by Herman Manson (@MarkLives) “If we cancelled this year’s event, we would have failed in our mandate and our duty to the industry,” says Preetesh Sewraj, the recently appointed CEO of The Loerie Awards. Elsewhere, advertising awards and events have been cancelled, postponed or digitalised: Cannes Lions — postponed and then cancelled; SXSW — cancelled; D&AD festival cancelled, awards now digital; LIA — cancelled.
The local awards industry hasn’t been spared, with several award shows announcing winners digitally, or being cancelled. But the Loeries continues, it was decided by Sewraj and team and, more than that, entries are free. Sewraj also hopes to still hold a physical event, if at all possible, in November 2020.
By ensuring that the awards continues this year, he wants to offer the industry a morale boost, as well as a showcase, and allow a stronger industry to emerge from the current chaos. His desire is to see the entire advertising ecosystem become stronger and more united in the face of covid-19 and its social and economic toll. It should be creating greater value, offering proof to brands that they should be investing in their agencies.
Looking at the ecosystem of award shows globally, Sewraj notes that the majority of them are for commercial gain, while the Loeries has a substantially different mandate as a not-for-profit organisation (NPO). Its mandate, he says, is to develop the ad industry in Africa and the Middle East. Its performance isn’t measured in revenue but in whether it contributes successfully to adding value to the industry. The decision on taking the event forward, and on lifting the burden of entry fees, is therefore in keeping with the organisation’s developmental goals.
The Loeries board was probably expecting his team to come back to it with plans for a cancellation, he says, but unanimously backed the revised initiative instead. Entry fees funds the festival, and Sewraj admits the team is still figuring out a funding model, but hopes to make it up through sponsorships and other as yet undefined initiatives.
According to Sewraj, the industry needs all the support it can get right now, and Loeries is on board to offer what it can. The novel coronavirus pandemic and lockdown have a silver lining for the brand communications industry, in that the latter can really prove the value it adds to business. The industry has been hard at work to ensure communication regarding the economic sectors functioning during the various lockdown levels reach consumers, including rules on social distancing, trading times, re-openings, and even initiatives such as the government’s Solidarity Fund needed communications, a website etc.
The industry deserves credit for its contribution to keeping the economy ticking along, he asserts. It’s done so in challenging circumstances, and with no playbook in place. This year’s Loeries, he hopes, will cover and celebrate much of this work, hence the deadline extension for award entries to 15 July 2020 so that work flighting in June may still be entered.
The festival itself, he believes, will serve as a platform “of collaboration, to help create change” by bringing together stakeholders in media, government, business and the creative community, and finding examples of best practice for communication to prepare for future pandemics, as well as economic recovery.
The ad industry, on which the ad awards industry relies for revenue, has been severely impacted by the pandemic and the resultant economic shutdown, says Sewraj. Clients are facing pressure in the face of declines in consumer spending, a battered rand exchange rate making imported raw materials more expensive, and other supply chain disruptions. Marketing budgets are being cut even further. Sewraj points to the 2008 financial crisis, which took two years for business to return to some normality. He does believe that both consumers and brands have a culture to spend in the four quarter of the year (think Black Friday, Christmas etc) and that this should buffer revenue for agencies in the near term. There will also be a lull in Q1 2021 as companies plan for the next financial year.
The entire Loeries team has put their jobs on the line to ensure the event can continue uninterrupted this year, Sewraj admits. Without funding, obviously, salaries will be at risk at some point of the game. “But we know this is right for the industry,” he says. The organisation is working hard to put some sponsorships in place — and the industry should also invest back into it to protect the equity it’s built up for the ad industry.
There’s already been an overwhelming surge in the number of entries this year, compared to previous years, with entries up 2.5 times against the comparable time last year, and before the latest deadline extension announcement last week.
The Loeries is celebrating its 42nd year this year, and Sewraj would like future generations to look back at this year and the innovative ways agencies and brands worked together to ensure public communication could continue. Having studied archaeology, he likes to consider the record we’re leaving behind for others to find. What is the legacy they will find? His hope is that it will be advertising and communication that distilled the human experience of this moment, even if only captured in 30 seconds or single pages.
MarkLives.com is an official partner of The Loeries Awards 2020.
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Herman Manson (@marklives) is the founder and editor of MarkLives.com.