The dawning of a new age

The boundaries in DM are blurring and the best agencies are those that can demonstrate an ability to deliver diversity with a positive return, says David Reed

What is direct marketing? Is it about data-driven customer relationships? Does it involve promotionally led, targeted prospecting? Can any one discipline hope to combine the two?

For agencies, those questions are usually decided by the client. But at some point, it becomes useful to try to categorise agencies, if only to assist clients in drawing up a shortlist. This is where an agency’s reputation is as powerful as its own claims in determining which camp it will be assigned to.

What is becoming obvious is that marketing campaigns increasingly draw on multiple disciplines, using both DM and sales promotion techniques. This blurring of boundaries is particularly evident in this year’s Marketing Week DM Agency Reputations Survey – conducted in association with the Direct Marketing Association.

For the first time, 11 of the top 20 agencies also featured in the promotional marketing survey (MW September 25). The concept of the classic DM agency – one that specialises in direct mail and direct response advertising – is being eroded by the demand for integrated, brand-literate, multichannel activity that builds sales and databases at the same time.

For Proximity London, this year’s top spot is especially significant. It has been the top rated agency in three of the past four years, with one year in second place. This is despite the fact that it has rebranded itself, changed its proposition and seen the departure of two of its founders, Simon Hall and Chris Barraclough, this year.

“From our point of view, this sustainability is extremely exciting,” says Proximity London head of business development Fiona Greggains. “We have been developing what we offer to embrace the best in DM, data, sales promotions and online. They have really come together this year.”

Motoring ahead

This integrated approach is perhaps most visible in the work the agency has done this year for Volkswagen. “We have been lucky enough to launch some new models in a fully DM-led way,” says Greggains.

Where before car manufacturers have tended to invest heavily in television advertising, with some DM support, VW has promoted the Beetle Cabriolet, for instance, through DM and live events. Work on the Touareg and Touran has followed a similar model.

Top 20 agencies across all criteria

Rank 2003 Rank 2004 Agency Mean average score 1 2 Proximity London 40.59 2 3 Triangle Group 40.17 3 – The Reef 38.51 4 1 OgilvyOne Worldwide London 38.46 5 15 ARC Marketing 38.38 6 9 Tequila London 37.50 7 – Draft Wordlwide 36.65 8 7 Carlson Marketing Group 36.25 9 – Skybridge 35.61 10 6/13 EHS Brann 34.97 11 5 Joshua 34.85 12 12 Black Cat 34.58 13 – BD Ntwk 34.56 14 11 TBWA/GGT Direct 34.20 15 – Liquid Communications 33.33 16 8 KLP Euro RSCG 32.04 17 17 McCann Relationship Marketing 31.73 18 – Chemistry 31.42 19 – TDA 30.42 20 18 WWAV Rapp Collins London 30.40

DM Reputations Survey

(1) Formerly Marketing Drive

(2) Formerly IMP Group

(3) Formerly Purchasepoint

(4) Formerly Brann Worldwide and EHS Realtime

(5) Formerly Biggart Donald Group

(6) Formerly Interactive Agency

Proximity has had a strong year, attracting new business despite the flat nature of the DM market overall. As well as Royal Mail and Shell wins, the agency was part of the Omnicom consortium that was awarded the TV Licensing contract (MW August 21).

The Triangle Group must also be feeling a sense of satisfaction. Placed second in this year’s survey, it was similarly rated in the promotional marketing table. It has been in the top five for the past four years – a strong performance for an agency founded as a pure sales promotion shop in 1976 and which had several false starts in DM.

“We got involved in DM as early as 1987, but it didn’t work out,” says Triangle Group chairman Kevin Twitty. Despite the explosion of DM during the early Nineties, it was not until later in the decade that the agency had another attempt.

Learning from mistakes

“We invested in people and set up an internal unit, but it still didn’t happen. We were only doing tactical activity and short-term campaigns,” admits Twitty. The group changed tack and focused on developing retail, face-to-face and live event capabilities to become more diversified.

