Why Creative Agencies Still Rule Media... at Least at Cannes

Why Media Agencies Don't Win More Media Lions, and How They Can Do Better

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The results are out for the Cannes Media Lions and appear to be a blow for the established media agency networks. Congratulations go to Manning Gotlieb OMD in London for winning the Grand Prix, to be sure, but fellow media shops didn't fare so well when it came to picking up the silverware.

From more than 100 media trophies handed out last week in the Grand Audi of the Palais des Festivals, a paltry 22 went to media planning and buying agencies. An overwhelming 80% of the awards were picked up largely by creative agencies, with a smattering of digital or content specialists. Now, I'm not about to dis the festival. I admit I would have liked our agency to have done better. But what does it say if the agencies entrusted with media budgets of billions of dollars aren't winning these awards?

Creative agencies are just more focused on trophies. Let's face it: Creative agencies want to win awards more badly.

The reputations and careers of creatives are made at Cannes, with job offers often following success at the festival. A communications planner or media buyer primarily gets kudos from the agency and the satisfaction of a job well done. Rarely does winning a media award have a monetary impact to their monthly pay that correlates with the impact for creative professionals.

Perhaps it's more clear that a media award is the result of many hands in the agency touching the campaign ... planners, print buyers, broadcast negotiators, out-of -home staff, digital/social teams, the insights group, media partners and, of course, creative agencies. There's a lot of credit that gets shared across the agency and beyond, so it's hard for two to three individuals to truly claim it. We're a little more altruistic at the media agencies.

Creative agencies are also much better storytellers -- which comes in handy when they're telling their own story in awards applications. Last year, I judged an awards show where the media jury was completely seduced by the case video and written submission for the Microsoft Bing/JayZ out-of -home campaign. Even though the campaign ran in New York City, none of the New Yorkers on the final panel could recall ever seeing it. No matter. And no excuses: If the media agencies want to win at Cannes, then we just have to want it more -- certainly more than we want it now.

Cannes is still about 'creative' media awards. While media agencies see their principle role as media-investment advisers and distributors of messaging, Cannes is still really about how creative and inventive a marketer and their agencies can be. Take the Gold Lions awarded in media this year. Six of the clients were nonprofits or causes. That suggests that not only have big media budgets become irrelevant to winning, they are threatening to become a hindrance.

With the exception of Mediacom's delightful campaign for Canon, I doubt if the total combined paid media budget for the other Gold campaigns was more than $300,000.

I wouldn't want to take anything away from the terrific winning submissions. They were all worthy winners. But I would say the media award shows are in danger of become media's equivalent of an haute couture fashion show, rather than ready to wear. Then again, no one is going to want to see a best use of data award!

The definition of "media" continues to broaden. Any campaign that smacked of conventional or heavily traditional media wasn't even shortlisted -- and rightly so. This year, new media ranged from an Antwerp movie theater full of bikers for Carlsberg to floating foam crosses promoting World Aids Day to a couple of polar bears watching the Super Bowl for Coca-Cola. Whatever the media idea or platform, YouTube, Facebook, Google and Twitter featured in almost every one of the best campaigns. Note to planners: if the campaign you're planning isn't social by design, then don't bother entering next year.

The winning campaigns were, on the whole, quite inspirational. And if this is how the judges see the best that media has to offer, then fair game, that 's the bar we all need to aspire to. It's incumbent on everyone working in media, whichever agency you work for, to come back next year with more groundbreaking media innovation.

Click here to view the winning 2012 Media Lion award submissions.

Antony Young is the CEO of Mindshare North America, a WPP media strategy and investment agency. He recently published "Brand Media Strategy," a Palgrave MacMillan and Advertising Age publication offering strategies for communications planning in the Google and Facebook era.
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