We also had to deal with the hundreds of photocopied ballots that had "Della Femina" written across the top in a spidery scrawl that one staffer thought she recognized as the handwriting of a certain Long Island restaurateur. A voting form mailed from England also lacked punchholes, but its message, inked in black marker, was clear enough: "You're all a bunch of wankers with your heads up your arse. Love, Trevor B." Memorably, we received one ballot that seemed to have been used as toilet paper. We're not casting aspersions here, but the sender's zipcode happened to be the same as Adweek's.
In short, we had an editorial crisis on our freshly washed hands. Our Agency of the Year election was now suddenly a test of the sacred principle that Every Vote Counts, whereas the prize had been uncontested and uncontroversial in previous years (except for that December '96 cover on which our then-art director outfitted honorees Cliff Freeman & Partners with faux erections).
When we vowed to "get to the bottom" of things, we had no idea how quickly that phrase would acquire new meaning. We had to wonder, for instance, if there had been voter irregularities in Miami, the hometown of would-be winner Crispin Porter + Bogusky. An agency spokeswoman denied the rumors emphatically, but the next day, an old Camaro that once belonged to chairman Chuck Porter was found on the bottom of Biscayne Bay, an empty ballot box locked in the trunk. When word of this leaked out, Seamus Smegman of Goldtooth Partners, Santa Fe, an upstart boutique that ran neck-and-neck with CP+B in our tally, accused Porter and his people of trying to steal the election. Smegman lived up to his bad-boy reputation by promising the Miami agency's staff "free circumcisions by yours truly" if Crispin wouldn't concede.
In the end, after three all-night recounts, CP+B and Goldtooth still had the exact same number of votes, and lawyers were chartering planes to Miami and Santa Fe. At that point we decided to end the controversy by calling a tie - which is how we ended up with a two-for-one deal: Both Goldtooth and CP+B are our Agency of the Year, and both are profiled in this issue (see page 34 and beyond).
Perhaps neither shop can lay a completely legitimate claim to the title. Observers have pointed out that voters who wanted to punch a hole after the Crispin name might have inadvertently selected Goldtooth instead, due to the aforementioned design flaw. And Goldtooth is, of course, very much a dark-horse candidate, and hardly the household name that CP+B has become in recent years - so the Santa Fe shop seems unlikely to have garnered so much support.
Then again, Smegman's pioneering efforts in the field of Rejection Marketing have rapidly cemented his reputation as a genius. It's not for nothing that Jerry Della Femina called Smegman "a Jerry Della Femina for the twenty-first century."