The remarkable distance PHD has travelled since its annus horribilis last year, when it lost several pieces of business including HSBC and O2, makes it more than worthy of being named Marketing's Media Agency of the Year 2005.
Its record of new business wins was consistent and started early in the year with the impressive £33m AA planning and buying account, followed swiftly by the consolidated Bayer-Roche business. Its triumph in the hotly contested pitch for the media planning business for BMW and Mini was proof that PHD was back on top form.
In total, the agency won £33m of new planning business and £80m of planning and buying business this year; its only loss was Transport for London' £15m account, which went to Mediaedge:cia.
PHD has placed itself at the vanguard of smart media thinking, shown by its creation of an in-house production company, PHD Screen. Rarely has so much hot air been generated about one topic - branded content - but Drum Screen, which broke new ground with Channel 4 co-production The Guardian Sport Show, revealed how branded content should be made. The hiring of Simon Wells from Enteraction TV as executive producer and the promotion of Drum's head of television, Mark Eaves, to managing director of PHD Screen shows promise.
The launch of an in-house online search company, PHD iQuest, and the creation of an in-house creative shop in Lunar, a joint venture with its sister Omnicom agency Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, also shows how PHD is leading communications thinking.
Just 12 months ago, such a strong performance by the agency seemed unthinkable.
Its founders had stepped back, with chief executive David Pattison building PHD's nascent global network and fulfilling the role of IPA president, and PHD president Jonathan Durden deciding to work just a few days a week, leaving a new, largely unproven management team freshly installed.
However, PHD confounded its critics and its faith in executive planning director (and Durden's heir apparent) Mark Holden and executive strategy director Louise Jones, under managing director Morag Blazey and chairman Tess Alps, has paid dividends. PHD's management team has modernised the agency without compromising its core values with a positioning based on the production of pioneering work.
PHD introduced qualitative research into the media planning process.
It discarded the traditional, unscientific way in which media was planned and put in place a system that incorporates business auditing tools with MRI research data into the way media works on different parts of the brain.
Evidence of how this approach translated into effective media and communication strategies for its clients' businesses is legion and covers PHD's range of advertisers.
At one end of the scale, using its Drum Screen resource, PHD created a celebrity documentary for the RSPCA following a typical day in the life of an RSPCA inspector to garner support for the Animal Welfare Bill. The documentary was shown to MPs, members of the Lords and journalists, then distributed to 500,000 consumers via a polybagged insert in the national press.
As well as generating national press, TV and radio coverage, including celebrities appearing on TV chat shows to discuss their involvement, the documentary stimulated 8000 text messages of support from the public.
This 1.6% response rate , at an equivalent cost of 26p a response, was the highest and most efficient of any RSPCA campaign.
PHD took a bold approach to the challenge of making BT's text service, which enables the sending of messages to and from a BT landline, attractive to a young, image-savvy audience: it removed all BT branding from the communications and rebranded the service Hometext. PHD then tied up with Kiss FM for a promotion using spoof celebrity texts, introduced by a Kiss FM presenter, that made it appear as if the service was endorsed by the station rather than being a BT product. The strategy paid off: the base level of usage trebled to 1.3m texts.
Achieving strength in depth is a challenge for any agency but PHD has obvious talents throughout its business. Its founders and management deserve praise for having faith in their decisions, which have led to PHD's reinvention as a 21st-century communications agency and a true industry leader.
PREVIOUS WINNERS 2004: MediaCom 2003: MindShare 2002: Naked
BEST OF THE REST
Putting aside this year's management upheaval and uncertainty over its future ownership, it has been an extraordinarily good year for Carat.
Against all odds it has obtained some of the biggest and most prized media accounts, ensuring that the agency was a close contender for Marketing's Media Agency of the Year accolade.
The departure of managing director Colin Mills at the beginning of the year had been widely expected, though the subsequent speculation over whether Carat's head of media, Mark Jarvis, would also exit threatened to disrupt the agency mid-COI TV buying pitch.
Jarvis eventually left in June and it is to the credit of Nigel Sharrocks, chief executive of Aegis Media Europe, and Neil Jones, Mills' replacement, that they steadied the ship and won the £77m COI business from Starcom.
Following that victory, Carat's domestic new business record was outstanding.
Highlights included the £9m Saga business, £12.5m from Esure and the return of Abbey's £35m account after a two-year sojourn at MindShare. Its only losses were Specsavers and Jacob's Bakery.
Carat's work also continues to impress, particularly in the area of data planning. The agency won a Marketing Research Award for its work on behalf of Buena Vista Home Entertainment, which quantified how each element of the marketing mix contributed to sales. The diversity of the Carat offering and its investment in digital and direct augur well for the future - once its ownership is settled.
Being market leader for a lengthy period is never an easy task, but ZenithOptimedia put in a strong performance in 2005 and shed its reputation as little more than a media buying factory. Shaking off the loss of Carlsberg, it was victorious in the global L'Oreal pitch, worth £96m in the UK, ensuring that the agency will be propelled up the billings table next year. It also had success on a local level, winning the £20m consolidated Associated British Foods account.
Evidence that ZenithOptimedia has evolved beyond its buying heritage is plentiful. Campbell's decision to move its £11m media planning business out of Naked Communications and back into ZenithOptimedia and the agency's success in retaining the Lloyds TSB communications planning account against Naked shows how far it has come in managing to see off a direct threat.
The decision to launch an in-house creative strategy division, OPEN, a catalyst to ensure the creative process is at the heart of ZenithOptimedia's planning process, will ensure few other clients look outside for communication planning, and adds an interesting new angle to the agency's rallying call of 'return on investment'.
This year Mediaedge:cia (MEC) emerged from a period of purdah following its 2001 acquisition by WPP. The agency has undergone a dramatic reinvention and emerged as a competitive media communications agency with a distinct positioning.
MEC is now more than just about traditional media planning and buying: more than half its staff work in the digital, interactive and online disciplines.
It is also capable of converting new business opportunities. Its victory in the Ferrero pitch at the end of last year was worth savouring and its success continued, most noticeably in winning the £12m Transport for London business after a pitch against PHD, MediaCom, Starcom and Carat.
Two years ago such a performance was unthinkable. It is testament to managing director Tom George and his management team that the agency has discarded its reputation as the sick man of WPP and emerged as one of the few UK agencies that can claim to be a pioneer in media thinking.
It might be surprising to see Vizeum achieve an honourable mention, but the Aegis-owned second-string network has resolved its management issues and achieved a positioning, based on connections, that distinguishes it from its competitors.
This year saw Vizeum forced to repitch for many of its accounts and it showed it was more than capable of fighting the bigger networks. The loss of music giant BMG after its acquisition by Sony was a blow, but the agency successfully fended off the plethora of agencies that pitched for the BMW Mini buying account and won the Eurostar and centralised RWE pitches.
The hiring of Grant Millar from BT as joint managing director is a good move. A seasoned media practitioner, he brings with him the experience of working for a top advertiser and gives the agency additional differentiation in a year that showed that being the biggest agency does not automatically mean being the best.
This article was first published on Marketing