This is not the A-List editor’s letter I had planned on writing—but then none of us are living the 2020 we had planned on. So here we go!
I’m not going to bury the lede: This will be my last issue as editor of Ad Age. After three wonderful, challenging, intense and exhilarating years, I’m sad to say I’m parting ways with this iconic institution. Working with this newsroom in both good times and scary has been an honor. The journalists—reporters, editors, designers, producers—on this staff are best-in-class.
In my time here, we completely relaunched the brand, brought the tone and scope of our coverage into the 21st century, introduced three new podcasts (“Ad Lib,” “Marketer’s Brief” and “Ad Block”) and new video series (“Remotely,” and our video editor’s letter on LinkedIn Live). Our events went narrower and deeper, especially our “Ad Age House,” “Inside Pages” and “Next” series. We’ve won awards: five prestigious Neal awards for b-to-b journalism in three years, to be precise, including “Best Website,” which we picked up just last Friday, a bittersweet victory on my last day. I can’t wait to see where the team takes Ad Age next.
These are strange times (if I hear the words “unprecedented” or “amid” once more, I might snap), but strange times can bear marvelous fruit. It’s not the worst moment to pause, reflect, reach inward and reboot. We’re all in this mess together: Several of our A-List agencies were forced to lay off or furlough top talent in the days leading up to the publication of this issue.
Still. Given the state of the world, the arrival of our annual Ad Age A-List issue arguably couldn’t be better timed. Every day feels like a year, bringing with it a drumbeat of bad news. As one of my colleagues recently tweeted: “Things are going to be weird for a very, very long time.” One A-List CEO texted me late last week: “Shit. Is. Real.”
So it’s a special privilege to be able to provide a crack of light in this dark moment.
This issue is a celebration of the best our industry proffered in 2019. Cannes may be canceled and the Clios pushed back until next year. (Ad Age’s own awards gala was to have been last week, but it’s also on hold.) Still, we can salute the good work and talented folks who make this industry so special, so creative. In these pages you’ll find the people, brands and agencies who inspired and moved us last year—and they are the people, brands and agencies who will lead the industry forward through this plague. Even if some of their jobs have since fallen victim to COVID-19.
For the third consecutive year, Wieden+Kennedy tops the list for its category-defining creative for Nike, for cultivating Ford as a client, for winning McDonald’s while maintaining KFC. For the work.
It boils down to a simple ethos: “Rules get broken,” as Colleen DeCourcy, co-president and global chief creative officer, tells I-Hsien Sherwood in his piece about our first-ever A-List three-peat.
Since this year is also a nice big round number, it provides us with the additional opportunity to anoint the Agency of the Decade, in this case another rule-breaker. “We’re a safe place for dangerous things,” David Droga tells Ann-Christine Diaz about Droga5, which has had one hell of a run—culminating in its sale to Accenture, news that broke during last year’s A-List photo shoot.
If ever we needed a time for some positive narratives, it’s now. Even as we’re told daily of cutbacks and furloughs, delayed payments and canceled events, the A-List package is here to provide a reminder of how awesome the people in this business can be.
Over the last three years I met a lot of industry leaders, and have gotten to know some of them well. There are some charlatans and hucksters among you, for sure. There are also some thrilling and compassionate thinkers.
Make no mistake, though. There will be no “returning” to life as it was, as Jason DeLand, co-founding partner of Anomaly, told me recently. “This is an opportunity to bounce forward.”
It’s time not only to break rules; we as a collective whole have a unique opportunity to totally rewrite them.