Fast Forward: Courage, Discipline and Foresight

This year’s winning agencies have a few things in common

One of the interesting things about writing these introductions to MEDIA magazine’s annual Agency of the Year editions is that they always coincide with the end of a calendar year, and so, like many other people this time of year, I’m not just reviewing what our winners have done these past 12 months, but what’s been taking place in the world around us. Needless to say, I believe everything around us is accelerating — in large part — because of the acceleration of media options and ways of experiencing them. The most ironic part for me, is that I get to cover an industry that is both simultaneously contributing to, and reacting to those changes. The agencies, entities and people we recognize in this issue are some of the best examples of both of those things, and for me, nothing has galvanized that thought more than Matt Seiler’s proclamation to automate half of Interpublic’s media-buying within the next two years.

I have no idea whether he’ll achieve that, or even how you’d actually measure it, but the important part is the idea of it. And as the Interpublic Mediabrands chief notes in a profile that follows, you don’t get big changes “without making a dramatic ask.” And in a way, you can say all of the subjects of this year’s — or for that matter any year’s — Agency of the Year Awards, are really people or entities or simply made dramatic asks. They asked dramatic things of their organizations, of the industry around them, and even of themselves to do something — to make media work better.

That logic fits completely with the criteria we’ve always used as the basis of these awards: strategic vision, innovation and industry leadership. What more could we ask for?

Needless to say, there are all sorts of ways of getting there. Some organizations do it openly and transparently — even collaboratively with other industry players, sometimes even their own competitors. Sometimes, as has been the case at Carat, it means doing something extremely proprietary — building or striking deals to gain access to unique insights about the way people use media — that give you a competitive advantage. Sometimes, as was the case for this year’s industry supplier of the year, Acxiom, it meant creating an infrastructure — an operating system, if you will — enabling others to build better ways of analyzing their own or others data so that it can be applied in ways that give them competitive advantages.

Sometimes, as executives of the year — Initiative’s Jim Elms and Peter Mears — it means giving the people in your organization the freedom to have the courage to do things better, smarter, faster.

The truth is, few if any of the ideas reflected in this year’s winners — even those of the past — are truly new or original. What sets them apart is that they had the courage to ask, the discipline to do, and the foresight to share them with others. 


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