The 'magic' of agencies

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Advertising agencies—the top-notch ones, anyway—are fascinating businesses brimming with creative people. As our annual Top Agencies special report in this issue makes clear, b-to-b specialists these days can and do rise to the occasion, more than matching their b-to-c brethren along the lines of creativity, wit and design aplomb. The "adman" persona was forever fixed in my young mind by the 1960s sitcom "Bewitched."

In nearly every episode, a flustered Darrin Stephens, typically aided by his quick-thinking, witch wife Samantha, would explain away a bit of supernatural mischief as a demonstration of some new advertising campaign or slogan. Because this was a sitcom and not real life, the clients never balked at these unlikely explanations and, moreover, always loved the pitches. The series ended without Darrin being fired from McMann and Tate and without Samantha being burned at the stake.

While creativity still rules at ad agencies, the evolution of the industry is obvious. Tracking to the goals and mandates of their clients, today's agencies must offer more than "big ideas"; they require a portfolio of technical and quantitative skills unimagined by their predecessors in the 1960s.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the growing importance of Internet skills. "We've gone from a landscape where two years ago, 90% of our work was offline, to today, where traditional makes up about 50% of our work," Matt Ross, president of McCann Worldgroup in San Francisco told Senior Reporter Kate Maddox. (McCann Worldgroup, based in New York, won the large agency category this year.)

Another big agency, Ogilvy, the runner-up in the large agency category, expanded its digital services last year, launching [email protected], a digital and direct media planning and buying agency. At the same time, once "boutique" interactive agencies are expanding their offerings into areas like brand architecture and strategic consulting.

The agencies are growing internationally, too. Modem Media, the interactive agency winner, expanded its presence in Europe and the Middle East; Slack Barshinger, runner-up in the midsize category, joined the International Network of Business Agencies; and Mobium Creative Group, winner of the small agency category, saw a 20% increase in international clients and a 60% increase in global campaigns.

The health of the industry is apparent from two other data points in our report. First, overall ad spending hit $149.60 billion last year, a 4.1% increase from 2005, according to TNS Media Intelligence. Second, thanks to an overwhelming response from agencies, this year we expanded our list of Top Agencies to 100 shops. That list begins on page 40.

Ellis Booker is editor of BtoB and BtoB's Media Business and can be reached at [email protected].

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