Top 10 agencies for creativity

Rank 2003 Rank 2002 Agency Mean average score 1 6 Carlson Marketing Group 41.43 2 3 Traingle Group 41.33 3 – ABC Marketing 41.18 4 2 Proximity London 39.33 5 – BD Ntwk 39.22 6 – Draft Worldwide 38.64 7 – The Reef 37.84 8 – Skybridge 37.21 9 – McCann Relationship Marketing 36.92 10 9 Tequila London 36.73

DM Reputations Survey

Top 10 agencies for strategic planning ability

Rank 2003 Rank 2002 Agency Mean average 1 3 Triangle Group 42.67 2 2 Proximity London 40.45 3 8 EHS Brann 38.10 4 – ARC Marketing 37.65 5 – The Reef 36.49 6 – Draft Worldwide 36.36 7 – Liquid Communications 36.36 8 – Skybridge 36.05 9 10 Carlson Marketing Group 35.71 10 – Black Cat 35.56

DM Reputations Survey

Top 10 agencies for account handling

Rank 2003 Rank 2002 Agency Mean average score 1 – Skybridge 40.70 2 3 Triangle Group 40.00 3 2 Proximity London 39.33 4 – ARC Marketing 38.82 5 1 OgilvyOne Worldwide London 38.46 6 – The Reef 37.84 7 – TBWA/GGT Direct 36.78 8 8 Tequila London 36.74 9 5 Joshua 36.47 =10 – Draft Worldwide 36.36 =10 – Liquid Communications 36.36

DM Reputations Survey

Top 10 agencies for quality of senior management

Rank 2003 Rank 2002 Agency Mean average score 1 1 Proximity London 42.70 2 4 Triangle Group 41.33 3 – The Reef 40.54 4 2 OgilvyOne Worldwide London 40.38 5 – ARC Marketing 40.00 6 – BD Ntwk 39.22 7 7 Tequila London 36.73 8 – TBWA/GGT Direct 35.63 9 – Draft Worldwide 34.09 10 – Skybridge 33.72

DM Reputations Survey

Things changed when blue-chip packaged goods brands started to get interested in digital routes to market. Triangle set up a standalone digital agency, Percepta, but has now become its main client, driving 60 per cent of its business with digital, one-to-one activities for brands such as Cadbury and Trebor.

“At the moment, we are working on Dove Silk, promoting its beauty products. We have had a phenomenal response – tens of thousands of consumers who want a one-to-one dialogue. We can now offer that to brands at a fraction of the cost of direct mail,” says Twitty.

Through internet and SMS activity based on strong promotional offers for big brands, the agency has ended up ahead of the curve. While it also does traditional DM activity, such as direct mailings for Lloyds TSB, 90 per cent of its DM is digital. “That’s the trend,” says Twitty.

It is a trend which Draft Worldwide has also seized on. The agency undertook a major restructuring at the start of the year, moving its base from Oxford to London, changing senior management and taking on a new proposition.

“I was very clear about the agency I wanted,” says Draft Worldwide managing director Sez Maxted. “I believed the agency had to be holistic in DM and digital. We’re now totally integrated.”

The agency is planning-led, with a newly appointed planning director, and considers the most appropriate direct route to market. Maxted says: “The benefit to digital clients is that we’re more strategic than digital agencies. For direct clients, we challenge them to use the optimum channel.”

New business has followed, with the agency picking up COI Communications, Telewest Business, MTV, Electrolux and Saab Global. “We have had terrific growth,” says Maxted. Indeed, Draft is one of the few agencies to have been hiring this year, and has even taken on four graduates as part of a highly developed training programme.

This morphing of the nature of DM may account for the volatility in this year’s top 20. Seven agencies did not appear in last year’s survey, while many of the best-known and longest-established names are on the slide.

Translated into new business terms, this suggests that there is no longer a standard list of requirements when looking for a DM agency. Instead, agencies are being recognised for specific strengths with little concern about disciplinary definitions.

This is especially evident in the ratings given for specific abilities. In each of the eight categories, more than half of the agencies in the top ten are new entrants. Being good is what counts, not just being there.

For relative newcomers, this is especially gratifying. Liquid Communications was founded just four years ago, specialising in sales promotions and DM, with a strong digital slant. Yet it has taken 15th place, ahead of very well-known operations.

