged with exploring new technologies. The agency hopes the division will enable it to offer more proactive solutions to clients, as well as develop applications, products and services that can be licensed to provide the agency with incremental revenue. Dare Labs is working on a number of projects and has brought a desktop media player to market for Sony Ericsson.

The judges noted that Dare has responded to the growing industry focus on environmental issues with the introduction of 'Dare to care', a corporate social responsibility initiative that includes recycling, quarterly education seminars and incentives for cycling to work.

With investment helping to move digital marketing up the agenda, agencies are thinking hard about their business models. Dare's decision, seven years after it was founded, to sell a majority share to Cossette is symptomatic of this. The deal will align the agency with MCBD, Elvis and Band & Brown in the UK and provide it with strong technological resources in Canada and elsewhere.

As well as maintaining its cultural autonomy, Dare's main challenge is to expand internationally to give it the scale of rivals including AKQA and Agency.com. It will also have to focus on maintaining the high creative standards that have helped it stay at the top. This could prove to be an uphill struggle given the recent departure of creative director James Cooper to join Another Anomaly in New York. However, with Dare's management team working toward an earn-out, the agency is ideally placed to benefit from the changing media landscape.

Previous winners
2006: AKQA
2005: Agency Republic
2004: Agency Republic
2003: Glue London

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