Are you making it easier for a judge to choose your work? Judges come from all over. Many have never met each other before. Because judging basically takes place "out in the open," there's great pressure on the judges to quickly establish themselves as people of high standards. While most judges are tough creative reviewers, group pressure makes them even tougher. In this situation, there's least pressure on a judge to single out work that's already received recognition in another show, or through the press. (The continuation of work that's part of a great campaign is the easiest choice of all.) If you've got strong work, see that it gets to the press. One young art director developed his career more quickly in the '80s by making a point of regularly showing his work to reporters and asking for their feedback. He did this by planning lunches with the press whenever he was in New York on client business. Exposure increased, and he's now one of the best-paid talents in the business.
Do your goals match the judges' goals? While young professionals may depend heavily on the shows to help build careers, judges have been in the business longer and have already built careers. They want to use the shows to help set increasingly tougher industry standards and are less enamored with just another strong ad. To them, recognition in a show becomes a medal of honor for doing something extraordinary. They're looking hard for the "how did they ever pull that off" kind of an ad.
Does your work pass the first basic test? Having been in the business longer, judges understandably have seen a large body of advertising over the years. So much so that many current ads remind them of something they've seen before, or done themselves. This work is automatically discounted. With a large reservoir of knowledge and countless ads under their belts, judges are quick to guess how an ad is going to play out.
During the judging of one show, a top British judge kept requesting that television spots be fast-forwarded after just three to four seconds of viewing. The other four of us in the room said nothing until about eight commercials had been quickly zapped. Protesting the unfairness of this, we asked that more time be given to the viewing of each. He stated, "I know exactly how each spot will develop and end. No further viewing time is needed." Naturally skeptical, we asked him to describe the last three spots we'd zapped. Well, he gave an outline for each, including visuals and copy lines. His ideas matched the spots closely, if not exactly. It impressed all of us, and pointed out just how short the attention span of an experienced professional can be. Ask yourself if you're doing work that will surprise the judges, rather than work they saw in last year's annual.
Is your work taking advantage of the quick review process? With hundreds to thousands of ads to review in a day, judges don't have time to really focus on any one ad. There's no time to consider whether the client and category were tough, no time to read most body copy, no time for much of anything past an immediate response. This allows pro bono ads or ads for small, "easy" clients to compete well against ads for tougher, larger accounts. I remember one quick group discussion that ended with a medal going to a small space campaign for porta-potties vs. a full page campaign for an international hotel chain.
Simply viewing large numbers of ads is real work. After looking at a hundred mundane pieces, most judges are seeking some kind of relief. They want to like something. In general, ads that are simple or humorous offer a momentary oasis and stand up best to the quick review process used.
Are you overlooking ways to increase your chances? In some categories, judges are lucky to find a good piece or two. In other categories, there are more good ads than you can put in the show. Young people want to work on consumer magazine ads and television spots, but these higher-profile areas are also the toughest categories in competitions. There are far fewer good ads entered in trade, small space, direct mail, transit and radio. I know a copywriter who increases his chances by making sure that he has good ads to enter in every category each year. He tracks his progress on a chart and develops pro-bono work to cover categories that his regular agency work doesn't. He also deliberately seeks out advertising assignments geared toward the weaker categories. These strategies have helped him maintain a high profile in the shows.
Is there much difference between losing work and winning work? Professionals often send work to a show only to be surprised by what was chosen. The ad they were convinced would win was beaten by a longshot. Often, there's a fine line between what is accepted and what is left behind. The handful of top agencies that consistently win more awards do so because their work is just slightly better than the best work of other good agencies. That's why it's so important to constantly look for ways to improve your initial idea through every step of the production process.
Interesting work doesn't always get in. Plan on not getting all the credit you deserve. It's a fact that every good ad entered in a show will not win. Sometimes work just falls through the cracks. During the judging of one large show, one of our team members finished early and went to look at work left over after the judging of another team. He was furious when he discovered that terrific ads were left unchosen on the tables. He asked to be allowed to rejudge all the work; a number of campaigns and singles that he rescued were reviewed later by the full judging group, and they won awards.
So remember to maintain the long view about awards show success. The good news is that the judging systems do allow the best work to consistently rise to the top. And it appears that fairy godfathers do exist.u
Diane Cook-Tench, a former creative supervisor at The Martin Agency, is currently director at the Ad Center at Virginia Commonwealth University in