2013 Ten Standout Ad Agencies

Ad Age’s pick of 10 stellar agencies that were just shy of making the A-List, but impressed with smart, innovative work that’s boosting clients’ business, for being new-business stars and serving as a model of overall financial health.

1. EVB

While still nurturing its relationship with Silicon Valley tech clients, Omnicom’s San Francisco-based Evolution Bureauexpanded across the pond and opened a U.K. satellite office to serve its oldest client, Wrigley, as well as Chivas, one of its 14 account wins last year. (It lost none.) EVB also moved toward doing less project work and won agency-of-record accounts from International Delight, Silk, La Brea Bakery and Intel Media Group while growing revenue 10% over the previous year. It continues to manage Facebook Studio, a showcase for brands and agencies to display their best creative work on the social network, and developed a print campaign to solicit entries for the first Facebook Studio Awards that were judged last January.

But some of its most compelling work last year was for Clorox‘s Glad brand, for which it developed a mock reality show called “The Wild Life,” featuring a slovenly, hoarder family made up of five animals, with Tori Spelling playing an incredulous interviewer. Glad’s YouTube channel drove traffic to its Facebook page, which hosted content like a create-your-own-video contest and a dumpster-diving sweepstakes. “The Wild Life” generated 334 million impressions, according to Clorox. EVB also developed a high-profile social campaign for Jameson Irish Whiskey in late 2011 in which it enlisted people to help solve the mystery of who had stolen a barrel of Jameson in 1780 Dublin. After granting the host microsite permission to access Facebook friend information, each user solved a personalized mystery in which one of their friends was ultimately the culprit. The campaign was covered by more than 30 media organizations and won two Webby awards. — Cotton Delo

2. Digitas

Publicis Groupe-owned Digitas opened its 29th worldwide office in 2012 in San Francisco, its first full-service shop in the city. The San Francisco opening was precipitated by two huge wins for the agency: eBay’s nearly $30 million digital-media and digital-creative business in a pitch process that lasted approximately a year and being named Taco Bell’s interactive agency.

Digitas might have needed to expand just to accommodate its growing trophy collection. The agency won more than 100 creative awards in less than 12 months, including 11 MAAW Globe Awards andnine Cannes Lions. Some of its best work has been for American Express‘s Small Business Saturday campaign. The third annual Small Business Saturday successfully lured more than 100 million Americans to purchase from local shop owners on Nov. 24. Perhaps most indicative of the campaign’s success was that in a year fraught with petty partisanship, the U.S. Senate unanimously backed the initiative. Digitas also had its most successful year in terms of net revenue growth and customer acquisition. Aetna, Sprint, Vevo, Panasonic, Google Mobile and Victoria’s Secret were among the 17 clients the agency added in 2012 to the tune of $70 million in new net revenue. — John McDermott

3. Barton F. Graf 9000

Kayak and Dish Network were two of its anchor clients, but just a couple of years after opening, young New York-based shop Barton F. Graf 9000 is rounding out its roster. In 2012, Unilevercame to the shop’s founder Gerry Graf to entrust him with a series of product launches. It’s becoming a bit of a hub for food accounts, winning work for Little Caesars, Ragu, Bertolli, Skippy, Wishbone, PF Chang’s and Finlandia Cheese — all in the course of a year.

What it didn’t do was lose any accounts. The agency’s rate of growth is astounding, with revenue growing 147% compared with 2011. The sources of that revenue are split roughly a third each between digital creative and production, strategy work and traditional creative. Head count is on its way to doubling to just under 50 (which is why it’s had to expand into new office space in Manhattan) and Barton F. Graf is poaching new recruits from Goodby Silverstein & PartnersDroga5 andWieden & Kennedy.

They’re helping solve problems for clients in fun ways. Case in point is Ragu, which was slammed by rival Prego in early 2012 with a taste-test campaign. Sales began to slide, so Ragu turned to Barton F. Graf to build a deeper emotional connection with consumers. The result was atongue-in-cheek effortcalled “The Tragedy of Childhood” that showed that being a can be tough — but America’s favorite pasta sauce Ragu is a treat that can make problems go away. “Bedroom,” the first spot in the campaign, showed a kid traumatized by walking in on his parents. Within 40 minutes of airing, Ragu became a trending topic on Twitter and generated buzz for weeks, including mentions on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” and “Chelsea Lately.” — Rupal Parekh

4. Ogilvy

Ogilvy is a repeat on our standout-agency list, proving that it’s solid big agency with a wide breadth of capabilities to serve client needs. Last year a leadership team that took hold during 2011 — including Chief Creative Officer Steve Simpson, Chief Digital Officer Brandon Berger and Global Chief Marketing Officer Lauren Crampsie — set the agency up to continue a steady growth path.

