AdNews Agency Of The Year Awards 2023: What did the judges really think?

Ashley Regan
By Ashley Regan | 21 November 2023
Chris Willingham, Kirsten Hasler, Joel Moran, Haylee Felton, Ed Stening, Leah Jackson.

AdNews Agency Of The Year Award judges were collectively impressed with this year’s entries.

But true innovation was at a premium, according to R.M.Williams CMO Chris Willingham.

“The ideas that shone through as winners delivered jaw-droppingly ingenious solutions, the kind that cut through all the noise and deeply impact their target audience,” Willingham said.

“There were three specific stand out themes amongst the entries that really caught the eye of the judges. One: the savvy use of data to drive successful campaigns, providing firm foundations for the idea and delivering exceptional relevance, engagement and measurability.

“Two: long, deep ‘platform ideas’ that have the potential to build over time, versus ‘firework ideas’ that light up the sky for a moment but then fade into the ether, quickly forgotten.

“Three: ideas that not only delivered against brand and media metrics but also had the kind of profound commercial effect that clients truly value.”

The AdNews Agency Of The Year Awards are judged by client-side leaders, senior marketers and CMOs from categories including FMCG, finance, retail, automotive, travel and sport. 

Ed Stening, general manager spirits at Lion, said the entries were an "absolute joy" to read through. 

“Some ideas were clearly looking for a home, especially brand partnerships where the brand didn’t fit the partnership nor idea, though the judges seemed to whittle those out quickly. Generally though - epic work from the industry this year,” Stening said.

For agencies working on upcoming submissions Stening said: “Please, for the love of God, realise we read tens, if not hundreds of submissions, so follow the template, use bold and bullet points, keep it short and remove waffle.

“And finally, if you don’t have the results, just don’t enter.

“Too many amazing pieces of work submitted without the proper results. By proper results I mean not just eyeballs and search results, commercial results please. 

“For AdNews, this was 40% of the score, so many great campaigns never made it through on this alone, which is just heartbreaking as the teams would have worked their butts off to get it out the door. 

“So marketers, please help your agencies with the results they need to make YOU famous!”

Kirsten Hasler, head of marketing at IKEA AU&NZ, said the work submitted this year showed that agencies and brands aren’t shying away from tackling important societal issues such as climate change or discrimination. 

“The work that stood out managed to gain a cut through by using innovative creative or unique channel usage, securing maximum ROMI,” Hasler said.

“Agencies also demonstrated a strong focus on not only profitability and client retention, but also great ways to keep their agency staff engaged and invested, ultimately resulting in better outcomes for their clients.”

Mark Jensen, general manager operations at Western Sydney Wanderers FC, said the entries that stood out clearly connected a simple idea to an audience to create a meaningful outcome for the client. 

“However it wasn't just the idea that was essential, the data and insights used to earn business, drive an ROI, and create that impact were what set the field apart,” Jensen said. 

“To cut-through in this chaotic advertising landscape we're now in, you need to be at the intersection of creative and data for meaningful brand efficacy. On a budget this is even more important, as niche audience appeal can create the greatest impact.”

Joel Moran, marketing director at Afterpay, said when it comes to D&I initiatives, it's all about breaking away from the ordinary and steering clear of the 'business as usual' laundry list. 

“Exceptional agencies didn't just check the boxes; they had a vibe, a real culture that seamlessly seeped into their client interactions, people policies, and business moves. We were most impressed by those who not only stated what they stood for but boldly declared what they were not doing.

“We saw some cool new tech implementations when judging [some categories] but the real standouts weren't just tech-savvy; they were strategy masters with impressive results to back it up.

“Some dabbled in advanced tech like AI, but the outcomes didn't quite match the buzz. The real heroes were the brands with heart – they executed social responsibility programs brilliantly and made it look effortless, giving their brand a natural boost.

“Amidst the glitz and glam, what set agencies apart was the power of simplicity, blended with killer strategies, execution that oozed impact, and results that spoke for themselves. While many agencies boasted of client loyalty, some of those claims raised eyebrows. 

“A handful dared to venture into the honest territory of acknowledging lost clients, learning from those experiences, and truly owning their growth. Now, that's the stuff of winners!”

Haylee Felton, general manager of brand and marketing at RAC, said there was a distinct rise in ‘fit for platform’ ideas and thinking, as we would expect. 

“However, the work really stood out when these platform specific ideas were then adapted in distinctive and original ways to utilise a multi-channel approach to market,” Felton said.

“It sparked a lot of conversation amongst the judges around platforms and channels working in isolation or finding a way to complement one another across the audience / customer journey for greater impact.

“It was clear as an industry, there has been a huge amount of progress in putting people first, and it is a potent strategy for business success, however it is evident there is still a long way to go. 

“It is really encouraging to see initiatives like the ACA Create Space census and Shift 20 in the market, and I encourage agency employers of all sizes to ensure ongoing focus on its people – both growing capability and making progress in diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Leah Jackson, head of digital marketing – AU Portfolio (retail and food service) at Goodman Fielder, said it’s evident that the media landscape has become increasingly fragmented, with industry buzzwords taking on diverse meanings - making it challenging for campaigns to fit neatly into an award category box.

“The interpretation of using data, or specific media channels was vast and varied; however what was also clear is that a well-defined consumer insight, brought to life with beautiful simplicity and utilising smart data, made winners clear and easy stand outs,” Jackson said.

“What was also clear is that agencies that have defined and developed a clear EVP and are investing in their people, aren’t facing the talent battle with high retention and staff sentiment stats. 

“However, I was surprised that even with the documented gaps in the talent market, over-55 stats were very (very) low, and most agencies don’t have a RAP in place or in development despite the focus this year on Indigenous affairs.” 

Karl Winther​, CMO at, said there were three factors that defined winning entries. 

“The stand out cases were a big idea that created new media, made their message more extremely distinctive in the market, and can endure with new phases while still being executed with relatively smaller budgets than their competitors," Winther said.

"Other top cases were all-encompassing type of sponsorships that aligned perfectly with the brand objectives, target audience. And thought of every way they could leverage the sponsorship and did so exceptionally well.

"And the some other great examples ambushed a cultural events to their advantage and leveraged those events with a smaller budget than its competitors to have a larger voice that they could otherwise afford and therefore impact.”

The finalists are HERE and the winners will be announced at a long lunch ceremony on February 22, 2024. The lunch will be catered by Merivale and staged at the Noble Dining Room, SCG. Purchase your tickets here before they sell out.

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