Saturday, June 27, 2009

Should Agencies Be Entering Award Shows?

The expensive-to-enter, and even-more-expensive-to-attend Cannes Lions festival is currently underway in the south of France. Meanwhile, the economy forces agencies to continue handing out pink slips. So it’s not surprising that there’s been a lot of press decrying the importance of award shows.

Bob Garfield recently stated that Cannes doesn’t matter any more. And Jeff Goodby wrote an article for Ad Age called “We Are Becoming Irrelevant Award-Chasers.”

Goodby argues that the famousness of a campaign should be the focus of agencies, and not how many gold baubles it’s received. He writes, “It’s fast becoming clear that the majority of things we’re rewarding, as an industry, are either small or marginal efforts for legitimate clients, things we made for real clients that the clients seem not to have ever heard of, or out-and-out fakes.” He thinks we should demand that awards judges take into account the sheer “famousness” of a piece of work, not just whether or not it worked.

In April, a one-post blog called A Year Without Award Shows appeared, hoping to rally agencies to the cause of boycotting the expensive shows in light of the struggling economy.

And in Jim Aitchison’s book Cutting Edge Advertising, Indra Sinha says, “If you had a moratorium on awards for ten years, if you said there will be no awards for the next ten years, and said that after those ten years there will be awards for the most new and original things that had emerged, then you might find that within those years all the new ways of expressing ourselves will just come out, because there would no longer be any compulsion to impress juries who are steeped in the old, conventional ways.”

Will agencies of the future stop submitting work to awards shows? I doubt it. They’re too much fun to win, and sometimes fairly fun to attend. But if I were an agency head, I’d have to think very hard about spending $350 per print campaign, unless it had already been written up in industry pubs and celebrated throughout the industry on “free” sites like Creativity or Ads of the World.

Years ago, Fallon decided not to enter the local Minneapolis award show, claiming they wanted to focus on national and international shows. The other shops in Minneapolis were pretty bummed. It was like the Lakers deciding not to participate in the NBA Playoffs. The championship trophy comes with a big, fat asterisk.

The only way award shows could be made irrelevant would be for the Goodbys, Fallons, Crispins and Widens of the industry to issue a joint statement of intent to abstain from further shows.

If I were an agency principal, I'd love to say, "We're not going to enter award shows any more. We're going to spend that money on raises and talent. At the very least, we'll have a better summer party." But then I limit the talent who wants to work for us. And I probably limit the press that's written about us. All of which will have some effect on the business we're able to attract.

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