Get Out of Your Geographical (and Creative) Comfort Zone

You Can Take a Girl Out of the City, but Can She Judge a Contest?

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Rochelle Newman-Carrasco Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
A few years ago, I was invited to judge ADDY Awards in a Texas city specifically because I was qualified to evaluate both non-Hispanic and Hispanic agency creative work. When I say Hispanic, it should be noted that I mean both Spanish-language and English-language work directed at some segment of the U.S. Hispanic market audience. During that judging experience, I was introduced to a creative director from Nebraska who subsequently recommended me as an ADDY judge for local competitions in the Omaha and Lincoln markets. This led to several other ADDY judging opportunities, including one this past month in yet another Midwestern market.

I like ADDY judging. It's a great opportunity to get exposed to the creative work that is being done across America, by agencies big and small for clients big and small. For two full days, you are surrounded by everything from broadcast and print to sales materials and self-promotion. In addition, you are teamed up with creatives from outside of your market with whom you get to exchange perspectives and experiences.

So off I went to another Midwestern city where Hispanic creative is virtually non-existent (although even that is changing). As I reviewed the work, I was reminded of the business categories that aren't part of my bi-coastal New York-Los Angeles background. There was work for farming, tractors, ammunition and feed stores to name a few industries about which I know pretty much nothing.

I arrived at a print ad with a headline that uses the word "Detasseling." I stared at the word, trying to sound it out and make sense of it. I knew it was English, but for a minute I thought it might be French. Like demitasse. "What's this?" I asked a fellow judge. He laughed. "What do you think it is?" he asked. All the word "tassel" means to me is that thing at the end of a graduation cap, or on drapes, or in an old strip-tease act. "It's corn related," he said in that gentle professorial tone. " In fact," he added, "you might say it's the penis of the corn." Who knew?

Another print ad featured a close up of a back pocket on a pair of jeans. The pocket has the outline of a circle rubbed into it and all I could think was "That's a really big circle for a condom." I hadn't said anything, but my face must have projected confusion because my "Midwestern translator" said "chewing tobacco." Then I got it. I know little about chewing tobacco, but I got that the ring wasn't a condom, but rather a badge of honor related to chewing tobacco. The ad was for cancer and, with the cultural insight assistance, suddenly it all made sense.

Finally, there was advertising that was so golf-specific that it was targeting golf-course owners who know everything you ever wanted to know about golf courses. While visually compelling, the campaign was so targeted it was somewhat unintelligible to the layman. I was relieved that I was not alone this time since none of the judges were fluent in golf course. We did, however, ask for clarification.

Of course, there were hundreds of entries and, with the exception of the aforementioned three, they were all accessible to a city girl like me. But it got me to thinking about debates I have had when it comes to judging U.S. Hispanic creative work. What qualifies a judge when it comes to the ability to connect to creative work on a cultural level? Are translations acceptable for giving non-Spanish-speaking judges a tool for understanding the work? If you can't speak the language, should you judge the work? If you don't know the culture regardless of language, should you judge the work?

In my experiences working as an ADDY judge as well as on judging selection for the Beldings, the Ad Age Hispanic Creative Awards and others, it all comes down to the breadth of the judging panel and the integrity of individual judges who take the right amount of time with each piece and who question anything that stands in their way of giving the work a fair shot. We all know that when it comes to award shows, you can't make everyone happy because everyone who enters believes that they should win. But as long as there are award shows, we should be making an effort to shed light on who gets chosen to judge the work and why they may or may not be the right fit.

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