Creative Awards. What are they really for?

It’s that time of the year – the creative awards season. Creative awards are great to receive, agency happy, back slapping, big smiles – but what is the real value of creative awards? And agencies …. are the entries you submit in to creative awards really honest?

When I say honest, I mean is the piece of work submitted the actual piece that ran. In other words the piece signed off by the client following the usual client interventions such as the size of their logos, the legals, the t’s&c’s, making the call to action bigger  – or is it the ‘agency’ version, logo made smaller, all the client additions removed, copy rewritten, imagery retouched to the art director’s vision and not the client’s.  The ‘agency’ version, which is the version submitted to the awards, will have been beautified by the the creative team who will have spent many hours, often more than they originally spent on the work the client paid for.

The argument for spending time, money and effort on creative awards is always justified by the claim it is good for the business – but is it really? What is the tangible proof for this?

The fact that your ‘Gold Roses’ award was for art direction for your mate’s wedding stationery, your mum’s chip shop,  a local charity you offered a freebie to because you had a great idea or a spurious ad, which the client didn’t buy but you paid for a 10 x 2 in one of the local rags for £40, thus qualifying it as ‘an ad that ran’ so it could be entered for awards. I have more respect for submissions for ‘proper clients’, the clients who the agency work for on a day-to-day basis. The great idea for a difficult client.

I know the advertising and marketing business can be seen as ‘peddling lies’ but dishonest creative awards submissions really bug me.

This is why….

A busy agency works hard for its paying clients. Awards season is then upon them, and the entire creative department starts deciding what to submit for the awards. Award entries are expensive, but they pick the shortlist and then start titivating the creative.  The awards submission creative then takes priority over other work, the other work being what clients actually pay for and keep the business, well in business! The creative director and his team then bombard all the other departments, artwork, digital, content with their awards briefs and the expectation is that the rest of the agency have to like it or lump it -‘ we need to get the awards submissions out’  And if you have the audacity to challenge the creative team, you are accused of, not caring, not being a team player, being difficult, when all you want to do is get the client’s day-to-day work out. The work which pays the agency’s bills.

Don’t misunderstand me – I love creativity and the great ideas this business can come up with. When I was younger I would always go to the awards ceremonies. It was a privilege to be asked. I always bought new clothes for the event and when I wasn’t invited I sulked. It was great to see other agencies’ work, cheer on your colleagues, bitch about the competitions work – all in good humour. It was great fun, far too much was drank, far too much was eaten, late nights, sore heads, turning up for work the next day in the same clothes you went out in. As I got older, and maybe more cynical I began to no longer enjoy the events I was invited to attend, I would suggest that my place was given to a younger colleague as they would get far more enjoyment out of the event than I would do.

To illustrate the point of falsifying creative ideas I need to talk about ‘Muff-gate’. ‘Muff-gate’ started with a copy heavy ad, which was written and the typography designed to be an inverted triangle. The account management really didn’t like the ad – it certainly didn’t meet the brief, but at the insistence of the creative director, whose baby this abomination of an idea was, they were forced to present it to the client, The account team and the clients happened to be women. When the ad was presented they all looked at each other and burst out laughing . The client, very senior and also had fantastic creative vision said “We can’t use that – it looks like a muff!” The ad and the idea were rejected there and then.

Other ideas were bought by the client and the campaign which became very, very successful. The client was delighted with the results and drive in their sales.  However the creative director wouldn’t let the ‘muff’ ad go even though everyone else thought it was pretentious drivel. The creative director then spent 3 days sitting on the shoulder of a very busy creative artworker, tweaking this monstrosity to within an inch of its life. It was submitted for 2 awards – copywriting and typography. The awards judges along with the rest of us thought it was rubbish and it won nothing.

The creative artworker to his credit deleted the files – the muff ad was no more.

It is lovely that creative teams can pick up awards for pure creative work, but these awards are worthless unless the commercial impact of the campaign is also measured. In the end we are in business – it is about making money for the agency and money for the client. If your desire is for pure creativity in your work – don’t work in advertising and marketing.

If I was to have an advertising and marketing award it would be for the whole package, great creativity, intelligent use of traditional paid media and social media. Innovative use of new technologies – an integrated campaign. And results on the client’s investment. In other words how effective the campaign has been. The award to be shared by agency and client. A client who is brave to take a risk, to believe and trust the agency, not just the creative team but the client services team. Don’t underestimate the work the client service team do to work with the client in order to get the best creative brief to present to the creative team.



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