"The entrant is respected all times" - The Drum's award judging process laid bare

Knowledge is power, or so they say, but that phrase rang so true when I had a passionate call this week from an agency head of new business.

The call was out the blue and it was one that – as managing director of events – I rarely get, even during my 13 years at The Drum. It was of a sensitive nature and it did make me think. It made me realise that just because I am well versed in how we do things at The Drum, doesn’t mean to say that it translates to the industry quite as succinctly has we had hoped and as such we have a job and a responsibility to make things clearer and more transparent.

I was challenged about why a competitor to their agency was on one of my award juries, especially if they were thinking about entering themselves. To them it was inconceivable why they would submit sensitive information for it to fall into the hands of their arch nemesis. And they were absolute right to ask the question. Instead of hiding away this conversation I think that it would be more respectful and fair to bring it out into the open because if they are thinking it, then the probability is that others are bottling it up too.

There are two clear questions that need addressing – how we recruit judges and secondly the process we take to ensure the judgings are fair and accessible to everyone.

Every time you start out the awards process you need to ensure the judging panel you recruit is high calibre and we go about that in all different kinds of ways – we leverage our own knowledge of who we know are good at what they do and possess the relevant skills required to make them a qualified judge. We then chat with our editorial team and often they suggest great people based on their achievements and again, skill-set.

Lots of research goes into the market, as does chatting with previous judges and other contacts to unveil a host of credible suggestions. Sometimes contenders approach us directly to be considered.

We then look at who can bring a varying range of viewpoints, expertise and perspectives from across the whole industry and that means you end up with a combination of brands, agencies, suppliers and other key organisations and businesses that are fully engaged in the area that is being awarded. Voila. You have your A Team.

Over the years The Drum awards has worked effortlessly to build-up and maintain a credible reputation and that is the upmost importance to us, which is why the first thing we do is ask the judges outright – do you have any conflicts of interests? Based on the responses we then work out the best plan of action, so for example, if they are going to enter something themselves then we make sure they are nowhere near that report or indeed that category.

What’s next? Well, based on the amount of entries we expect to receive we determine how many sub groups we need to create from the jury, combining the various skills from our panel. We mix it up; so for example, if you’ve got an expert in social they should probably contribute to a social category – would be a little crazy not to, right? The judges then do pre-scoring of the reports on their own, ensuring that they are not swayed by the rest of the jurors at this stage. These scores then enable us to create a shortlist for discussion on the actual judging day. When everyone comes together that’s when sparks tend to fly.

All judges are made to sign NDAs and if an entrant requests that a particular judge should not see their report, for good reason, they are blocked from viewing this in the back-end of our website and are also asked to leave the room when discussions are going on about this particular business and their report. The entrant is respected all times.

Whilst it can be unnerving to know that a competitor is on the jury, one thing we must remember is that they are surrounded by a group of highly intelligent, often very opinionated, influencers so it would be ludicrous for them to slate an entry of a competitor unjustifiably because they would look like “complete dicks” as I quoted the other day.

In all of the years I have run the awards division, I can put my heart on my sleeve and be proud that we conduct a professional, ethical and honourable system to ensure that we do right by everyone. Of course, this is the kind of response you’d expect from me and The Drum so it’s only fair we let you know what other people in the industry think too.

Catherine Toole, chairman, Sticky Content, part of the Press Association - "I’ve been a judge for other awards and from what I could see the process for judging the inaugural Drum Content Awards was as rigorous as any I've experienced. Most of all I felt there was an emphasis on transparency. I genuinely feel great lengths were gone to to ensure any conflict of interest was openly declared and work was judged on its own merit. There was certainly a lot of throwing people out of the room to discuss a piece of work in their absence. And sometimes, once they'd left, we were pretty brutal. There were many good-natured, but heated, discussions on the day. No content award was given lightly, I can promise you that.”

Kim De Ruiter, senior manager music, video and games – Europe at Samsung Electronics -We were all given opportunity at the outset to flag conflicts of interest, and should these have existed we simply wouldn’t have taken part in the judging for that particular category. The nature of our business dictates that this will sometimes happen, but as professionals it’s our ethical responsibility to evaluate each concept or campaign on genuine merit”

Jerry Daykin, global digital partner, Carat -“I've judged a few of The Drum's awards and it's always an incredibly inspiring experience - it's also good to see the rigour that goes into the decisions that are made and the varied debate that surrounds them. You get marched out the room if any campaign you are related to comes up for discussion, and I think some judges spent half their time out in that corridor.”