Ogilvy, which once shunned new-business pitches, is beginning to focus on smaller clients and brands that will help it break from the mold of being associated solely with behemoths such asIBM and Kraft. It’s aggressive moves to diversify led to winning business from nearly 20 clients in 2012, including picking up the Nascar agency-of-record account after a four-month pitch against more than 100 agencies; the Holiday Inn business; and Beam Inc.’s fast-growing Pinnacle vodka.

Ogilvy also recruited a number of new senior executives, including Lee Newman from Wieden & Kennedy, Amsterdam, to be the Chicago office’s president, and Calle Sjoenell from Bartle Bogle Hegarty, who is now chief creative officer of Ogilvy’s New York office. And in an effort to be more things to more clients, the agency launched some formal disciplines in 2012, including Social@Ogilvy and eCommerce@Ogilvy, the latter of which “brings together the analytics and CRM capabilities ofOgilvyOne and the retail and shopper marketing of OgilvyAction to build enhanced consumer retail and cross-industry ecosystems.” — Maureen Morrison

5. KBS+

The MDC Partners agency, formerly known as KBS&P and, before that, Kirshenbaum, Bond, Senecal & Partners, has improved its work product dramatically in the past few years, and is continuing to prove the merits of its integrated model. Arguably its most-high profile and well-executed campaign of 2012 was for BMW, which aimed to rise above the “feature wars” and focus on innovation. KBS+helped BMW lift global sales more than 8% in 2012 and the luxury car maker’s stock price has increased 22%. It’s no wonder BMW has gradually been handing more and more of its ad duties over to the agency, a big vote of confidence for a shop with a presence largely centralized in New York.

The impact of its integrated model is a huge boon and evidenced in the variety of new directions it’s growing with clients organically. Among its wins last year: Hispanic work for John Frieda products; media duties and customer-service and recruitment work for Goldman Sachs; content marketing for American Express; TV creative to launch the BMW 2 Series globally; public relations for Vanguard; and production work on a Victoria’s Secret fashion show. KBS+ is becoming a bit of a hub for financial services clients too, winning duties from NASDAQ and FTSE in addition to work it already did for global investment banks and wealth managers.

Culturally it’s focused on making each of its employees more entrepreneurial; its Ventures unit makes ad-tech investments and offers educational courses about the startup world to staff. One novel idea is “Gettin’ Up,” a peer-to-peer micro-reward system the agency designed to increase the frequency of employee recognition through gamification. It compares the system to staff being able to give each other digital high-fives for smart ideas or being willing to stay late for a team project. —Rupal Parekh

6. Fleishman-Hillard

By the end of the year, Omnicom’s Fleishman-Hillard had placed more than $1 billion in total paid media, gaining a real foothold in a business dominated by media and creative shops. It has been a long-term goal for the shop to create a truly integrated offering, and in 2012 the combination of its earned, owned and paid media work contributed to 7% revenue growth in the U.S. and double-digit growth in both its APAC and EMEA regions.

As it pushed hard to create digital content and place media for high-profile brands beyond D.C., such as PepsiCo‘s Gatorade, it didn’t lose site of the paid-media work it’s more typically known for inside the beltway. After supporting the 2008 Obama campaign, the firm’s D.C.-based creative groupGMMB claimed its second victory in 2012. It had generated online content and placed highly targeted media for the Obama re-election campaign.

To expand its capability across regions, the firm launched a planning tool called GPS Planning and acquired content creator Freshwire. It also went outside its comfort zone to hire a diverse talent set, including Rodgers Townsend/DDB‘s Tom Hudder as executive creative director, TBWA‘s John McNeel as global managing director of strategic innovation and Leo Burnett Asia’s Richard Dale as global director of strategic planning. The approach contributed to nearly $100 million in new-business revenue, with more than 20 seven-figure-budget clients. Wins included Citi North America Consumer Bank, Expedia, The Illinois Office of Tourism, Naked Juice and Tyson Foods, among others. —Alexandra Bruell

7. Anomaly

An agency that’s prided itself on a model focused on building and inventing products as much as it advertises them, Anomaly had a great year in 2012. Revenue grew from $27 million in 2011 to $55 million in 2012. It hired 125 people in North America and continued to build a world-class team of diverse talent, thanks to new-business wins from Google, Carhartt, Mondelez, BMW Mini, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Marriott’s Renaissance Hotels.

