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Agency Business Agency Culture How Do You Solve a Problem Like...

Network and indie agency leaders discuss whether award wins aid recruitment


By Sam Bradley | Senior Reporter

March 8, 2023 | 13 min read

In this week’s debate, we ask agency leaders how award wins can be converted into success in the hiring market.


How much do award wins matter for recruitment efforts?

There’s no denying that awards are used by agencies to peg the performance of rivals – and by ambitious agency workers as an indicator towards their next career destination.

Does that halo effect have to be a totally passive benefit, or can agencies actively connect a celebratory moment to practical recruitment methods? We asked dozens of agency leaders what role the trophy cabinet plays in their hiring search – and whether reputation is a more valuable asset than, for example, an employee benefits package or an office culture that doesn’t work staff into the ground.

How do you solve a problem like... translating reputation into recruitment?

Naomi Troni, global chief marketing and growth officer, Wunderman Thompson

While we love shiny awards and believe in the importance of employee benefits that really benefit the individual, reputation comes from within. It’s about inspiring each individual to champion the brand and bringing the reason you exist to live through your key differentiators – be it your culture, creativity, capabilities, or clients, which will allow you to build your brand from the inside out in a way that’s authentic, believable, and entirely unique. With this strong vision, you can galvanize your people and create an army of brand ambassadors who will be the best advocates for your brand and allow you to attract the best talent – more so than any awards or free breakfast will.

Teddy Lynn, co-founding partner, Episode Four

Everybody likes to be a part of a winner. And awards are certainly one way to create that impression. But there are other ways, too... like winning new business, producing high-profile work and creating a great environment to work in such as one that meets in a different exciting place every quarter. And with so many award shows, the impressiveness of awards has been worn down and we are getting more selective about which shows we enter. So for me, reputation is the sum of many factors and awards certainly contribute.

Matt Jordan, head of UK talent and EMEA, Oliver

My view is possibly a road-less-traveled in terms of talent post-award win (we should know, we’ve won a LOT recently), but whilst award wins are a true recognition of a job (very) well done, outstanding delivery and a killer idea that client just couldn’t refuse – I often find that the devil is in the detail when it comes to engaging talent. Time with the global CCO, chats with our chief client officer and rolling the red carpet out when it comes to talking innovation and entrepreneurialism and a ’create the role you’ve always wanted’ conversation, will resonate far more with the best – versus a ‘come to us and win shit’ approach. The latter is strong, but the former will win out every day of the week when you can back it up by showcasing where you’ve done it a thousand times already – with great success.


Jaye Cowle, founder and managing director, Launch

A trophy cabinet of current awards is a clear indicator that your team has a reputation for creating industry-leading work for clients – clients are so happy that they’re willing to publicly put their name next to yours. That means potential hires have confidence they’ll be surrounded by talented colleagues they can learn from, and work with clients who are investing in award-winning agencies. We use our accolades alongside our culture and benefits to let candidates know that a burgeoning awards shelf doesn’t have to mean late nights and unrealistic deadlines.

Sharon Flaherty, chief executive officer, Folk

It’s an outdated view that awards aid recruitment. Attracting talent is more complex than it has ever been and people are much more concerned about your values and how they align with theirs, how flexible you are, how much you are going to invest in them and how little you are going to encroach on their life after 5 pm. As one candidate recently told me, she wants to work four days a week and on her day off paint naked ladies – and why not? People want more from life than work and they also want employers to facilitate that.

Katie Lee, chief operating officer, Wavemaker UK

Reputation is an ethereal thing. It’s more alchemy than equation and although we know the list of things that can contribute to it, you can have all those things and still not ‘feel it’. And I think a key to your reputation is doing it authentically. If you try to formalize the link between reputation and recruitment, for example, you are sending a message that we win awards in order to be able to hire and although it helps, that’s not the reason. We focus on awards for a myriad of reasons – it’s a good measure of the impact of our output (and I do believe that now. In all the awards shows I’ve judged in the last year, we have been absolutely obsessive around interrogating the results) and it’s recognition for our amazing talent who pour their heart and soul into our clients work every day. So yes, although reputation translates to recruitment, I wouldn’t want to be so crass as to try and formalize that process.

Adam Fulrath, director of creative services, Dewynters

Naturally, we all take a long look at our prospective employees, but the best candidates are also checking us out too.

When Dewynters recently won three prestigious awards, we immediately saw a surge in applications, with many interviewees mentioning the awards. Now, these probably weren’t the sole reason for their interest, but it’s not a stretch to assume the most talented creatives and strategists will want to work with the best.

