Are Award Shows for Losers?

This piece was penned by Prentice Mathew, a senior art director. In the current annual fervor of Cannes, he claims “advertising awards are now for losers.” You might agree. You might find it heresy. Either way, it’s an interesting read. Anyone agree? Disagree? (And is it easier to agree or disagree based on how many awards you won this year?)

Perspective in Advertising

Ten years ago, I went to bed really bummed that one of my ads didn’t make it into the Communication Arts annual. The next day, it was September 11, 2001, and getting into CA didn’t seem like a big deal.

Advertising can be a lot of fun. And we’re lucky to be in this industry. But it’s important to keep things in perspective.

For a more detailed post on this story, click here.

Three Things You Shouldn’t Be Distracted By

In the ad business, there are a lot of things that will compete for your attention on a daily basis. Sometimes it helps me sort through my priorities by putting them in these categories:
1) Things That Matter/Don’t Matter
2) Things You Can Affect/Can’t Affect (right now)

If you’re into Venn diagrams, it might look like this:


Anything that doesn’t fall into the sweet spot (something that matters AND you can affect right now), is a distraction. Don’t let it be. Focus. Your work, right now, is what matters and what you can affect.

There are three topics that students sometimes ask me about:
1) Salary
2) Awards
3) Title

99% of the time these things are distractions. They fall outside of that center area.

SALARY: You negotiate your salary when you switch jobs and you might occasionally get a raise. But for the most part, your salary doesn’t matter on a daily basis. And the way you affect your salary is to do consistently great work. So don’t think about your salary. Focus on your work.

AWARDS: Award shows are full of brilliant work, but they’re also political, subjective and for the most part arbitrary. So while award annuals can be great for inspiration, trying to figure out why a campaign won an award and how you can emulate it leads to distraction and potentially madness. If you do snag a big award, good for you. It can open doors. But a common side effect is an inflated ego. It’s your prerogative if you want to weld your Cannes Lion to the hood of your Cadillac, but my advice would be a slightly more humble approach: say thanks to those who congratulate you, list the award on your resume, then put it in a drawer and forget you ever won it. Winning awards comes from doing consistently great work. So focus on your work.

TITLES: This may be the most arbitrary of them all. Different agencies have different structures and different systems, and titles at some agencies are more meaningful than others (a black belt under Dan Wieden means more than a black belt under Joe Schmo). Plus, it’s become trendy to rename titles so they sound more progressive (Senior Visual Content Engineer?), so they’re becoming even less meaningful. I’d say titles almost fall outside of the “THINGS THAT MATTER” circle. And the little they do matter, they’re like salary and awards in that they follow from doing consistently great work. So focus on your work.

Focus on your work. Focus on your work. Focus on your work. The one thing that you can impact right now. And it should go without saying that time spent thinking about/discussing the salary, title or awards of other people is an even bigger distraction. Because not only can you not affect those things, they don’t matter.

How to Read CA

The Communication Arts 2010 Advertising Annual has hit the shelves. If you haven’t picked up your copy, go get one today. (Seriously, why would you be reading this blog if you’re not already investing in CA?)

When you get your copy, try this:

1. Grab a pad of sticky notes.
2. Tab all the work in the annual that you think is amazing. Not just cool, or funny. But the work that is so good it gives you an inferiority complex.
3. Take a break. Go see a movie. Get some work done. Play Doodle Jumper for a couple hours. Whatever.
4. Come back to the annual and going through only the work you flagged, reflag the pieces you think are smart. Not just clever. But the work that sells. The work that either makes you want to buy what’s being advertised, or recommend it to someone.
5. Spend your time with those ads. Figure out who the audience is. What the planners probably said was “the single most persuasive idea.” Try and determine what the idea was before the execution was created.
6. Try using some of those approaches in your next assignment. Rip them off. Steal them. Make them yours. I’m not talking about the executions. That’s just plagiarism. But when you figure out what the basic starter idea was, you’ll see those themes kicked up over and over in advertising from different agencies for different clients. It’s basic psychology stuff. And it will make you a much better creative.
(All credit to this approach goes to my old copywriting professor Coz Cotzias at the VCU Brandcenter.)

Avoid This Pile

If you’ve got a subscription to creativity-online.com (and there’s no reason you shouldn’t), check out the Cannes Diary by Cannes Judge, Blake Ebel, ECD of EuroRSCG in Chicago.
He posted this picture of the print work that didn’t make it to the shortlist:

I’m guessing there are a lot of pieces in that pile that will still be featured on the agency web site, and in the books of the ADs and CDs who created it. There are probably some really nice lines and cool art direction in there. But even though they paid the $350-per-piece entry fee, they still ended up in this pile.

If you’re really trying to do amazing, Cannes-shortlist-caliber work, you’ve got to do more than a nice line and cool art direction. Even in print. It’s becoming a platitude, but it’s true: good enough simply isn’t good enough.