Why Owners of Digital Shops Should Quit Whining About Industry Awards

By Merrick Published on .

A long-running debate in creative circles has centered upon who deserves the credit for award-winning digital work: the agencies who execute it, the agencies who originate the ideas or both.

The dialogue this summer hit a crescendo in the wake of the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival when Michael Lebowitz, co-founder and CEO of Big Spaceship -- a shop instrumental in executing the "Voyeur" campaign for which Omnicom Group's BBDO took home a slew of prizes -- condemned both BBDO and the awards system for not giving due credit to his firm for its role in a campaign that crossed from outdoor to digital to film.

Here, weighing in on the issue is Merrick (yes, that's both his first and last name), president-executive creative director at Lakonic, a digital creative and production agency with offices in Chicago and Portland, Ore.

As a digital-shop owner myself, I am sick and tired of other digital-shop owners/representatives bleating on about industry trinkets and, ironically, the lack of agency ego stroking. A true agency/specialty partnership isn't a competition over awards but rather a chance to elevate the quality of work beyond what either agency could accomplish alone.

For instance: Does a company such as American Axle & Manufacturing receive Motor Trend's award for best vehicle in a class? My Jeep isn't wearing a Jeep/AAM Wrangler badge. While AAM can surely promote the role its product played in Jeep's winning an award (hypothetically speaking), both the end product and the award are owned by Jeep. Now, if Motor Trend gave an award for best axle, AAM would at least deserve a nod. But if, and only if, the axle was completely planned, designed and built by AAM should it receive primary credit.

Similarly, the film "No Country for Old Men" walked away with a handful of Oscars but did not win for editing, makeup, visual effects, sound, etc. Those departments got nods from the Coens, Miramax, et al., but is each piece of the production puzzle entitled to an award outside its own specific category wins?

Advertising should not be treated any differently than these or any other industries. I have a hard time understanding what gives digital-specialty-shop owners the right to anything more than that big fat check, not to mention a heap of extra, undeserved attention for completely backhanding and undermining a client -- something that should be rebuked, not celebrated.

Merrick is president-executive creative director at Lakonic, a digital creative and production agency with offices in Chicago and Portland, Ore.
In the case of HBO's "Voyeur," for example, didn't Big Spaceship just place someone else's video (RSA Films/Asylum) in someone else's program (Adobe Flash), add a few buttons and, most likely, some overdeveloped code (gotta justify that expense!), while relying on open-source products (such as Papervision) to make it pan (ooh!), zoom (wow!) and play (ahh!) inside this compiled application that someone else (again, Flash) developed, so it could play a minor role in someone else's (BBDO's) vision of an integrated campaign?

From what I gather, Big Spaceship got an appropriate (if not too rewarding) nod as the second agency for an integrated piece, as well as a few plugs for film, promo and cyber awards. But evidently that wasn't enough.

Why should digital production get any more attention or credit than video production -- especially if the video was the backbone of the digital piece?

It's situations like these that create a stigma we're forced to fight against. Everyone knows traditional agencies already have a hard time letting go of digital tasks. And it's fair to say that all of us in the digital space wish agencies would embrace us and rely on us more. If we bitch about a lack of credit, it will only worsen our collective predicament.

Big Spaceship CEO Michael Lebowitz's words will probably eliminate his firm's chances of working with agencies (at the very least BBDO) in the future, but they may have residual effects on the whole industry. Most digital shops have made their name or are kept alive by working with advertising agencies. Complaining about not getting fair or timely payments is one thing, but to bite the hand that feeds you over something as petty as having the tangible award? Come on!

How long will it be before traditional agencies bring digital capabilities in-house to avoid "pesky" boutique digital groups and losing control over the capability? Agencies such as Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Wunderman and Publicis all have made this move recently.

Fighting our partners for entitlement is only going to push them further away. We should instead fight for the prosperity and advancement of creative, technology and innovation -- and strengthen the agency-partner relationship in the process. We need to truly collaborate, not quarantine. Only then will we, as digital agencies, gain the respect we need to be a valued partner and service.
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