David Parkinson, GM Nissan, head of digital, Africa, Middle East, India - “I have taken part in several judging events for the Drum. At all times they were ran professionally and ethically. Any judging of your own campaign meant you had to leave the room with the jury being very diligent about not discussing afterwards. No outside influence was ever given and all judges debated and discussed with only timing and general advice from The Drum team.”

Tiffany St James, digital transformation, co-founder at Transmute & BIMA Board -“What I love about judging The Drum events is that they have really clear processes to ensure there are no conflict of interests and everyone is dealt with equally and fairly. It’s key for judges to be able to stand by the work they have evaluated that judging processes are clear, open and fair and critical to supporting good work in digital industry that they are happy to put their name to.”

James Whatley, digital director, Ogilvy & Mather -“I was chairman of the judging panel for the 2014 Social Buzz Awards. Having entered the awards previously and written for The Drum in the past, it was a great honour to be asked. However, nothing gave me greater pride in my industry than to be sat with other digital and social leaders and listen to them argue over which campaigns deserved which awards and why. Many awards shows and programmes get a rough deal but the Social Media Buzz awards should not be included in that cohort; the effort and discussion that went into the judging (as well as the strict rules around who should be in the room and when) is something I still talk to people about today. It made me proud to be part of such a fantastic industry.”

Ross Sleight, chief strategy officer, Somo - “I've been fortunate to have judged a lot of different The Drum awards. The process is quite a taxing one - we have a long list of entrants that we study and score before the judging, and are then placed into groups where our career experience will allow us to have an informed debate with our peers, but also ensures that we never judge any category where an entry from any party we are associated with is entered. What’s also important is the having a real level of secrecy and transparency - if a judge is associated with or work for a company that has entered an award category we are asked to leave the room until the award has been discussed in the forum or judged, this goes for all the Grand Prixs as well - if you have an entry in you don't have a scoobie as to what has happened with it and all judges are sworn to secrecy on this. There was one memorable MOMAs where I found out I could only judge five categories as Somo had entered into all the others. So to avoid coming in and out of the room like a yoyo I sat on the terrace of the Groucho club with a bottle of good white wine in the sun. Best judging ever.”

Anna Watkins, managing director, Guardian Labs -“We have established very clear guidelines and criteria for each of the awards categories. Each group of judges has rigorous, open and at times heated debates to ensure that the process is as transparent, fair and balanced as possible. Conflict and bias is avoided by simply excluding those with a direct or associated interest in a particular award entry from the room whilst it is discussed.”

Alex Kozloff, acting director of marketing & communications, IAB -“I have worked with the Drum over the last couple of years judging their awards, which is not only a great honour but also a lot of fun. They run a very tight ship- putting fairness, confidentiality and the management of conflicts of interests at the top of the priority list, whilst easing the load on judges by splitting categories and creating judging teams.”

Nicky Bullard, executive creative director, Lida - “It takes a firm organiser to spot any funny business and knock it on the head. It's also in the casting, something The Drum is particularly good at; most creatives just want to see amazing work on the day and skip out of the room gagging to talk to their departments about it. Anyone with an agenda would be sniffed out in a minute, particularly here in the UK.”

Andrew Jones, director, account management, Yahoo - “It was a real pleasure to judge the Drum Search Awards last year and I was very impressed by the efficiency and transparency of the entire process. The jury was a good mix of agencies, search engines and brands, all offering a wide range of knowledge and insight. The quality of the entries was high, with each one providing a shining example of best practice in search advertising. It made the decision process tough, but the impartiality with which all entries were decided ensured a level and considered playing field. Judges who had entered were made to leave the room at the appropriate points and every entry was given a fair hearing.”

Vikki Chowney, director of content & publishing strategies, H+K Strategies - “I’ve never been involved in a judging process that hasn’t treated conflict of interest in the only way it can be – by removing those with any input into a piece of work from judging relevant categories entirely. Plus, there’s the responsibility aspect. I always feel incredibly responsible for any categories I judge, and if they’re not selected in a fair way, with the award going to the best piece of work that the industry can look to for best practice – I just wouldn’t feel comfortable with that. When you’re in the room on the final judging day, everyone’s aware of that.”

Lynn Lester is managing director of events at The Drum, she tweets @Lynnsweettweet

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