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The jury's out on awards schemes –should we change the way creativity is judged?

As our industry continues to change apace, are old world awards schemes still fit for purpose? We gather together a crack squad of creatives – between them having served on awards juries the length and breadth of the industry – to find out how they would change the way creativity is judged.

As we eagerly await the dawn of The New Creativity there comes with it the realisation that our old world industry awards schemes – whose existence as arbitrators of creativity in many cases serve solely to safeguard an agenda peddled by straight, white, middle-class, middleaged men – are no longer fit for purpose. The world is changing, the industry is changing, and awards need to change with them.

With our new understanding of creativity we need a new way of judging and celebrating it: we need a manifesto for industry awards schemes to adopt. The alternative, an already much maligned reality for many who sit on awards panels, is the perpetuation of category-specific work created for the sole purpose of winning awards. And oh, how there are many awards to be won.

“There are too damn many,” says Lisa Bennett, the former CCO and EVP/creative for North America at DDB.

Just like the movie industry has the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, SAG Awards, DGA, BAFTA, AACTA, etc, etc, Bennett says advertising types have shamelessly taken a page from their book. And she should know. She has sat on panels from Clio to D&AD, Cannes Lions and the One Show

“We too have a boatload of award shows, plenty of which have acronyms like D&AD, AICP, and ADC that will leave junior AEs, our clients and our parents guessing.”

In spite of this, she is very much of the opinion that the good ones serve a purpose.

“The most reputable awards shows provide a standard of creativity for our industry and serve as a source of inspiration for our talent and our clients. And just like the film industry, winning one helps us get cast in better roles.”

It’s a point of view also held by BBH London’s deputy executive creative director Rosie Arnold – again no stranger to a judging panel having served as president of D&AD – who similarly will not be drawn into an outright condemnation of the awards format.

“People always ask me what I think the future of awards are with the eager expression of those who hope I’m going to say awards are pointless, old hat and there is no place for them in the modern world,” she tells us.

“Sorry. I still fervently believe awards are a good thing. They inspire, encourage and reward. They should stimulate people to think harder, deeper and differently. They help build careers and businesses. They act as a guide to would-be clients. They are a measure of the year.”

That’s us told then, but Arnold does ponder what the future holds for awards when the world of communications is so altered.

“It is getting harder and harder to sum up an idea for an awards jury,” she admits. “No longer do ideas exist purely in the handy 30-60 sec format or print so easily judged, but in multifaceted media landscapes with so many bells and whistles it is hard to see the wood for the trees.”

It is this changing media landscape that causes concern for Bennett who tells us that most of the juries she has sat on comprised “creative people with big titles working for big agencies that have won big awards”.

But with more and more innovative ideas coming from small agencies, non-agencies, consumers and even clients, the question she asks is: “Are these juries comprised of the right people? Are they diverse enough? Are their definitions of creativity the ones that should be setting the industry standard?

“Future juries should be representative of the future agency (or anti-agency) model. They should include leaders from small agencies, creative people that aren’t creatives, experts from different industries, freelance talent, a better balance of men and women and maybe even the occasional (gasp) client.”

Arnold agrees that award schemes have to be vigilant and up to speed on what exactly the category is and how people can enter, saying that there needs to be “much more rigour about how we crystallise the effectiveness message because it is important to understand whether it was effective”.

She points to viral sensations such as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge as she admits these sorts of ideas are sniffed at by award schemes, but that they shouldn’t be as they’re doing what we want to do – raising awareness, engaging the entire world and doing the job (raising money for charity).

“I think you’d probably find that wouldn’t win any awards at conventional award schemes, but to my mind it should because it’s a fantastic piece of marketing. So it might be that you go ‘is there something that we can do just by looking at social media to see what people are genuinely engaging with and genuinely sharing rather than an arbitrary award entry?’ Maybe we should use the world as our awards jury.”

It’s not a bad idea, and one that Leo Burnett chief creative officer Susan Credle can wholeheartedly agree with. She tells us that it is important for awards shows to “watch what’s going on in the world and look at how people are solving problems with creativity”.

This will encourage us all to “think in different ways and continue to be creative” when it comes to problem solving. “It’s art,” she proclaims. “We need award shows that are like the haute couture of fashion, which push us to always examine what we think and do, and to keep us evolving, but we also need to understand we build brands as well, and that there’s equity and honour in doing that.”

This sentiment that awards shows need to remember that agencies exist first and foremost to build brands hit home for Credle at one show were she was on a jury looking at Mexican beer brand Dos Equis’s ‘The Most Interesting Man in the World’ work.

The creatives, she tells us, were of the opinion “it’s five years old, they’ve been doing it forever”. This despite it being one of the few beer businesses doing really well.

“That comment on a jury was basically sending a signal to the creatives, and to the business, that for them to be recognised for creativity, they needed to change the campaign. That it had already been awarded and as long as ‘The Most Interesting Man in the World’ was still their campaign, they were done with being honoured. Well, to me that’s marketing malpractice. Because we’re basically telling the agencies that if you stick with something, you will not be recognised.”

Georgia Barretta, design director at creative agency Geometry Global, meanwhile tells us that it is a “common malaise to create work that letches at winning awards”.

“It’s rare and generous to make stuff that works hard to make a difference,” she says, “instead of simply making a pallid brand’s perception more meaningful than that thing chefs do with a purée and the back of a spoon”.

Our woman on the ground at D&AD, we tasked Barretta with gathering some pithy opinions from fellow jurors on how they’d like creativity to be judged in the future. These included wanting to “benevolently dent culture and award the holy possibility of something being new, which is the hardest thing in the world to create,” to awarding “work that’s timeless by the muscly virtue of actually changing behaviour,” how “time is the true measure of a movement’s power to influence” and that “changing perception is admirable, but changing behaviour is everything”.

“I agree with them all,” Barretta tells us, “served up with an adequate hit of beauty that tugs at your jugular and flirts for your heart – the stuff you recollect in whispers, breathily late at night”.

Where then does that leave our manifesto?

Well, the good awards are still good, but they need to shake up their panels – look to small agencies, different industries, freelancers and clients, and more women please. They need to look beyond the usual categories and tap into whatever people are genuinely engaging with. They need to acknowledge how real-life problems are being solved with creativity in the wider world. They need to keep effectiveness front of mind and reward the behaviour changers. And they need to celebrate the new.

So come on awards schemes, we’ve given you more than a head start. Now do your job and embrace The New Creativity.

This feature was first published in The Drum's 1 October issue, guest-edited by Cindy Gallop and focused on the theme of The New Creativity.

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