While 2020 was undoubtedly a difficult year, some agencies were still able to turn out excellent work for their clients, adapt to virtual pitching to win new business and support and manage their people through choppy waters.
Four agencies hit the heady heights of a nine (outstanding), no mean feat in a year when the world came to a standstill and economic and social norms vanished overnight. The 21 shops scoring eight (excellent) should also give themselves a massive pat on the back.
So without further ado, say hello to these high achievers and find out how they got there. Click on their names to read their full report cards, including wins and losses, billings information and thoughts from the “headmistress”, Campaign's UK editor Maisie McCabe.
Creative standouts included Ikea's prequel to The Tortoise and the Hare, Greenpeace's "Rang-tan" sequel and a love story inspired by onions from its biggest win, Samsung.
At the end of 2020, Mother was able to return the money it received from the government for furloughed staff after ending the year in profit. The turnaround was completed when the agency picked up Campaign's Independent Agency of the Year title.
Uncommon Creative Studio
Among other notable pieces of work the agency proved its mettle, relaunching ITV’s mental-health campaign, “Britain get talking”, which was particularly resonant during a period of great isolation.
In total, Uncommon added 15 pieces of new business.
Campaign’s Integrated Agency of the Year for 2020, the Victoria Street outfit continued its phenomenal new business record.
Eye-catching work included an atmospheric lockdown ad for Cadbury.
The Publicis media agency might be appear last in our School Report list but it’s leading the pack with its score.
While every agency wants each year to be better than the last, 2020 will be a tough act to follow after an excellent new-business performance, strong awards haul and an increase in revenue, despite the curse of Covid-19.
Amplify was all set to exceed its target of 20% growth, having got off to a flying start to the year, but then Covid hit and campaigns that relied on big physical gatherings were no longer viable.
This did, however, allow Amplify to focus on new areas of the business, such as its content and broadcast sides, as well as innovation and creative technology. That it made no redundancies speaks volumes about how it was able to adapt.
Brainlabs coped with the trials of 2020 particularly well. Its client list swelled by 50, while the agency has also acquired strong senior talent.
Over the past year, boss Daniel Gilbert has cherry-picked leaders such as global managing director Matt Adams from Havas Media Group, Mark Syal as global senior vice-president of product and technology, and former Zoopla digital marketer Anu Adegbola as chief marketer.
Investment from the private-equity arm of Lloyds Banking Group had the agency entering 2020 with plans to "accelerate" growth in the UK and internationally.
The agency adapted quickly to the demands of Covid-19. As it was founded on the principle of providing flexible working, Croud applied knowledge garnered from years of working remotely to all areas of the business. Then as digital began to take centre stage, Croud felt the benefits.
Droga5 London was well placed to see out the year successfully because its biggest client is Amazon. In 2020 the agency picked up additional projects from the tech giant, where business has boomed during the pandemic. In its second year under Accenture Interactive ownership, the agency enjoyed significant year-on-year revenue growth.
Creatively, 2020 was one of the agency's best years. Its brand of humour stood apart and provided some much-needed light relief.
Essence increased its overall billings in 2020, thanks in no small part to being a leading digital specialist media shop in a year when digital traffic and ecommerce surged even more strongly amid lockdown.
It was certainly to Essence's benefit that 30% of its business is not linked to media billings, but comes instead from consulting, experience, technology and analytics. It also won Campaign's Tech Agency of the Year in 2020.
A tough year for a sweet sixteenth, but Goodstuff still had reasons to smile. Like most teenagers, Goodstuff wears its independence on its sleeve: in response to the pandemic, it brought 17 indie media agencies together to launch a cross-agency marketing campaign, "The land of independents".
At the end of the year, the agency committed to a "Make Good" fund, equivalent to a third of its 2020 profit, to compensate as many staff pay cuts as possible and give employees a 3% bonus.
The pandemic-driven acceleration of consumer trends such as gaming and online shopping was a gift for Gravity Road. Under the wing of fast-growing technology group You & Mr Jones, it is flourishing as a hybrid creative and digital innovation agency.
