Key Takeaways From The 2019 Ad Age Small Agency Awards

This was my 6th consecutive year attending the Ad Age Small Agency Awards, and it is consistently one of my favorite conferences. Year after year, I enjoy celebrating those agencies that take a risk, build a team, and create phenomenal work. Additionally, the curated perspective and insights I walk away with make the conference an even more valuable investment. Here are my key takeaways and the list of winners from the 2019 Ad Age Small Agency Awards.

Key Takeaways:

1. Making it to the stage requires years of hard work.

This year’s conference award recipients were honest about the work involved in building a small agency. Not a single speaker, panelist, or awarded principal made their journey sound easy. It’s a big risk venturing out, being “small”, and remaining independent. Brands likely aren’t beating down your door, there are challenges in retaining top talent, and, ultimately, you’re responsible for closing the clients that will move you forward. But the Small Agency Awards is a reminder of the incredible success stories! When strategic planning, passion, and perseverance collide, great things happen.

2. Congregating is essential.

The Small Agency Awards especially showcased the importance of congregating. It’s about finding inspiration and leadership insights. It’s invaluable to spend time connecting with other agency principals that are wearing the same shoes as you. Additionally, the Ad Age team develops relevant content and programming to facilitate growth, learning conversations, and insight that will bring a new dynamic to your agency.

3. Winning the right client is everything.  

What I always recognize during the award ceremony is that agencies don’t win awards on their own; it takes the right kind of client to “win.” That doesn’t mean you have to be awarded, but winning is a successful engagement with the client. You can’t innovate with a conservative client. It’s hard to get the exposure you want when a client that wants to do it the way it’s always been done. Ambitious agencies require ambitious clients in order to facilitate effective work, to challenge your team, and to maintain a healthy client/agency relationship.

The Winners:

The winners of this year’s awards have proven their adaptability in an environment where the only constant is change.  These agencies are small, but their results are huge. Here is the complete list of the 2019 Ad Age Small Agency Award winners.

Small Agency of the Year

Gold winner: JohnXHannes
Silver winner: DCX Growth Accelerator

Company Size

1-10 Employees
Gold winner: Opinionated
Silver winner: Interesting Development 

11-75 Employees
Gold winner: TDA
Silver winner: Noble People and Badger & Winters 

76-150 Employees
Gold winner: Via
Silver winner: The Escape Pod


Gold winner: B-Reel 
Silver winner: Swellshark

Gold winner: Borders Perrin Norrander 
Silver winner: Copacino & Fujikado

Gold winner: Highdive
Silver winner: Mono

Gold winner: Erich & Kallman
Silver winner: Siltanen & Partners

Gold winner: Preacher
Silver winner: Bandolier Media

Gold winner: Creative Energy Group
Silver winner: Peter Mayer Advertising

International Agency of the Year
Gold winner: We Are Pi

Experiential Agency of the Year

Gold winner: Imprint Projects 
Silver winner: IW

Best Agency Culture

Gold winner: Imprint Projects
Silver winner: Orci

Campaign of the Year

Gold winner: Association of Graphic Designers, “Speak the Truth”
Silver winner: Admirable Devil, “The Operation: A Data Lifecycle Story”

Gold winner: We Believers, “Burger King Traffic Jam” 
Silver winner: No Fixed Address, “The Public Toast” 

Gold winner: JohnXHannes, “Corazon” 
Silver winner: Walrus, “Feats of Middle Age”

Pro Bono
Gold winner: Bensimon Byrne, “The Healing House” 
Silver winner: DCX Growth Accelerator, “March for our Lives, Bulletproof Schools”

Gold winner: DCX Growth Accelerator, “Palessi”
Silver winner: Zulu Alpha Kilo, “The Away Game” 


If you’re a small agency owner or executive, cheers to you. When it’s hard, remember why you started. Build your network, and even if you can’t attend conferences, find a network of agency principals with whom you can grow. And make the investment in your agency’s success. Don’t hope the client that will put you on the podium will just walk right into your office. Proactively commit to the strategy and resources that will expose your talent to the brands you set out to work with.

Be your best, invest where it matters, and the work will follow.   

Eric Brown

Eric is the Vice President of Catapult. As an expert in agency new business, Eric consults marketing services companies with a focus on optimizing new business strategy and execution. He is responsible for gaining an understanding of each organization’s core capabilities and unique culture to craft compelling positioning and go-to-market strategy in order to impact incremental growth.