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AdAge’s 2023 Small Agency of the Year Awards are open for submissions. Great small agencies should apply!

AdAge’s 2023 Small Agency of the Year Awards are open for submissions. Great small agencies should apply!

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AdAge’s annual Small Agency of the Year Awards are now open for submissions for 2023!

This is the only awards program of its kind tailored to agencies of 150 or fewer employees. These awards, now in their 15th year, recognize the best in small agencies from overall agency of the year to agency of the year in regions and in areas like media, experiential and international. The awards include categories for different sized agencies and this year also includes new categories like PR Agency of the Year, Design Agency of the Year, Executive of the Year and Healthcare Campaign of the Year.

If you follow this blog you likely know that the team at Mercer Island Group is bullish on small agencies and on these awards.

Why should your agency apply, how did past winners win and how can you increase your odds of winning?

Why should small agencies apply?

This is easy: winning SAOTY it is great for business. Sandy Greenberg of Terri & Sandy told me:

“I’ve told AdAge editor Judann Pollack a million times that winning top honors at the AdAge Small Agency Awards led to more new business inquiries than anything else. Our phones rang for well over a year.”

We wrote at length about this here.

How did past winners win?

We interviewed a number of past winners last year and their smart commentary is here. A quick summary:

5 Strategies that can help your agency win Small Agency of the Year

During our discussions with past winners we learned of five key strategies that have helped many past winners win. These strategies are a blueprint for how an agency should approach the challenge of winning Small Agency of the Year:

1. Have a plan and a story to tell.

SAOTY winners are interesting shops that have a point of view and a distinctive, interesting story to tell. And they build a plan to tell that story effectively. What makes your agency special? How is that expressed? How are you planning to tell the world?

“Don’t be afraid to tell your true story. Ad Age wants to see how you faced a difficult situation like the loss of a big client – and how that may have propelled an agency forward. These stories show the agility of a small agency to move fast and take decisive action.”

– Toni Lee, Toni Lee PR, an independent PR consultant to agencies

2. Focus on your clients’ success.

Client successes and new client wins are the most visible sign that an agency has something special to offer. This success is the agency’s proof that they deserve attention and becomes a core part of the agency’s story. Help your clients succeed and you’ll have a good story to tell.

3. Get PR help.

Make it impossible for your agency to be ignored. There are a handful of PR pros that know this special editorial community. Partner with them, take their advice and enjoy the results that will follow.

4. Get on the radar of the selection committee.

These folks have tough jobs. Be warm, friendly, and helpful. Be planful and selective in your outreach, and always be responsive to their requests as they live on deadlines.

“It helps if your Small Agency submission isn’t the first time Ad Age is hearing from you. The PR your agency does throughout the year can play a significant role come judging time, as it’s worked consistently to keep you top of mind in a world of constant clutter and competition. Having your agency be a regular part of the industry conversation and having your work and wins raise eyebrows and gain coverage across various publications throughout the year only helps support your small agency awards submission and narrative. It all just sort of works together.”

– Alyssa Siegel, founder, AJ Media Communications, an independent PR consultant for agencies

5. Start early.

You can’t tackle the first four strategies without starting early. Want to win in 2024? Your agency should be start by applying now for 2023. Use these strategies.

More about the five key strategies that we learned can be found here.


Go here. The AdAge folks will take good care of you.

Our advice

If you run a small agency and you want to be the next FIG, OKRP, Translation or Chemistry – then you should apply. Put your best foot forward and show the world what you’ve got.

Steve Boehler, founder, and partner at Mercer Island Group has led consulting teams on behalf of clients as diverse as Ulta Beauty, Microsoft, UScellular, Nintendo, Kaiser Permanente, Holland America Line, Stop & Shop, Qualcomm, Brooks Running, and numerous others. He founded MIG after serving as a division president in a Fortune 100 when he was only 32. Earlier in his career, Steve Boehler cut his teeth with a decade in Brand Management at Procter & Gamble, leading brands like Tide, Pringles, and Jif.