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More than a year after the dot-com quake rocked the advertising and marketing communications industry, the aftershocks are still being felt. Hardest hit were b-to-b agencies that banked on a high percentage of dot-com business; but virtually every agency is now working for clients with extremely tight marketing budgets.

Still, several of the best agencies—including those BtoB has chosen as this year’s top shops—have been able to survive and thrive in this unstable landscape.

Some of these agencies were well-prepared for disaster: They kept business steady through a combination of strong reputations, solid business models and a diverse client portfolio that didn’t rely too heavily on Internet start-ups. Others shops demonstrated an ability to adapt quickly to market forces, reinventing themselves by learning the latest technologies, such as Web-based customer relationship management.

These successful agencies share another characteristic—they’ve moved to provide clear and measurable return on investment data to their clients. For example, a number have begun changing how they charge for services, evolving from a traditionally static, cost-based fee structure to one that is dynamic and performance-based.

Indeed, each of the 15 agencies we’ve selected this year saw the economic downturn as an opportunity to grab market share.

Gary Slack, managing partner of Chicago-based Slack Barshinger & Partners Inc., said that in the current business climate agencies "can either hunker down, ride it out and come out weaker, or they can take the plunge and try to capitalize on the current marketplace and come out with greater share."

Slack Barshinger is one of five agencies BtoB has singled out as the best, along with another 10 shops that proved their prowess and survival skills. The five agencies we profile were selected because they’ve enjoyed the most impressive—and sometimes most surprising—success and growth in the past year. To keep our list of top five honorees fresh, we elected not to profile any agencies we profiled in last year’s report.

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