So are award wins useful? From what we’ve seen, it doesn’t hurt to celebrate your successes. And in a crowded recruitment field, who doesn’t love a winner?

Benjamin Major, EMEA talent discovery and diversity, equity and inclusion director at Media.Monks

There are so many awards out there now that it's hard not to acquire, at least some of, them. Research is telling us that talent prioritizes purpose in their career. Purpose can still mean being the best at what you do, and purpose-led work is successful at awards, but it’s for a reason bigger than just winning. Talent wants to work for clients they respect and are doing some good in the world. Talent wants to make powerful work that lives in culture and does some good. It takes a braver agency to select talent on their assessment alone. Big talent is an expensive investment and agencies can't afford to get it wrong, but in a world when we desperately need new, uncovered, brave creative thinkers – following just the awards won’t achieve that.

Tilona Moore, senior manager, content and awards, Jack Morton

Winning awards is not about vanity – it’s a driver for name recognition, business growth and recruitment. Since implementing our targeted awards strategy seven years ago, we’ve won more awards and received more invites for speaking opportunities than ever. Those opportunities allow us to get in front of top talent to tell the stories behind the work, inspire people with our passion, and drive them to our agency. Promoting those wins and the people and stories behind them has helped our recruiters capture the attention of talent, and now job applicants consistently tell us in interviews, ’I want to work on something like that!’

Rhys Cater, managing director, Precis Digital

When we brought Precis to the UK in 2017, we already had many of the fundamental ingredients nailed: a fantastic culture, a catalog of successes with clients, and European award wins under our belt. And yet, here in the UK it didn’t mean as much as we hoped. Building a reputation locally has been essential in making our workplace attractive and showing people that Precis is an amazing place to work. We’ve found that there’s no substitute for strong foundations and word of mouth; people sharing their great experience, and clients loving our work. With those things in place, award wins are an important social proof point, and an excellent platform to create opportunities to shout about our agency and all the wonderful things about working here.


Ricardo Casal, North America chief creative officer and partner, Gut

Awards are always a consequence of good work, and they do help with recruiting new talent and client opportunities. When the industry sees an agency win awards for their own company, talent and clients, it not only improves the reputation and credibility of the agency but most importantly, it also shows the industry the agency's proven ability that their creativity and use of data is effective in solving clients' business challenges, which helps with recruitment of talent and clients for the agency overall.

Ian Heartfield, founder/chief creative officer, New Commercial Arts

NCA is only two and a half years old, so our awards cabinet isn’t overflowing just yet. But between the founders, we’ve won a few in our time. Does it help with recruitment? I’m sure it does. At the most basic level, award shows are where the work is seen by the people we might want to work with one day. But it’s certainly not the be-all and end-all. Those that measure their success by awards are not usually the kind of people that last in our industry. The mission for our creatives is to make work that is ‘award standard’. Not ‘to win awards’. Get the work to a level where we would consider entering it. If it wins, great. If it doesn’t, don’t worry about it.

Tanya Whitehouse, chief executive officer, Elvis

Reputation is of course a critical driver for recruitment, but the factors that build a great reputation are changing. Whilst awards are absolutely a mark of creative output, I’m not convinced they make an agency that distinctive anymore. Now, we see candidates looking for much more multi-dimensional workplaces. We’ve picked up a number of Lions and Pencils in recent years, but it was our B Corp certification that has been cited as a reason to join the agency in 100% of interviews. Over the past year, we’ve increased our team by 15%, and we’re still hiring. Employees now want and expect more from agencies, which we believe is absolutely the right mindset to have.

Nicola Wardell, managing director of The Agency, Specsavers

Awards at Specsavers are all about our people; for internal pride and of course for external recruitment. The best type of recruitment for us is when people are excited by, and driven by, the fame our work is creating in the real world and they want to be part of that.

As an in-house Agency, we exist only to grow our brand and our business, not an Agency bottom line. So there is no new business target, no desire to top the league tables or fill our receptions full of glass.

Because of this the work always comes first and maybe awards will follow. It’s never the other way around.

Barbara Yolles Ludwig, chief executive officer, Ludwig+

The agency business is all about the win. Winning is in our DNA. Winning is what makes us survive. Winning is what makes us grow. Any kind of win. The win of new clients. The win of an award. The win of top talent. And most importantly helping our clients win. We have attracted more clients and more talent based on our wins. It fuels our reputation. As a fast-growing, woman-owned agency, we’ve grown more than 600% based on the reputation of our wins. All of the ones listed above. Why would anyone want to work at an agency that doesn’t win? No one. But the most important thing is to make sure you promote it.

Bursting to share your opinion? Email me at and I’ll share next week’s prompt.

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