Ad Age has been honoring the best agencies of the year since 1974, and every year there's a lively and heated internal debate over which shops should make the list and in what order they should be ranked.
Usually it's a fun undertaking.
Judging this year's list took on a new and unwelcome tenor as allegations of inappropriate behavior and sexual harassment were raised about key players in the advertising industry. It made us think and rethink this batch of A-Listers, an honor typically based on financial performance, new business acquisition, future-thinking strategy, excellent creative work and, to a lesser extent, agency culture.
There are two shops on this list that have recently dismissed people after internal investigations. Our Agency of the Year, Wieden & Kennedy, fired its London strategy chief in January. Droga5 dropped Chief Creative Officer Ted Royer days later. The latter agency presents a particularly vexing problem for this A-List, as Royer had been an integral part of its culture for more than a decade. To make matters muddier, Droga5 fired a top London creative this month without explanation. An executive at a third agency on our list has been the subject of rampant online speculation about unproven behavior while employed at previous agencies.
So why did these agencies make the list? After much soul-searching and not a few arguments, the six Ad Age judges decided that it was better to encourage shops to eliminate bad actors rather than penalize those that already have. We realize this decision might be controversial. But the agencies on this list are doing outstanding creative work and delivering results for clients—and they're doing so through the collective efforts of hundreds of employees, not just a few rotten apples.
Let's be clear, though: Ad Age is dedicated to telling the whole story. There are truly great agencies and there are truly destructive individuals. There has been complicity in silence. There have been false flags too, dead-end leads and ex-employees with axes to grind. Sometimes all of these elements inhabit the same space. The story is still unfolding in a number of ways and we will continue to tell it.
This is a crossroads moment for the industry, but that doesn't mean we can't celebrate the wins, the work and the good people—including, especially in this A-List package, the game-changing women.
An important note on the photo spread of female executive leaders: We were remiss in not noting earlier the lack of diversity in our photo shoot. We asked each of the top 10 agencies to send one senior-level woman to represent them in the shoot and while we in no way want to take away the remarkable achievements of those we profiled, we found ourselves confronted with the very problem permeating the industry as a whole. We should have noted this as part of our continuing efforts to examine the ways the industry can and should change to become more diverse.