No one can accuse Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners of not having guts. Last year, the Marin County, California, agency resigned a 12-year client in a sought-after category, automotive, after a procurement-driven review. Six months later, it landed Mitsubishi, and ended up the year with a big revenue rise.
It's this achievement, along with its expertise in data analytics, standout creative, strong culture and brand-building acumen, that has led Ad Age to name BSSP as its Small Agency of the Year for 2018. "We thought maybe we'd win best small agency in Saucalito," joked Patrick Kiss, co-president and founder of BSSP, accepting the award.
The awards ceremony honoring the winners was held July 18 in Marina del Rey, California, as part of Ad Age's Small Agency Conference & Awards program, now in its ninth year.
"It's not easy being a small agency today. Margins are thin, clients are demanding more for less, and accounts are hard to come by," said Ad Age Deputy Editor Judann Pollack. "BSSP demonstrated that despite those pressures, an agency can stay true to its values and culture and still succeed."
BSSP also stood out for creative that worked, including a push for Michael Angelo's frozen meals that featured a formidable grandmother -- Nona -- who won't rush perfection. The effort boosted sales of the product 10 percent. BSSP overhauled Blue Shield of California's identity with an effort called "Never Stop" that positioned the brand as being there for all members -- not just in sickness, but also in health. The campaign sparked a 500 percent jump in website traffic and 40 percent more leads.
Ad Age's small agency runner-up agency of the year is also based in California: Santa Monica's Mistress. After explosive revenue growth from 2016 to 2017, the agency last year scored 10 wins out of its last dozen competitive pitches—Qdoba, Sambazon, American Apparel, Campbell's Fresh, iFLY, ibotta, Betfair, Walmart, Spindrift, and FX's Trust.
Among its more notable efforts was a push for Qdoba trolling Chipotle by reposting social comments from consumers who preferred Qdoba's queso with the hashtag #theirwordsnotours. For Discover Los Angeles, Mistress created a human "billboard" spelling out the word "Welcome" visible from the air for international travelers coming to LAX. And it brought Tripadvisor's owl mascot to life, complete with his British accent and terry-cloth bathrobe.
BSSP and Mistress were chosen by Ad Age editors from hundreds of entries from around the country -- and around the world -- who compete with win Ad Age's Small Agency of the Year honors. This year, both International Small Agency of the Year winners hailed from Toronto, Canada: Bensimon Byrne (Gold) and No Fixed Address (Silver).
There were also 30 winners named in Agency of the Year categories based upon region and number of employees in both silver and gold categories. Two agencies also took home trophies in the culture category.
In addition, eight ad campaigns also triumphed in four categories, as selected by a jury of creative directors and senior executives at large, highly awarded ad agencies.
A full list of winners follows.
Small Agency of the Year, Gold:
Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners, Sausalito, California
Small Agency of the Year, Silver:
Mistress, San Francisco, California
Small Agency of the Year, 1-10 employees, Gold:
JohnXHannes, New York
Small Agency of the Year, 1-10 employees, Silver:
Funworks, San Francisco
Small Agency of the Year 11-75 employees, Gold:
Oberland, New York
Small Agency of the Year 11-75 employees, Silver:
Imprint Projects, New York
Small Agency of the Year, 75-150 employees, Gold:
Phenomenon, Los Angeles
Small Agency of the Year, 75-150 employees, Silver:
Brownstein Group, Philadelphia
Small Agency of the Year, Northeast Gold:
Chemistry, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Small Agency of the Year, Northeast, Silver:
Yard, New York
Small Agency of the Year, Northwest, Gold:
PB&, Seattle, Washington
Small Agency of the Year, Northwest, Silver:
Spawn Ideas, Anchorage, Alaska
Small Agency of the Year, Midwest, Gold:
Schafer Condon Carter, Chicago, Illinois
Small Agency of the Year, Midwest, Silver:
NEXT/NOW, Chicago, Illinois
Small Agency of the Year, West, Gold:
BarrettSF, San Francisco
Small Agency of the Year, West, Silver (tie):
Fortnight Collective, Boulder, Colorado and Eleven, San Francisco
Small Agency of the Year, Southwest, Gold:
McKee Wallwork, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Small Agency of the Year, Southwest, Silver:
Preacher, Austin, Texas
Small Agency of the Year, Southeast, Gold:
Adjective & Co., Jacksonville, Florida
Small Agency of the Year, Southeast, Silver:
The Variable, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
International Small Agency of the Year, Gold:
Bensimon Byrne, Toronto, Canada
International Small Agency of the Year, Silver:
No Fixed Address, Toronto, Canada
Small Agency of Year, Culture, Gold:
Ready Set Rocket, New York
Small Agency of the Year, Culture, Silver:
Spawn Ideas, Anchorage, Alaska
Small Agency Campaign of the Year, Pro Bono, Gold:
Canadian Centre for Child Protection, "Don't Get Sextorted, Send a Naked Mole Rat," No Fixed Address, Toronto, Canada
Small Agency Campaign of Year, Pro Bono, Silver:
Casey House, "Break Bread, Smash Stigma," Bensimon Byrne, Toronto, Canada
Small Agency Campaign of Year, Integrated, Gold:
Netflix, "Netflix is a Joke," Battery, Los Angeles
Small Agency Campaign of Year, Integrated, Silver:
Squarespace, "Make Your Next Move," JohnXHannes, New York
Campaign of Year, B-to-B, Gold:
Google, Google Cloud, Eleven, San Francisco
Campaign of Year, B-to-B, Silver:
Barba Men's Grooming Boutique: "Stands for Trans," Terri & Sandy, New York
Campaign of Year, Digital, Gold:
Roman Health Ventures, launch campaign, Circus Maximus, New York
Campaign of Year, Digital, Silver:
McAfee, "Hackable?" podcast, Response Marketiing, New Haven, Connecticut