B2b ad agencies faced a challenging 2008, as the economy started to slow in the early part of the year and plummeted in the fourth quarter. By the time the wreckage was tallied, total ad spending was down 2.6% from 2007, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus.
However, many b2b agencies succeeded in growing their businesses last year—some reported their most profitable year ever—by focusing on understanding their clients; developing relevant, compelling creative; and expanding into new areas such as green marketing and social media.
The winners in this year's Top Agencies Special Report agreed that in order to succeed in today's difficult environment, it takes optimism, boldness and creative thinking.
“If you are smart, you get lifted up by the recession, not pulled down by it,” said Rick Segal, CEO of HSR Business to Business, Cincinnati, winner of the midsize category. “It is an opportunity to grow and become more profitable in terms of building your business and bringing new ideas to clients, even if they're not asking
HSR achieved its best year on record in 2008, increasing revenue by 30% and racking up several significant wins, such as being named corporate advertising agency of record for Pitney Bowes. The agency also expanded its use of online video and social media, even for traditional b2b manufacturers such as John Deere & Co.
HSR developed an integrated campaign for John Deere called “The Ultimate Skid Steer Smackdown,” which used a creative combination of live events, a microsite, viral videos and social media to engage the construction audience and promote a new front-loader.
Other agency executives agreed that the recession can bring new opportunities for agencies and their clients.
“We live in a time of extraordinary change—change that will be amplified and accelerated by the recession, ushering in perhaps a new age of business transformation,” said John Favalo, managing partner-group B2B at Eric Mower & Associates, runner-up in the midsize category. “Business models, marketing and communications will transform, and successful agencies will be instrumental in helping clients through the dramatic changes.”
Eric Mower also had its best year on record last year, increasing its total agency revenue by 30% and winning major new clients such as GE Energy.
Favalo said one of the most important things an agency can do to succeed during these challenging times is deliver relevant, personal solutions to clients, based on their unique needs. “We make business-to-business person-to-person,” he said.
For example, the agency developed an online application called “Solutions Advisor” for Motorola's Enterprise Mobility unit. The tool serves up custom solutions for clients and prospects based on their information needs.
Some agencies are launching new practice areas to capitalize on growth trends, such as green marketing and social media.
Ogilvy North America, winner of the large agency category, formed a new practice called the Greenery, which is helping clients such as DuPont, IBM Corp. and Motorola Inc. with green marketing initiatives.
“So many of our clients are ready for green,” said Carla Hendra, CEO of Ogilvy North America. “So we designed a total offering around helping clients associate their brand with the mission of being better at environmental management and policy, as well as promoting green products.”
One of the projects that came out of the Greenery last year was a partnership between Ogilvy, DuPont and Discovery Channel to help the town of Greensburg, Kan., rebuild as a green community after it was devastated by a tornado in 2007. The rebuilding effort is being featured in a documentary-style TV show called “Greensburg,” produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, on Discovery's Planet Green cable network.
Ogilvy worked on an integrated campaign around DuPont's involvement in the rebuilding effort, including TV spots, events, a Web site and online videos that were used in an email campaign to DuPont customers.
“It requires a different kind of producer to think about all the places in which you might want to use content. This is the kind of convergence that is happening today,” Hendra said.
Agencies of all sizes say they are expanding their social media and video practices to keep up with client demand.
“Our work in social media is increasingly essential to the needs of our clients,” said Tom Stein, president-CEO of Stein Rogan+Partners, winner of the small agency category. “We see some very interesting vectors between search marketing, social media and more traditional media such as print, broadcast and online.”
For example, Stein Rogan created a social community of school district administrators for client SchoolWires, a provider of communications technology. Called “Share,” it enables users to share templates, forms, reviews and other user-generated content.
The social networking site was integrated into SchoolWires' overall branding campaign, “Come Together Around Success,” and was promoted through trade show marketing, email marketing, sales outreach and other tactics.
The following pages contain profiles of the leading agencies in each of four categories: large, midsize, small and interactive.
TOP B-to-B ADVERTISING AGENCIES
Runner-up - DDB
Honorable Mention - BBDO
Business to Business
Runner-Up - Eric Mower & Associates
Honorable Mention - Doremus
Rogan + Partners
Runner-up - Koroberi
Honorable Mention - Sullivan
Runner-up - Digitas
Honorable Mention - BusinessOnLine
What Recession? Top b2b agencies find opportunities to grow business, add services.