Ad Age: Agencies to Watch in 2013

January 28, 2013

Ad Age’s Agencies to Watch in 2013: From midsize media players to a Hollywood talent shop, here are the agencies we’re going to be paying close attention to for the remainder of the year. This list of shops contains firms that have some promising momentum in early 2013, and if they play their cards right, they just might leap onto the standouts list or A-List in the future.

1. Rokkan

In the summer of 2000, Chung Ng was just an aspiring ad man, working as a lowly intern at the now defunct interactive agency Proxicom. Twelve years later, he has sold his own digital agency, Rokkan, to Publicis Groupe. Those Proxicom days are in hindsight a key factor in Mr. Ng’s current success. It was there that he met designer John Noe, and the two decided to team up with Charles Bae to launch a company of their own. Now, that entrepreneurial spirit has led to an eight-figure exit for the trio of agency co-founders. If the past year was any indication, we don’t expect the growth to slow. From 2011 to 2012, the company increased revenue by 51.2%, from $8.1 million to $12.25 million. With the backing of Publicis, Rokkan plans to increase the scale of its work for the 12 clients it brought onboard last year and expand its footprint. – John McDermott

2. CAA

Most people think of Creative Artists Agency solely as a Hollywood talent agency that represents the likes of Tom Cruise and George Clooney. And while that’s what it’s long been known for, its marketing function, CAA Marketing, has rightfully garnered more attention in adland. Its breakout effort was the two-minute spot it created for Chipotle in 2011, part of the chain’s “Cultivate a better world” marketing platform. After the spot got considerable traffic on the web in late 2011, Chipotle ran a TV ad during the 2012 Grammys, which propelled the ad even further into one of the most popular commercials of the year. Other clients include Coca-Cola, Diageo’s Jeremiah Weed whiskey, Southwest Airlines; new clients include QVC. Overall CAA marketing brought in 40% year-over-year revenue growth, proving that CAA should not be thought of as just talent agency anymore. –Maureen Morrison

3. Spark

All eyes are on Publicis Groupe’s Spark after Starcom MediaVest Group CEO Laura Desmond stated her ambitions to grow the network’s third and smallest media shop to be among the top five media entities in three years. In February, SMG shifted a number of clients from its larger shops to Spark, as well as Starcom’s Chris Boothe, who assumed the role of CEO. The shop used the SMG muscle well, proving that it can compete with the big media players. Later in the year it won some sizable chunks of business, including Orbitz and NorthWestern Mutual, as well as the hip eyewear brand Warby Parker. It also proved it has digital expertise, which already accounts for the majority of the firm’s billings. The combination of the SMG effort and the firm’s new wins contributed to an 85% boost in revenue in 2012. So now that the reinvigorated shop has wings, its momentum in 2013 will be up to Mr. Boothe and a newly energized staff. – Alexandra Bruell

4. Dieste

One of the U.S. Hispanic market’s great leaders, Tony Dieste, returned in February 2012 as chairman of the Dallas agency he started in 1995 and left in 2007 due to a family illness. He set about rebuilding Dieste into an agency with a much broader skill set than just Hispanic work, one that has content, data, digital, social and mobile platform development at its core. It has required some aggressive moves. In September, he fired a dozen people and hired new staffers with sharper digital skills and formed an alliance with Argentine creative Guillermo Tragant and his small Buenos Aires shop Furia to collaborate on work for Dieste clients. In 2012, Dieste won eight accounts, led Procter & Gamble’s largest customer-relationship program targeting Hispanics and increased transactions for online money-transfer service Xoom by 46%. One big loss: Aldo Quevedo, Dieste’s longtime chief creative officer left at the end of 2012 to join Richards Lerma. Dieste’s new philosophy is Provoke Action, promoted through Provoke Daily and Provoke Weekly newsletters and website content. – Laurel Wentz

5. Targetcast

In 2002, Steve Farella only had one pair of shoes and a makeshift office in a cafe in the basement of Grand Central Station. He asked industry friends affected by the recession to help him start a media-agency venture and vowed that he wouldn’t buy a new pair until winning business. After wearing shoes with holes for two years, he and co-founder Audrey Siegel’s fortunes began to turn. They started to add accounts and grow the agency. Suffice it to say, a decade later, Mr. Farella has a closet full of shiny new shoes. The partners celebrated the decade with a 17% boost in revenue and a master plan to globalize and continue the firm’s momentum. As part of the plan, it sold to MDC Partners and committed to running a bigger, more scalable group of agencies under a new network called Maxxcom. – Alexandra Bruell