The agency operates a unique and radically different model from its rivals. “We are predominantly outsourced. We have account handlers, but we outsource all creative work and have no creative director,” says Liquid managing partner Andy Annett.

This means that creative skills are matched to the specific needs of the client, with no prejudice towards particular disciplines and also “no egos”. Despite this, “we are known as a very creative agency,” claims Annett.

Working with freelancers and small studios allows Liquid to ensure that clients get the “best of breed”. Referrals have been central to the agency’s growth, which has seen it pick up work for Lever Fabergé, News International and Heinz this year.

“We tend to build partnerships with other ad and design agencies. We work very well with them and we’re often recommended by other agencies because we’re not competing – we’re complementary,” he says.

With only 18 staff, there is still plenty of room for growth. Annett says: “We have plenty of room for expansion. We can get 50 per cent bigger, at least, with no risk of losing all the positive things about being small and flexible.”

Chemistry is another new entrant in the top 20, making its mark following a rebranding from the Interactive Agency, while regional star TDA is at last getting the recognition it deserves. Three-year-old McCann Relationship Marketing (MRM) has also consolidated its place in the top 20 this year.

Making its own way

Despite carrying such a well-known first name, MRM has not been able to count on gaining network and pan-European business via its parent company, picking up work on its own account instead.

“We have focused on the quality of our product. We have been getting the strength of our delivery right, getting profitable growth from clients that want campaigns which are integrated with their brand and rolled out in an interactive environment. We are in that brand response arena,” says managing director Tim Hipperson.

The agency has built a reputation for direct response TV (DRTV) work through campaigns for clients such as the Teacher Training Agency, and has picked up awards for work on MSN and Barclays Capital. “We produce a balance of creatively driven advertising and campaigns that achieve a good response,” he says.

If there is a thread linking the best agencies in this year’s survey, it is the ability to deliver a positive return on investment. DM agencies have always made great play of their accountability, especially compared with their advertising counterparts.

This used to be limited to driving response in specific channels. But things have changed, especially with the emergence of digital as a serious option. Nowadays, what counts is making campaigns pay. And any agency that can do that, regardless of its background, will go directly to the top of the reputations table.

Top 10 agencies for expertise in multiple disciplines

Rank 2003 Rank 2002 Agency Mean average score 1 2 Triangle Group 42.67 2 3 Proximity London 41.57 3 8 Tequila London 40.82 4 1 OgilvyOne Worldwide London 38.46 5 – ARC Marketing 37.65 6 5 EHS Brann 36.90 7 – The Reef 36.49 8 – Draft Worldwide 36.36 9 – Black Cat 35.56 10 – Chemistry 35.14

DM Reputations Survey

Top 10 agencies for relevant sector experience

Rank 2003 Rank 2002 Agency Mean average score 1 8 Tequila London 42.86 2 – The Reef 40.54 3 1 Proximity London 40.45 4 3 Triangle Group 38.67 5 – Draft Worldwide 38.64 6 – Chemistry 37.84 7 5 Carlson Marketing Group 37.14 8 2 OgilvyOne Worldwide London 36.54 9 – Skybridge 36.05 10 7 EHS Brann 35.71

DM Reputations Survey

Top 10 agencies for full service

Rank 2003 Rank 2002 Agency Mean average score 1 1 OgilvyOne Worldwide London 40.38 2 – ARC Marketing 40.00 3 3 Proximity London 39.33 4 7 Carlson Marketing Group 38.57 5 2 Triangle Group 37.33 6 – Tequila London 36.73 7 – The Reef 36.49 8 4 Joshua 36.49 9 – Draft Worldwide 36.47 10 – Black Cat 36.36 34.44

DM Reputations Survey

Top 10 agencies for evaluation techniques

Rank 2003 Rank 2002 Agency Mean average score 1 2 OgilvyOne Worldwide London 42.31 2 – The Reef 41.89 3 1 Proximity London 41.57 4 3 Triangle Group 37.33 5 – ARC Marketing 36.47 6 – Draft Worldwide 36.36 7 – Liquid Communications 36.36 8 9 Carlson Marketing Group 35.71 9 – TBWA/GGT Direct 35.63 10 – Skybridge 34.88

DM Reputations Survey

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