Fast Forward: Choosing Our Winners

From massive holding companies to short-lived hackathons, MEDIA magazine salutes the men and women shaping the industry’s future

The good news is that my strategy for getting the best media services organizations to be more open about what sets them apart is working. The bad news is that it’s working. That may not necessarily be bad news for the readers of MEDIA magazine, but it is for its editors, because it’s making selecting agencies of the year harder. I don’t have any hard metrics to back that up, but I can tell, that after more than 30 years of covering this business, I have never seen more innovation — and perhaps equally importantly, more innovative ways of talking about it — than I’ve seen coming from media services organizations these past 12 months. 

Be careful what you wish for, right? Or to quote an old ad slogan — by some accounts the first significant one — when it rains it pours. So our editorial team spent more time poring through case studies, presentations, press coverage, and in a lot of the cases reflected here, some pretty impressive direct pitches. The result is that I am as proud as I have ever been about the people and organizations we recognize in this issue, but also candidly quite frustrated. I’m frustrated, because we couldn’t recognize everyone, but I suppose that’s why we have things like Agency of the Year Awards, to make tough calls about who’s on top. I also suppose it’s why we have editor’s forewords like this, so we can talk about some of the others that easily could have won.

In the end, I will confess that this process is highly subjective, and what separates the winners from the almost winners was often a small margin of difference in the way they played their story, or at least, in the way we heard it. But first let me remind you about our criteria. These awards are not based on business wins or billings growth, per se, but on the ability of each organization to demonstrate — by showing, not simply telling — how they delivered three very specific things: Strategic vision, innovation and industry leadership. In recent years, we’ve added a fourth, criteria, which is collaboration, or the ability to get others in the industry, especially competitors, to work with them to make positive changes happen. Collaboration doesn’t always have to happen in the spirit of openness, the way MPG’s Collaborative Alliance or MDC Partners’ Media Kitchen have operated. Sometimes, it comes from the position of leverage, and the ability to influence others to work with them for a common good, the way WPP’s operations have.

And while I am disappointed that we were not able to recognize every organization delivering on those four criteria, I want to congratulate all of the organizations we looked at for adapting to rapid, Industrial Revolution–level change. Lastly, I want to single out this year’s Agency of the Year, Carat for its first-ever win, besting some especially strong competition, particularly from OMD. You know, for years, a former Carat chief would give me a lot of grief for picking the same organization over and over again for being the best for several years running. Well, Carat has caught up, and surpassed that organization in our estimation, and I’m sure its current management wouldn’t mind winning for several more years to come. That’s just the way we do things at MEDIA. We’re not picking these awards based on winning friends, or losing them. They are based purely and simply on who we believe did the best job of moving the industry forward each year. Congratulations to all this year’s winners. 

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