by Herman Manson (@marklives) Tony Koenderman has cancelled AdReview — the industry awards show he has been running for nearly 15 years.

This follows an internal memo to members of the Association for Communication and Advertising of South Africa which claims that ACA members are unhappy having two “Agency of the Year” award programmes (the other being The Financial Mail’s AdFocus Awards, now Annual AdFocus Awards, of which Koenderman was also the founding editor).

Calls into question

Tony Koenderman's Ad Review logoThe memo also calls into question the credibility of the AdReview awards — without actually talking to Koenderman or inviting him to state his case.

The memo to members read as follows:

“The phones at the ACA have been ringing off the hook with complaints from the members regarding the AdReview Awards. Most (a good 80-90%) of the members are unhappy with the awards program. All the members have expressed concern about two ‘Agency of the Year’ award programs and specifically, the credibility of the AdReview awards.

“The ACA does not endorse any third party commercial activity/venture/program. We only endorse two awards programs in the South African industry, namely the APEX awards that recognise and award communications campaigns’ effectiveness and the Loerie awards that recognise and award creativity. We can therefore not encourage nor discourage participation in the Agency of the Year award programs however, if you are unhappy with the AdReview awards, its credibility and what it represents, take a business decision and do not enter. These programs exist only because agencies support them by entering. No entries = no awards.”

Writing about the ad industry since the ’80s

Koenderman has been writing about the advertising industry since the 1980s. AdReview used to be a joint venture between Finweek and Koenderman but, after an internal restructuring in 2011, AdReview moved into M24 Business magazines, which aligned it with the soon-to-be-closed trade magazine, AdVantage.

When Koenderman and AdReview’s paths parted from that of Media24 he, rather bravely, I thought, took his and its destiny into his own hands.

Tony Koenderman
Tony Koenderman

While his commercial vehicle disintegrated — a new website takes time to build an audience and publishing a print title takes deep pockets — Koenderman still managed to stage a credible awards season last year (whether you enjoyed the actual event or not, the awards process itself isn’t suspect). Ad Agency of the Year went to Joe Public (as did the AdFocus “Advertising Agency of the Year”). Whether he achieved commercial success is another question. He seemed to abandon any attempt to monetise the awards this year (no event, no magazine and no entry fees).

Competing awards events

But it’s not his commercial success or business smarts the ACA queried in its memo; it was holding competing awards events — which I would argue was done successfully and without much drama for more than a decade — and the credibility of the programme. That assertion is also open to question as AdReview is judged by clients and agency bosses, same as AdFocus, and audited by an independent auditing firm, same as AdFocus.

The ACA memo effectively put a halt to any industry entries; after all, it had just sent out an industry wide memo calling AdReview (and thus Koenderman’s) credentials into question. To recap the essence of that memo: “All the members have expressed concern about two ‘Agency of the Year’ award programs and specifically, the credibility of the AdReview awards.”

Koenderman responded with an (understandably angry) editorial: “I am appalled that an industry body such as the ACA should seek to stifle competition in the advertising sector, an industry whose very existence depends on unfettered competitive activity.

“Unsubstantiated complaints”

“On the basis of unsubstantiated complaints about the AdReview Awards, and without giving me right of reply, the ACA’s chief executive, Odette van der Haar has issued a statement maligning the awards and urging members to boycott them because of their alleged lack of credibility.”

No, the ACA, did not call for a boycott of AdReview, but a maligning statement it turned out to be, whatever the initial intention.

ACA logo squareThe ACA quickly hit back and escalated the exchange, rather than calming it: “Contrary to the perception created by the management of AdReview, the ACA did not make any public statement regarding the AdReview awards. In fact, following a number of telephonic complaints received by the ACA from member agencies, regarding the planned AdReview awards programme, the ACA sent a closed communication to its members, clarifying the point that the ACA chose some years ago not to endorse any third party commercial initiatives targeted at our profession.

“Free to decide for themselves”

“We also stated in the communication to members that the ACA will neither encourage nor discourage participation in Agency of the Year award programmes and we made it clear that if they were unhappy to participate in the AdReview awards — for whatever reason — they are free to decide for themselves if they wished to do so or not.

“We therefore vehemently disagree that the ACA has acted in a biased or unfair way towards AdReview. If the management of AdReview have a gripe with the reaction to the planned awards they should raise this directly with each member agency.”

The “management of AdReview?” The ACA must mean the 75-year-old journalist who has spent most of his professional career covering the agency world, building its profile and seeking to award standout agencies. The memo (and with “internal memo” you need to understand that it’s a memo that reaches the majority of ad agencies in this country) — internal or no — was a very public declaration and the ACA should have foreseen its consequences.

Unintended consequences

Koenderman had no fight picked with the ACA. He was doing what he had been doing since 2001, when he launched his first awards show, minus the backing of commercial publishers. If its internal memo had unintended consequences, the ACA should have shouldered responsibility, engaged with Koenderman, and sought to find solutions to any issues members (and how many does it take to get phones “ringing off the hook” at the ACA — 3, 13, 30?) might have had.

The zeitgeist of the advertising industry in 2015 is much more positive that a few years ago. It feels more open and more engaged, and many of its leaders work actively on engaging with their peers and maintaining positive inter-agency and industry-wide relationships. The energy is fresh and mostly positive.

In this instance, the ACA seems out of tune with the broader industry and its dismissal of Koenderman, I mean the “management of AdReview”, not only lacks any humility but also lacks humanity to a man who knows more of our collective history as an industry than anybody I know and who, without question, has dedicated most of his career to offering it coverage in the mainstream media.

I just don’t see how this serves the industry or its members.

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4 replies on “AdReview: A memo and the end of an institution”

  1. Herman, when you write: “… lacks humanity to a man who knows more of our collective history as an industry than anybody I know and who, without question, has dedicated most of his career to offering it coverage in the mainstream media”, you hit the proverbial nail on the head. Words that have always – will always – be associated with Tony include ‘collective history’, ‘dedicated’ and ‘humanity’. I don’t know if Tony will or will not remain associated with the industry. I do know that the industry will be so much poorer without him.

  2. It is sad that in the communications industry (which is based on trust and respect) people do not talk to each other. Surely a call to Koenderman should have been the first move?

  3. Wow. Very interesting. I certainly didn’t know about this history between the ACA and Mr. Koenderman. May his sole rest in peace. It’s really sad that he was treated in this manner; especially after giving so much of his time and talent to the industry.

    What a shame.

Comments are closed.

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