THE GUNN REPORT

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Talk about your dream job. Then again, some might consider it a nightmare. Leo Burnett's Donald Gunn has been going to awards shows for a living for years. Later this month he'll be making his 27th (it might be 28th, we've all lost count) consecutive appearance in Cannes. As head of Burnett's Creative Exchange Deparment, his mission in life is to make sure the far-flung Burnett network knows just who's doing the best work in the world, and where they're doing it. His department tracks the work of 48 major advertising awards competitions around the world. Here's his take on the current awards show scene:

Overall, Gunn feels the shows are getting better and better in terms of how they're organized and judged. "Creative people see that, more and more, the spots that win the gold really are the best spots in their categories," he says. "The trend in shows is that they're becoming a better barometer of what's really the best work out there."

Just how important is this? Gunn says that officials at some of the bigger publicly-held agencies are beginning to pay attention to how their networks fare in competition "because they believe Wall Street analysts are looking for that." It's reflective of a growing realization in the business community, Gunn maintains, that the spots that win the most awards, "the ones that have the greatest impact within the profession," are the ads that work best in the marketplace.

Has the attitude about awards shows changed at big shops? "Ten or 15 years ago, a major agency would probably earn brownie points from clients if they claimed they didn't enter their work in awards shows. Now, if they did that, they wouldn't be able to keep their staffs," Gunn says. Similarly, he feels the attitude about awards has changed on the part of clients as well. When doing research for his study on whether award-winning advertising sells, which he presented in seminars in Cannes in '93 and again in '95, he was told that the worldwide marketing director of a major global advertiser (he can't say which, of course) routinely told agencies during briefings that if they were to win any creative awards for any work done on their brands they would lose the business. "This was only five years ago," he says, "but I don't believe this attitude exists anymore at top levels." Indeed, he adds, the younger marketing directors at major companies, as befits their boomer status, actually welcome them. "They're sought after as a key yardstick," he says.

While they may be sought after, they're still relatively hard to come by. Of the 48 shows he monitors, the total number of top awards presented actually dipped in 1996 from the year before, to 1,659, or less than 35 per competition. Overall, Gunn says, the "awards industry has gone through and nearly completed a phase where it has become stronger and more respected, and more necessary for agencies. "They've earned a rightful place as the best way to illustrate good work."

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