With chief executive Melissa Robertson settled in after joining the agency in September 2020, the return of sport brought hopes of a promising year for this specialist, which is making its School Reports debut.

New-business wins, plus several existing project clients starting to spend again, increased the shop’s income by 37% to £4.1m. This took Dark Horses’ profit margin to 17% in 2021 – a marked improvement following the challenges of 2020 when it languished at 1%.

Dark Horses, which is co-owned by its C-suite and Lucky Generals, made progress on its ambition to bring more creativity and strategic rigour to the world of sport in 2021.

Campaigns came in different shapes and sizes. For TikTok, the shop created the platform “Where fans play”, which took moments from the Euro 2020 tournament and overlaid them with current TikTok content. Vanarama’s sponsorship of the National League was activated by placing a giant Hollywood-style Wrexham sign (in reference to the new owners of the town’s football club, actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney), on top of a slag heap overlooking the town (pictured), which had everyone questioning who was behind it.

Then, at the end of the year, Shelter’s #NoHomeKit, a movement that got more than 260 clubs at all levels of football to ditch their home shirts and wear their away kit for their Boxing Day fixtures, showed off Dark Horses’ creative thinking and garnered hundreds of pieces of coverage and an estimated 37.6m views.

So having made it through 2020 – a terrible year for anyone in sport– Dark Horses was able to grab 2021 by the reins and make it a winner both in terms of creative output and financial success. It should now throw its creativity behind improving its diversity figures, especially in the area of ethnicity.

From the headmistress: Bringing creativity to gym class.

2021 in the agency’s words

We were behind some of the most headline-grabbing 2021 work, creating the Wrexham “Hollywood” sign for Vanarama and #NoHomeKit for Shelter where clubs and fans swapped their home kit for their away one on Boxing Day. For the postponed Euro 2020 tournament, we created pan-European campaigns for two lead sponsors Tiktok and Just Eat We empowered the women’s game like never before for the FA Women’s Super League, and the workplace with our open-source menopause policy. We won the Lay’s Champions League global football business, shooting with Lionel Messi. And extended into health with Ineos Sport, Small Beer and Manual.