Are Creative Awards a Waste of Time?

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Jami Oetting
Jami Oetting



creative awards

Growing up, did you dream of seeing your name in lights? 

Were you the kid who thrived on praise, positive feedback, and those little gold star stickers plastered all over your homework?

There's nothing wrong with wanting recognition for a job well done. And sometimes, you don't always get this from your clients. They are not the most giving with their admiration. 

If praise propels your staff and creatives to do great work, then is it worth the time, energy, and distraction to submit to creative awards? Or should your team get over their need for validation and instead focus on creating results-oriented work?

We asked a few agency executives for their opinions on if creative awards are a waste of time and whether they can be good for an agency. Here's what they had to say:

It's a Distraction. Focus on Effectiveness. 

Personally, I don’t support an award show culture at EVB. I strive to cement one agenda and one agenda only: to solve the business problem and to always aim for big impact with minimal investment. I’ve found this approach to be a strong proponent of job satisfaction, not to mention value. I don’t have anything against award shows. I just find them to be distracting.

The distraction isn’t the cost and time it takes to prepare entries (though that takes a small army in itself). The real distraction comes much earlier, when the ideas are being developed.

If the goal of your department is to win awards, there is potential to start making decisions based on what you believe juries will like, not based on what really needs to be done to accomplish the business objectives. I’ve actually heard of agencies that submit their first round ideas in the form of award show videos. This isn’t just distracting in the long-term; it’s potentially lethal.

Creativity is impossible to judge. The creativity applied to facilitate measurable effectiveness, however, is not. Most award shows aren’t based on results, and that’s the real challenge.

The bottom line? Measurement isn’t subjective. And if you make effectiveness your North Star, you’ll never get lost.

If you still want to enter award shows, just remember: you’re paying someone a lot of money to make yourself feel good. And in most states, other than Nevada, that’s considered illegal.

- Steve Babcock | EVB

Awards Are a Result, not an Objective. 

It’s human nature to want to be acknowledged and rewarded for doing something great. Awards do that for agencies and for clients. They are great symbols of accomplishment and impact and can add fuel to an agency culture. They’re also symbols of shared wins with clients -- and hey, that never hurts a relationship. But awards should be a result, not an objective.

When agencies start focusing on ‘how do we win an award?’ versus ‘how do we create impact in the world?’ things start to get out of balance. Clients begin questioning whether you really understand and care about their business. Internal teams don’t work together quite as well because they have different agendas. And funny enough, sometimes the work doesn’t actually end up being as good.

At Publicis Seattle, we’d rather think about the impact we can have on people and culture first. If the awards follow, as they should, even better.

Britt Fero | Publicis Seattle

Use Awards to Attract Talent and Energize the Agency.

Our first priority is always innovative marketing that positively moves our clients’ businesses. At INNOCEAN, we believe that creative awards can contribute to this mission. Our success at shows like The One Show, the Effie Awards, the Webby Awards, etc., has helped us recruit and retain top creative talent from around the country. In addition, creative awards can be energizing for the entire agency. Competing against the best advertising in the world keeps us focused, informed, and sharp for our clients.

- Greg Braun | INNOCEAN USA

Forget Them. Invest in Differentiation. 

Peer endorsement of an agency’s creative output -- in an industry where creativity is coveted -- supports the notion that creative awards are relevant. Add in the reality that most agencies competing for an award have basically the same set of capabilities as their competitors, and it seems logical that many believe the more trophies on the agency mantle the better the agency.

We feel differently, and prefer investing our time and money against tools and services that truly differentiate BFG and can deliver tangible results for clients. As a result, BFG has never joined the award circuit. Yes, we’ve entered, and we’ve won our fair share. However, in all cases our entries were made on behalf of our clients. Awards are a great way for a client team to celebrate their hard work and contribution to the partnership, garner internal support for future advertising, and substantiate their choice of agency.

- Kevin Meany | BFG Communications

Learn and Be Inspired by the Work.

I think awards are great, but by themselves, they are less important than the actual award shows. The Cannes Lions are no longer the boondoggle of old. It has become an amazing week where brands and agencies gather, celebrate huge ideas, and collectively push ourselves to push for better. If used the right way, the weeks of One Show, Art Directors Club, and Cannes Lions are all amazing opportunities to learn, be inspired, and yes, maybe even win an award.

- Con Williamson | Erwin Penland

Make Work Worth Talking About

If creatives define themselves by what they make, then they need something to keep them shooting for the moon with their craft. Awards are the perfect end result to showcasing this desire, which is why they are so important and relevant for agencies to participate in. There is also a huge benefit from awards that we all can agree with: recruitment. As top talent are deciding where to go, recognition of the agency’s work can be a great place to start conversations ahead of topics such as cultural fit and compensation.

But what is an award? A piece of metal? A ceremony? Recognition in publications, blogs, and social networks? Thanks to the internet, there are more opportunities for award recognition. Visibility can happen immediately. Why wait for 'award season' when the season can be right now? All you need is work worth talking about. That’s really what we all want right?

- John Stapleton | 22squared


Topics: Creativity

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