Picking the best from a field of agencies that just keep getting better

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graphic_size: SMALL When it comes to picking an Agency of the Year, the editors of Business Marketing look for those candidates that practice what we preach.

We look for agencies dedicated to business-to-business, not just as a tactic but as an operating philosophy. We watch for truly outstanding creative work. We like to see how agencies are integrating their various marketing media. We insist on some commitment to the interactive arena. Finally-and perhaps foremost-we look for enthusiasm and energy.

An agency can't do outstanding work if it's not fully committed to the work it's doing. It must be passionate about its projects-and its people. While financial growth is good to see, a top-line agency has to be able to look further than the bottom line.

Greco Ethridge Group, this year's Agency of the Year, possesses those qualities and more.

Set up 10 years ago by two b-to-b agency veterans, Tucker Greco and Rob Ethridge, Greco Ethridge was designed to fill a gap the two men perceived in b-to-b. Messrs. Greco and Ethridge had spent their careers in business-to-business and thought the area had been sadly neglected by mainstream agencies. They saw the need for a smaller, more nimble agency that could meet the demands of high-tech marketers dealing with rapid change.

Judging from the agency's response to interactive marketing, it appears they succeeded. Consider: In 1997, new media accounted for 10% of Greco Ethridge Group's business; by the end of 1998, that figure had jumped to 50%.

Indeed, through its management, Greco Ethridge may represent the cutting-edge business-to-business agency of today. Messrs. Greco and Ethridge have set up an agency that apparently crosses not only the barriers of marketing methods, but also those of ego.

For example, when the two executives saw the growth in new media, they immediately started hiring from the under-30 age group. While other managers might have wanted to start handing out orders, Messrs. Greco and Ethridge figured that knowledge flows both ways. In other words, they share their knowledge of traditional marketing with their younger employees, who in turn teach Messrs. Greco and Ethridge what they know about new media and the Web.

Their goal, after all, is to create the best integrated marketing communications agency they can. As Mr. Ethridge says, "When we say that we empowered our young employees to go get the job done, it was definitely not in a vacuum."

Plus, they treat interactive as just another medium, running it through the same marketing and creative filter they use for traditional marketing. Says Mr. Greco, "What the client needed was an integrated resource that was not media dependent."

Of course, this isn't to say that Greco Ethridge cornered the market on all these qualities. We considered a lot of agencies to come up with this year's Agency of the Year, about three times more than last year. And the quality of entries was up at every level.

The creativity offered by the applicants was exceptional this year, and a lot more agencies demonstrated a strong commitment to the rapidly expanding area of interactive marketing. Plus, given the amount of growth cited by this year's applicants, business is booming in the b-to-b arena.

Still, in this field of highly qualified b-to-b agencies, Greco Ethridge stood out. For one thing, its creative work was strong, in print and on the Web. The agency's commitment to business-to-business was equally impressive.

Plus, its growth in 1998 was phenomenal. It gained 10 new clients last year, and it more than tripled its capitalized billings. At the same time, the New York-based agency more than doubled its staff to 25 employees and opened an office in Boston.

And how did Greco Ethridge demonstrate its energy and enthusiasm? Amid a sea of boards and boxes, its entry was a printed invitation to Business Marketing to view its submission online. The site wasn't the glitziest we'd ever seen, but it got the job done while demonstrating Greco Ethridge's agility in quickly setting up a site designed for a specific purpose.

It further pushed its point-and its offbeat humor-home in its selection of a URL: We were invited to view the Greco Ethridge Group's submission at

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