This year, for reasons that baffled many, the agency decided to bite the hand that doles out the gold, silver and bronze Effies it so proudly touts.
Cheryl Berman, Leo Burnett USA chairman-chief creative officer, kicked off last week's Effies Award ceremony with a call for a higher creative bar for the show and a complaint that the industry's prominent creative figures- TBWA/Chiat/Day chairman-chief creative officer Lee Clow among them-did not support the awards show, which differs from most because it's based on marketing effectiveness.
Ms. Berman's keynote-delivered just minutes before the Publicis Groupe-owned agency network raked in 12 Effies and led the pack for the fourth year in a row-tapped into the age-old debate over whether agencies focus too much on abstract notions of creativity and not enough on getting solid business results for marketers.
Her message, delivered with a linguistic gusto worthy of Donald Rumsfeld, was clear: "The Effies must be about effective creativity-not just effective results or effective communications or even effective effectiveness."
But what effectively got everyone's back up was her calling out of Mr. Clow, as well as Dan Wieden and Jeff Goodby, to send a message that the Effies aren't perceived to be as important as more glamorous honors like, say, a Cannes Lion, which happens to come with a several-day bender on a Mediterranean beach. The Effies, by contrast, features baked chicken at the New York Marriott Marquis.
Mr. Clow was not available for an interview, but a couple of his TBWA colleagues were.
"Where was Lee Clow?" said Robert LePlae, CEO of Omnicom Group's TBWA/Chiat/Day, California. "He was traveling and attending client business."
TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS
"To try to grandstand that way and say their not being there means they don't care about effectiveness-like that's a Leo Burnett thing-I find a little silly," said Tom Carroll, vice chairman of TBWA Worldwide. "My answer to Cheryl is this: Lee's not here for one reason. He's back at the office working on another Grand Effie."
In an interview, Ms. Berman called that response "overreactive" and said she's gotten positive feedback on the speech. Her intention wasn't to slam Mr. Clow and company, whom she respects: "It was actually a compliment to those people. I want them to be there and I want them to be a part of it and I want them to help make it a better show." She continued, "Some of the work that it rewards is not very good. It is not creative."
Over the years, TBWA and Leo Burnett have dominated the Effie field, albeit in different ways. Burnett has done a volume business, netting the most awards. Its day-after press release laid claim to the title: "The Most Effective Agency in America."
TBWA, on the other hand, has made a habit of grabbing the show's biggest laurel. It's won 11 out of 29 Grand Effies awarded, including five over the past seven years. This year, it won the Grand Effie for its work for Apple's iPod-and picked up six Effies for a variety of client work.
The flap comes as the show's organizers, the New York American Marketing Association, has tried to toughen up the submission process. "We want to be rigorous," said Mary Lee Keane, executive director of the New York AMA. "We want you to feel that when you win one, you've done something worth crowing about. It's hard because you have to build your case."
As for the question of whether creatives care about the award, Ms. Keane pointed to the presence of creatives like Ms. Berman, Steve Hayden, Neil Powell, Ernest Lupinacci, Peter McHugh, and Paul Venables. "There's a lot of respect for Effie among creatives," she said.
contributing: alice z. cuneo
Ms. Berman’s keynote speech tapped into an ongoing debate over whether agencies focus too much on abstract notions of creativity.