The agency made no redundancies – in fact, it employed more staff – and was named Campaign's UK Digital Innovation Agency of 2020.
Vicki Maguire's first full year as Havas London's chief creative officer was marked not only by the pandemic, but also by a mini creative renaissance.
Over the past year, Havas London also has drawn in a slew of new accounts.
Initiative says 2020 was its "best year ever". The agency came out of the pandemic crisis virtually unscathed, having made only two redundancies and bringing all furloughed staff back to work.
Winning Deliveroo's £34m UK media planning and buying account in May was a major shot in the arm, having already bagged the non-UK business in September 2019. It ended 2020 with fourth spot in Campaign's media new-business rankings.
Lucky Generals’ name can sometimes be misleading – the agency’s success hasn’t been down just to luck. In 2020, when most businesses were tested, its staff’s graft came to the fore.
Particularly notable was how Lucky Generals helped its biggest client, the Co-op, respond to the Covid-19 crisis. For Amazon, where business was boosted by the pandemic, the agency produced some of its best work yet.
McCann UK’s top-spending client Aldi, home of Kevin the Carrot, was the highest-ranked supermarket on YouTube’s Christmas ads leaderboard.
The overall number-one spot was also scooped by McCann, with its (also animated) festive spot for Smyths Toys Superstores by McCann Manchester. The two ads helped knock John Lewis off the podium for the first time since 2016.
It helps to be a supertanker when navigating choppy waters and the UK's biggest media agency fared well despite the Covid-19 pandemic.
Chief executive Kate Rowlinson began her first full year at the helm by challenging the agency to become "whole-brained" (embracing science and art) in its approach, while being "famous for digital".
It was a year of challenges and one that Momentum calls the most game-changing of the agency's lifetime as it switched live event production to virtual events.
But it did so successfully and was named by Campaign as its Brand Experience Agency of the Year for 2020.
The agency picked up several new accounts and had no retained relationship losses.
MRM UK enabled working patterns that provided leeway for caring responsibilities, appointed a mental-health first-aider and made the Headspace app available to all employees. Its focus on wellbeing extended to creative for domestic violence charity No More Foundation in “#ListeningFromHome”.
MullenLowe had the Herculean task of creating the government’s Covid advertising. While the national response to the crisis has been questionable at times, the agency deserves major credit for understanding the appropriate tone at each point in the pandemic, translating sometimes confused government messaging and avoiding significant mistakes.
At the same time, it has worked on the perhaps even more challenging post-Brexit UK transition campaign.
As Oliver points out, “when the ‘house’ in in-housing became people’s own homes instead of clients’ offices”, the business confounded the sceptics and continued to prosper.
There is evidence of growing momentum as Oliver seeks greater visibility under the ownership of You & Mr Jones. Oliver won silver for UK Digital Network of the Year and gold in the EMEA category in Campaign’s Agency of the Year Awards 2020.
OMD Group UK
Manning Gottlieb OMD and OMD UK managed to increase billings and help produce standout work in a pandemic-hit year.
While OMD UK’s planned office move to Omnicom HQ was scuppered by the UK going into lockdown in the same week, the Covid-19 pandemic put MG OMD in the unique position of being a media agency that almost had too much to do in 2020, given the huge volumes of government marketing it carried out by its government media-buying division, OmniGov.
Pablo rose to second place in Campaign’s 2020 creative new-business rankings and doubled its creative department.
It also made bold moves organisationally, leaving its Shoreditch office in September.
PHD topped Campaign’s new-business league for 2020, largely as a result of a global Diageo win.
The agency delivered again on the work front: it was among the top performers at the Media Week Awards, winning three golds and was crowned Campaign’s Media Agency of the Year 2020.
We Are Social
The agency came into the year with great momentum that it managed to maintain, even making a significant number of staff hires.
In the agency’s biggest account win of the year, We Are Social was enlisted to handle social media marketing, influencer marketing and community management for supermarket chain Lidl.
Campaign’s Customer Engagement Agency of the Year for the second year running, Wunderman Thompson was recognised for its response to the coronavirus in how it treated clients and employees, as well as its creative output across 2020.