6. Silver & Partners

In 2012, Amalgamated was rebranded to reflect its majority owner and top creative Eric Silver’s stamp on the company. And a lot of positive changes have ensued. Just two years ago, nearly 100% of the agency’s business was limited to traditional offline media: TV, print and a smattering of promotional and collateral materials. Today, about half of the shop’s revenue comes from digital or social projects. Revenue rose 26% in 2012, after a 30% increase in revenue in 2011 thanks to organic growth and new business. And it lost no accounts. The work is getting smarter too. Honest Tea, owned by Coca-Cola, entrusted the shop and Silver & Partners decided to reboot the brand with a clever social experiment. It fanned out into cities and set up unmanned kiosks where consumers could pay $1 for a bottle of Honest Tea — using an honor system. The results were published to show which cities were the most honest, in a fitting demonstration of the brand’s values. Consumer engagement shot through the roof, with more than 290MM PR impressions. – Rupal Parekh

 

7. JWT

JWT’s progress went stagnant after the departure a few years ago of Rosemarie Ryan and Ty Montague. The question was how to build the right team of leaders, and the answer did not come immediately to the WPP shop. After fits and starts it has now assembled a promising team of players to drive creativity in North America — including Mike Geiger, Jeff Benjamin and Ryan Kutscher — and they are just beginning to gel and exhibit signs of having a positive impact on the work. The “Yes Virgina, the Musical” push in schools last year was based on an animated television special that Macy’s sponsored on CBS. With very little paid media, JWT created a downloadable toolkit with scripts and other free materials to help students put on the play in their communities. More than 1,200 schools have downloaded the kit and grants have been awarded to schools in 35 states. The agency’s work for Band-Aid was incredibly inventive, turning the strip into a media-property whereby kids could see a dancing or singing muppet just by pointing a phone at their boo-boo. It won a Cannes Gold Lion in the new mobile category. – Rupal Parekh

8. Havas Worldwide

In its former life as EuroRSCG, the past few years were marked with a bleeding of big accounts such as Jaguar, Heineken and Exxon. The hemorrhaging stopped, and in early 2012, the agency quietly began to show signs of life again. It made more than 125 new hires since January, and 78% of them had digital experience. When the network rebranded as Havas Worldwide, it left behind some of the old-world associations with the shop, and helped usher in a more integrated model that can attract new sorts of accounts. Live Nation Entertainment tapped Havas Worldwide New York to be a marketing consultant, without a review. In the fall, it was named creative agency of record for a new joint venture between DreamWorks Animation and Technicolor dubbed M-Go, beating out Droga5. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Lee Garfinkel, co-chairman at Havas Worldwide New York, spearheaded a feel-good “Atlantic City is Open for Business” campaign to attract tourism dollars back to the city. It’s refocused on overhauling its top ranks, and recruited Matt Weiss as global chief marketing officer, and early this year, Andrew Benett as its global president. Aggressive and demanding, Mr. Benett was responsible for a major turnaround at Arnold Worldwide to bring the agency back to health and make it highly competitive on the new-business circuit. We anticipate he’ll have a similar impact overseeing Havas Worldwide. – Rupal Parekh

9. MDC Partners’ Vitro

For the quirky 20-year-old creative agency in San Diego, 2012 provided the base for a strong performance in the coming year. It opened a New York outpost and accounts have exploded, including wins such as Redbox Instant by Verizon, digital strategy and content marketing for Budweiser, strategic work for Landrover and Jaguar, and the launch of a new rum from Diageo. There are more unusual and challenging pushes Vitro has undertaken too, such as advertising for “designer whey,” a protein powder. One big client that got a boost thanks to Vitro last year was Asics. With “Colors that Run” a fun retail activation featured at more than 250 Foot Locker stores across the country, Vitro used epoxy molding to mimic of spilling and splashing paint. It made for a lively and eye-catching brand campaign for Asics, which led to sales increases of 30% in store, 70% increases at Lady Footlocker and 50% increases at Champs. – Rupal Parekh

10. SapientNitro

SapientNitro, the largest digital agency in the U.S., got bigger in 2012, adding a whopping 65 new clients with a pitch success rate of more than 70% and acquiring two firms — Iota and Second Story. The agency’s arguably biggest get was not a new brand or another firm, however, it was a single person: Miami Heat forward LeBron James. (Although it could be argued Mr. James is a brand in and of himself.) Landing the reigning NBA MVP was a testament to the agency’s versatility and continued ambitions. Those attributes were further illustrated in the agency’s work helping launch the Fiat 500 Abarth. Labeling the car the “bad boy” of the Fiat line helped the car exceed sales expectations by 380%. Dealer orders were greater than the car’s entire 2012 production run. The agency also helped the WWE build upon its bad-boy image when wrestling league relaunched its website. Still, SapientNitro stood up for the little guy in 2012, too. The agency’s Earphone Bully campaign empowered Australian schoolchildren to prevent bullying. – John McDermott

-Advertising Age, January 28, 2013