Agencies to Watch for Ad Age's Next A-List

Which of These Shop's Will Grab Honors Next Year?

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In a single calendar year, Gotham went from an oft-forgotten New York agency to a fierce competitor on the new business circuit. Under the charge of Chairman-CEO Peter McGuinness, the shop underwent an aggressive restructuring to expand digital capabilities and overhaul staff. More than 60% of talent at Gotham today is new, from places like Crispin and BBDO. Those moves provided the firepower necessary to land a slew of significant wins in 2009 like Hitachi, Time Warner Cable, Hennessy, Remington and Goody.

Sapient Interactive made headlines in June when it acquired ad network Nitro for $50 million, reversing a trend of traditional shops buying digital ones. Since then, SapientNitro was named to Unilever's global digital roster and tapped as lead agency for Target's coming e-commerce platform. It expanded duties for clients such as Coca-Cola and Mars, picking up global ad work for the latter's Dove chocolate. Nitro's big-campaign thinking helped it sweep '09 awards shows with its "Best Job in the World" blitz for Queensland Tourism.

Just one year ago, Fallon looked like it might be the next storied agency name to vanish off the map. Since former Saatchi exec Chris Foster came in as CEO, the agency has slowly inched back from the precipice. It showed still-potent creative chops with campaigns for Travelers Insurance and TheLadders. It also won a slew of new business in 2009, such as Boston Market, Alpo, Cruzan Rum, Charter Communications and Chrysler -- all signs of stability and momentum at an agency that long didn't have either.

BBH, New York has fared better than some other imports that have tried to make a go of it in the Big Apple, but didn't quite hit its stride until recently. In 2009, the agency landed its first car account, Cadillac, executed campaigns for Google's Chrome browser and rebranded the tarnished GMAC Bank as Ally. Our prediction: In the next decade, the office, which serves as the U.S. hub for London-based Bartle Bogle Hegarty, will be one of the micro-network's strongest offerings.

With more companies than ever searching for ways to reestablish their relevance, Redscout, which is own by MDC Partners, is undergoing a major growth spurt. The shop expanded by double digits in 2009. Staff grew by 15% and revenue jumped 28%, with a varied list of marketers -- Domino's, Del Monte, Hewlett-Packard, Kate Spade and Hyatt -- all turning to the firm for strategic advice and help with product innovation. Longtime clients Diageo and PepsiCo also gave it more work. With that kind of client list, Redscout is likely to become a hotbed for talent in 2010 and beyond.

If there's a single agency that embodies the nascent creative renaissance currently afoot in Minneapolis, it's independent Olson. The shop boasts 11 consecutive years of double-digit growth. Its reputation may have been built doing project work for marketers such as Target and General Mills, but recent wins show Olson is progressing into a shop trusted with agency-of-record responsibilities. If it can thrive to the same extent in that new role, expect to read about Olson landing even bigger fish next year.

With arguably more buying clout than any other media group in the U.S., WPP's Group M is looking to establish Maxus, the smallest of its shops, as a major player in the U.S. Maxus' 2009 jumped 20% over 2008 and global billings are now north of $3 billion. Its list of 2009 wins reads like that of a big media shop: UPS, Fiat, American Natural Gas Alliance and Panera. But for Group M to establish another media shop in an already crowded marketplace it's going to have to bring in more big-name clients and significantly invest in talent.

The fifth-biggest U.S. Hispanic agency, independent Lopez Negrete Communications, increased revenue 9% in 2009, thanks to new-business wins including Dr Pepper Snapple Group and Kraft Foods' Singles brand, plus new assignments from loyal clients such as Walmart and Bank of America. Standout integrated campaigns included Kraft Singles' "Don't Be Fooled" outing of rival brands for being made of oil and water, and Dr Pepper's outreach to hard-to-target Hispanic teens with a music video and traveling club.

A year after Interpublic bought a majority stake in digital agency Huge, the e-commerce expert and maker of sleek, easy-to-navigate websites for JetBlue and Ikea emerged as a go-to partner for marketers building complicated web portals. In late 2009, Huge was tapped to handle visual design on Target's new e-commerce site. With a track record in content management and site redesigns for publishers like iVillage, CNN and Reuters, we're betting Interpublic will see its Huge investment pay off as brands increasingly trade flashy microsites for long-lasting web presences.

10. GREY
WPP's Grey got results for U.S. clients, even in the poor economy. E-Trade last year had more accounts open than ever, advertising for Cover Girl helped it become America's biggest cosmetics brand, and even in the sagging casual dining sector, Grey helped Olive Garden restaurants achieve its 57th consecutive quarter of growth. It's New York headquarters won 17 out of 18 pitches in 2009 -- including more work from spirits giant Diageo -- and it lost zero clients. For Grey, things might not be looking so gray anymore.

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