VIEWPOINT: THE 39 STEPS: DISTINGUISHED GOLDEN BRIEF-WINNER JOHN FOLLIS ON AWARDS SHOW MANIA.

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There are at least 39 different award shows in advertising. I actually counted 'em. In alphabetical order, there are: the Ace Awards, the Addys, the District 2 Addys, the Ad Age Best Awards, the AME International Awards, the Andys, the Art Directors Club, the A+ Awards, the Athenas, the Auroras, the CA Annual, Cannes, the Caples, Clios, Creativity, Cresta, D&AD, Echo, Effie, Good Samaritan, Graphis, Icon, Interactive Media and Marketing, Kelly, Marcom, Mercury, Mobius, New York Festival, Obie, One Show, Portfolio, Print Regional Design, Reggie, Silver Microphone, Summit, Type Directors Club, Telly and the Visual Club Awards. And I'm sure I left out a few.

Awards shows seem to strike a nerve with ad people. Some love 'em (mostly creatives) and others can't stand 'em. The "love 'ems" see awards as an important and necessary industry acknowledgment of high creative standards and achievement. The "hate 'ems" see them as self-indulgent distractions from what really matters-the client's bottom line. With so many awards shows, it's even easy for creatives to become a bit cynical. Of course, of those 39 awards, only about five really count.

A big question seems to be, how impressed are clients with creative awards? Sure, some clients are impressed with awards, especially the Clios, probably because their family has seen it on TV. Most clients, though, have no clue. They wouldn't know a One Show from a Reggie.

When you really think about it, you could just run down to your local trophy shop and pick up a bunch of really cool-looking trophies and then put them around your office. Clients wouldn't know the difference. And think of the time and money you'd save.

Awards entry fees alone range from about $70 to $200, per piece. Then you've got the obligatory ticket to the show-another $200. And God forbid you actually win something, then you've got to pay something called the "hanging fee"-another $50 per piece. And unless only one person plans on taking all the credit, you've got to order duplicates at about $100 a pop. This doesn't even take into consideration the time and money it takes to complete the entry forms, which often require tech support to figure out. Then you've got to physically prepare each entry, which involves trimming, mounting, slide dupes, reel dubs, C-prints, etc. From an overhead standpoint, the labor costs are like servicing a mid-sized account for a month.

So, as I was saying, you go to your local trophy shop or Ace Hardware and make these really cool-looking awards. Then when a prospective client visits your office he'll see a bunch of shiny hardware with your agency name on them:

Client: "So, what's this award?"

You: "Oh, that one? Uh, that's The Golden Brief award."

Client: "The Golden Brief?"

You (with attitude): "You don't know the Golden Brief award?"

Client (feeling very uncool): "Uh, oh sure, the Golden Brief award. Very impressive!"

I know there are people in the business who believe there's too much emphasis on "the creative." These people, for the most part, are planners, whether they call themselves strategic planners, account planners, strategic account planners or account strategic planners. These people love to make plans. And it's a good thing. I can't even plan a vacation . . . and it's going on four years now.

Client: "What the hell's goin' on, Bob? Our widget sales are down 30 percent!"

Agency guy: "Uh, well, we did win that Silver Plan plaque in the District 2 Addys!"

The fact remains that if the work is creative, as well as smart and well-planned, it can't help but be more effective at building business. As Bill Bernbach said, "Properly practiced creativity can make one ad do the work of 10." He also pointed out that "nobody counts the number of ads you run, they just remember the impressions you make."

I think savvy clients realize this and pay attention to which agencies do great creative. They also don't mind the idea of an agency that's hot. It probably makes it easier for a middle manager to sell his boss on an agency when an agency's work is acknowledged with industry awards. And, in addition to attracting clients who want great creative, great creative agencies attract great creative talent. It's self-perpetuating, not to mention what it saves on headhunting fees.

Maybe the biggest case for advertising awards has nothing to do with clients or headhunters. It's bigger than that. With all the hype around account planning, strategic planning, integrated marketing, one-to-one marketing, the Internet and the new media, it's easy to lose sight of what advertising is really about.

Just as it is with the music and film industries, advertising is an industry where creativity isn't just part of the business, it's the heart and soul. And just as the Grammys, Emmys and Oscars celebrate that fact in their respective industries, so should we celebrate with awards shows in ours.

Maybe just not 39 of them.

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