It’s not just about the wins, but what kind of work its doing with them. And clients stick around. Since partnering with Anomaly in 2006, Converse has grown from a $305 million acquisition (byNike) to a $1.3 billion global brand. In addition, it’s become the ninth-largest brand in social media. Anomaly is capable of making great TV ads, such as the Super Bowl spots it does for Budweiser, and taking on website design and building mobile games.

But where its passion really lies is in making products and experiences. For Carhartt, it embarked on an inspirational project focused not just on workwear, but on the sorts of skills different workers have. It set up in Detroit, providing a space and infrastructure for “Makers” to pass down their skills to others. The workshops included auto working, carpentry, urban farming, commercial painting, wood working. The IP projects Anomaly has spent time on, such as EOS skin care and the “Avec Eric” cooking show with chef Eric Ripert, are getting increased recognition. EOS now has national distribution at nearly every major grocery and drugstore retailer, and “Avec Eric” has picked up Emmy and James Beard Foundation awards for television excellence. — Rupal Parekh


AKQA left an indelible mark on the world in 2012. At 7:30 p.m. in London, AKQA used more than 100,000 LED lights to project a trademark glyph from the “Halo” video-game franchise over the River Thames. The marketing stunt was in anticipation of “Halo 4’s” midnight launch and received global media attention. Oh, and the digital agency was acquired by holding company WPP for an estimated $540 million in June. If that wasn’t enough, the deal was announced before the Cannes ad festival, likely the largest global gathering of agencies and their clients.

An agency is worthy of a global stage when it lands new AOR relationships with A-B InBev, Gap, Google+, Jordan and Verizon — five of the most-recognizable brands in the world — in one year. To boot, the agency also added Barclays, Lancome, Mini, MTV and Starwood Hotels and Resorts to its client roster. AKQA’s global impact was not just commercial, though. Founder Ajaz Ahmed co-authored “Velocity” with Nike VP Stefan Olander and gave all the proceeds to youth homelessness and global health-care initiatives. Meanwhile, AKQA’s Future Lions program again challenged college students to create innovative brand campaigns. More than 1,000 entries were collected from 40 countries, with AKQA hosting the winners at the Cannes festival. — John McDermott

9. PHD

In June, PHD’s new U.S. CEO, Monica Karo, said that the Omnicom firm’s goal was to continue to build a consistent global presence. It’s off to a good start with one of the most-coveted new-business wins of 2012 — Unilever’s global communications planning — and the implementation of a new global-planning tool called Source.

Despite a leadership change in the U.S. and a slow new-business year for others, the firm continued the momentum it had been building for the past few years and ended 2012 with double-digit revenue growth in both the U.S. and abroad. Projected worldwide revenue growth reached 13%, and in the U.S. the firm saw an 11.6% boost. PHD‘s billings in the U.S. grew 13.6% between May and November, just a couple of months after a flurry of leadership changes. The firm won Sleep Number, Swatch Group and the FDA’s Smoking Cessation bid in the U.S., as well as global accounts such asSony Ericsson and the Unilever planning business.

For existing clients, the firm placed an emphasis on creativity beyond traditional paid media. For example, for client PaperMate the team launched a campaign called “The World’s Most Stolen Pen/Office Crime Watch” to gain share from competitors. The firm supplemented a traditional media effort with paid search and a “Catch a Coworker” Facebook App. The integration led to the sale of 17 million pens in one quarter, January net sales that were 12% above forecast and market share growth from 30% to 36%. — Alexandra Bruell

10. Conill

Saatchi & Saatchi‘s U.S. Hispanic agency did more of the same in 2012 — boosted revenue by 20% for the third-consecutive year, focused on innovative use of media, and did more bilingual and English-language work. That included the first bilingual Tide detergent commercial for Procter & Gamble, adding 1.8 points to Tide’s value share among Hispanics. And for P&G’s Pampers, Conill organized a “belly concert” in which pregnant women were invited to a classical-music concert in Miami, with special headphones for their babies. The music featured Latin rhythms, addressing the concern of Hispanic moms that their children grow up attuned to their Latin heritage.

The increasingly nontraditional agency added new roles, including emerging media insights manager and brand content architect. The biggest staff change: Conill’s prized chief creative Pablo Buffagni left after a decade to go to leading independent Grupo Gallegos, and Conill hired Ross Ludwig in August as the new ECD. — Laurel Wentz

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