Ad Exec: Creative awards tables — a misguided measure of success?
by Tom Fels (@thomasfels) From the heady heights of the Cannes Lions, Loeries, D&AD, Effies, One Show, Clios, Assegais and Bookmarks to the Smarties, the African Cristal Festival and a whole host more, our awards-show list is becoming endless and it’s calling into question the insular desire for agencies to compete for trinkets to prove their worth.
Awards themselves are not the problem but rather the effect that the creeping desperation to win is having upon the priorities that agencies hold most dear. All too often, focus is shifting toward creative self-gratification and away from where it should be — creating meaningful and effective work for clients.
It’s only natural for local agencies to want to test their work on the world stage, and South Africa has an impressive legacy at many of the major international award shows. However, the proliferation of shows has eroded the meaning behind many of the accolades.
Considering the expense of entering shows, it also creates an uneven playing field where the biggest agencies will always have many times more entries than small- to mid-sized businesses. Aptitude aside, this cost alone is a form of self-selection that sees the largest agencies dominate time after time.
An outcome, not an intention
In an industry where creativity is pivotal and peer recognition may have a motivating role for creative talent, many global agency heads are still saying that there is a danger in setting award entries as an intention and that the primary focus should rather be on business outcomes for clients.
If the resulting piece is worthy of an award entry, then so be it.
As a result, a lot of businesses are choosing to invest in innovation and differentiation to set them apart and drive client value, rather than bank upon award tables.
Framing a suitable role
This is not to dispute their function entirely; as part of a balanced measure of agency success (and focus), creative awards can have a role to play.
For talent attraction, they provide an indicator that the agency places an emphasis upon fostering and seeing through highly creative ideas. They also generate a sharing forum, where creative leaders from various businesses gather to discuss and evaluate work, serving as benchmarking function for the whole industry (in this sense, I think the monthly Creative Circle awards have got it right by balancing the prestige of peer recognition without the ego).
Finally, as a catalyst for stronger client-agency partnerships, presenting business effectiveness alongside creative success may create vital visibility for an often intangible component of agency-value delivery.
It’s no secret that discretionary budgets inside agencies continue to shrink, forcing executives to think harder about where to focus the spend.
Last year, one of the most highly regarded local creative agencies, FoxP2, decided to withdraw itself from award shows and focus instead upon inspiring its staff by investing the self-same budget on experiences that would develop their skills and broaden their horizons. This year, it’s been entering award shows again while continuing certain elements of #FoxFlame, based upon the successes and learnings of 2014.
Imagine the quality of work we could be producing as an industry if everyone else did the same?
With a decade of local and international experience in leading brand consulting, design, shopper marketing and integrated advertising roles, Tom Fels (@thomasfels) has gained a deeply relevant understanding of the dynamics of agencies. His skills are put to work daily as group managing director of Publicis Machine. He contributes the monthly “Ad Exec” column to MarkLives.
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