Agency Chief Raps and Ad Show

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SAN FRANCISCO ( -- Controversy and debate continue to swirl in the wake of last week's San Francisco Show 15.
Photo: AP..
Top San Francisco Show award is the 'Bellringer' -- a cable car bell.

In a letter to, Odiorne, Wilde, Narraway and Partners chairman Jeff Odiorne criticized's Friday coverage of the show and said the ceremony itself was badly managed.

However, earlier this week, Mr. Odiorne acknowledged that he had not attended the show or observed its events.

On Friday, published a story about the previous evening's annual award

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ceremony detailing how Omnicom Group's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners won top honors for the 13th year in a row and how some smaller shops declined to participate in the show in protest of the ongoing domination of the contest by the region's creative giants.

The San Francisco Show is sponsored by the San Francisco Advertising Club and, until 15 years ago, was known as the Cable Car Awards. Each year, a local ad agency volunteers to organize the event -- this year's was produced and managed by Interpublic Group of Cos.' GMO/Hill Holliday of San Francisco.

In his letter, Mr. Odiorne was highly critical of the show's judges, display methods and general mood. The San Francisco Show is "about as much fun to attend as sliding down a banister of razor blades," he wrote.

'Horribly run' reported that Mr. Odiorne's agency did not participate in the show in protest. He denied that and said that his agency didn't enter the show because it is "horribly run." He said that over the years, he worked with the San Francisco Advertising Club to try to remedy problems.

"They don't seem to want to," he said. "As a result, it has become nothing more than a festival of reps trying to sell you something."

Among his concerns were entry fees, combined with fees for displaying any winning work. He said in past shows the work was not hung in a satisfactory fashion. Additionally, he said he paid twice to display a campaign that won a top award as well as a single execution from that effort that won a separate award. Only the complete campaign was hung, he said. He also was disappointed the San Francisco Show was tardy, or even failed, to put out a book of award winners.

Another concern raised by Mr. Odiorne centered on judging, although he acknowledged the San Francisco Show judging appeared to have improved this year.

Show organizer responds
But Rob Bagot, executive vice president and creative director of GMO/Hill Holliday, pointed out that the show had changed venues to one where the work is better viewed, published a book of winners and boasted judges from top agencies, including Wieden & Kennedy. While fees for entry ranged from $100 to $160, additional hanging fees for winners were eliminated. "We've remedied all those things," Mr. Bagot said. Mr. Odiorne, he suggested, "is working off an old brief."

In comparison, entry fees for the Clio awards range from $300 to $800.

Although Mr. Odiorne denied it was a concern of his, in many respects the show in San Francisco, as well as Minneapolis, Richmond, Va., Los Angeles, Portland, Ore., and other regional markets, tend to be dominated by leading creative shops in the area. When the master of ceremonies, commercial director Jordan Brady, tried to build suspense about the top award at the San Francisco show, the Bellringer, someone in the audience shouted out, "The Goodby Show."

Goodby Silverstein has won the top honor at the San Francisco show for 13 straight years and also has won many top honors from other national and international award shows.

Officials knowledgeable about the running of ad shows in regions throughout the nation are aware of these types of problems.

Maximize show profit
"The ad clubs are having a hard time," said one executive familiar with the advertising industry. "Shows have become the largest single fund-raising event which financially makes or breaks the clubs each year," he said. "That puts pressure on these organizations to maximize the profit and has an effect on how the show is run and what happens."

Some agencies are opting for the national shows, Odiorne among them. "If there's a limited budget, you go to the national shows," said Greg Stern, president, Butler, Shine & Stern, Sausalito, Calif.

Among creative competitions, the One Show and Cannes are seen as among the most prestigious and the most rigorously judged shows -- and can do the most to bolster a creative director's career options. From a new business perspective, Cannes and Clio are still seen as the shows that generate the most publicity for top winners.

Small agency award program
Small agencies do have one awards competition where they rule -- the O'Toole Awards, presented annually by the American Association of Advertising Agencies in honor of an agency's body of work. One O'Toole Award is presented to agencies with over $300 million in billings, one for agencies between $30 and $300 million and one for agencies under $30 million.

Controversy aside, and with more on the line than creative bragging rights, agencies in the major ad centers are entering this year's awards show season with about as much adrenalin as the executives who rushed the stage to grab Clios in June 1991. Ad awards can bring a shop a positive buzz, media coverage and perhaps the most important trophy of all, new business.

Copyright May 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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