Why Creative Awards Still Matter

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Many marketers and even some agency employees are quick to admit that the advertising industry invests too much time and money on awards. In an industry facing rampant upheaval and client dissatisfaction, clients' business growth should be the primary concern. Yet many agencies spend seven-figure budgets and months of their team's time preparing for awards shows.

So it was refreshing to see Publicis announce that it would be investing in technology over awards in the year ahead. However, the solution does not require shunning Cannes or all award investments, but rather a more balanced approach. Agency awards still hold weight, and play an important role in an industry undergoing enormous change. Here's why:

1. They help brands differentiate good from great. Brands are finding it harder than ever to differentiate between agencies, and a "list of recent awards" is a common request in RFPs. Awards can help identify which firms are doing some of the best work and growing their clients' business.

2. They help attract and retain great talent. The best talent wants to work with others at the top of their game. While client success should be the ultimate badge of achievement, most high-achievers appreciate this recognition among peers.

3. They keep us humble and inspired to raise the bar. Great agencies are laser focused on their clients' goals. Awards present an opportunity to take a step back, survey what other brands are doing, and be both humbled and inspired to be even greater.

For agencies looking to be more selective in their awards investments, here are three ways to derive more value:

Be choosy. Limit participation to awards that reward business metrics and that matter most to clients. Be honest with yourself about where you stand a great chance of winning, and avoid the long bets (they rarely pay off). If you rethink your awards budget, you may be surprised how much can be cut without making a dent in your reputation.

Learn from your competition. Once the show is over, hold postmortems to review the work with your teams. Look at what won, what didn't, and what you can learn. Being on a jury can give you a great insider perspective -- often missed in the resulting awards show -- on how a campaign was executed.

Bring these insights to your clients and your work. Share what you've learned with your team and clients, and identify how you will incorporate these insights to make your work stronger. After Cannes and the Effie Awards, some agencies hold reviews with their clients on key trends and best practices to implement moving forward.

When I was as kid, trophies were only given to those who worked hard and outperformed the competition. I still remember taking second place in a state-wide competition and analyzing what I missed or could have done differently to get the gold. It was a key learning moment that made me work even harder. There is a lesson here that has not changed.

When we come together to share, compete and inspire each other, we have an opportunity to make our teams and our clients stronger. Awards can help our industry set and keep the bar high, provided we never lose sight of the real prize: our clients' success.

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