Agency of the Year? - Just abolish it!

Tuesday, June 09

Agency of the Year? - Just abolish it!


The Agency of the Year presentation, due to be held at PIAF, was cancelled at the last minute. This prompted a lot of hand-wringing, and was one of the reasons cited by Martin Štěpánek as a reason for Lion Group (Publicis) to withdraw from AKA.

Unfortunately to the outside world it makes the agency sector look very immature - again - and the attacks on Michal Charvat, the executive director of AKA, look to me like nothing less than bullying. He has only been in the job a year and the Agency of the Year has been a problem virtually since its inception in the mid 90's.

The real problem is this. I can find no major country in the world where the agency association is responsible for an Agency of the Year competition. They certainly exist, but they are run by the trade magazines: AdAge in the USA and Campaign in the UK, for example.

There is a very good reason for this. Such a competition has to consider so many criteria that it is almost impossible to make it objective. There will be arguments about what the criteria should be, and the relative weight of those criteria, even before the issue of which agencies should be nominated is considered - let alone, which agency should win! Inevitably a large number of people will be disappointed and upset. For an agency association this is a problem because the disappointed and upset people are their members. For journalists however it is wonderful, because discussion and argument is exactly what they seek to create from their output.

However, for the competition to remain credible, the journalists themselves must be credible. They present their awards as their own opinions, but those opinions must still show evidence of some detailed understanding of the industry and of what makes a "good" agency. It requires a certain amount of courage, because the journalists must face the CEOs of the agencies on a regular basis for the rest of the year.

I can't remember exactly when Agency of the Year was launched here - I think around 1996 - but I do remember that my heart sank when I saw how it was to be done. Strategie magazine launched it, and claimed that it would be chosen using "objective measures". The Strategie journalists simply did not have the self-confidence to say "In our opinion, agency X is agency of the year, and here are our reasons".

This approach persists to this day, even after AKA took it over. I cannot think of a client who has ever mentioned it in their considerations during a tender, and unfortunately the results have shed little light on the actual performance of the agencies who have been declared winners. MARK/BBDO celebrated winning the award in May 2011, and within three years, it was not an agency at all. Ladislav Bača, Group CEO of Ogilvy, "fulfilled his dream" when he accepted the award this time last year. Four months later, he was the ex-Group CEO.

This  should surely be the signal to AKA to step away from the competition completely. Take a look at how it is done in the UK or the US, and invite the media to take on responsibility. I wonder which of our several specialist media outlets has the courage to take it on....

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