Know Your Award Shows

Here’s a presentation I recently did for my agency. I hope you enjoy it.

Congrats, One Show Finalists


Congratulations to all the One Show Finalists in the student competition. Best of luck on getting a pencil this Thursday. Best of luck getting a job afterwards.

For those of you who are not finalists and/or pencil winners (and those of you who are), as great an honor as this is, as far as your career’s concerned it’s no better than reading tea leaves.
I’ve known people who never won an award as a student load up a reel’s worth of great spots on Creativity, become GCD’s on award-winning accounts, and have a healthy shelf of awards anyway.
I’ve also know winners of One Show golds in the student competition to be jobless a year after receiving their award, and I’ve known winners of One Show student pencils who have yet to win anything else in their career.
If you win, milk it for all it’s worth. If you don’t, it doesn’t mean the work you did isn’t stellar.
At any point in your career, you’re only as good as your last ad.

A Year Without Award Shows?

It’s hard to think of another industry, with the possible exception of film or music, that has so many awards and award shows. We love patting ourselves on the back.

For creatives, our value is often measured by what awards we’ve managed to win. They also help agencies attract top talent. They give creatives something to strive for. And the actual award show parties, well they can be fun too. But is this all worth it?

Agencies spend tens of thousands of dollars entering award shows every year. They spend more money to fly people to the shows. With the current economic climate, what does this say about our priorities?

Being selected to judge a top show is perceived as a big honor, and the judges list often reads like a who’s who in the industry. But then there’s all the behind-the-scenes politicking that takes place at the shows. You vote for my campaign, I’ll vote for yours. Which kind of thing makes one wonder what a win is really worth.

A good friend and co-worker just wrote an interesting post proposing a year without award shows.

I’m interested to know what you think. On the one side, it’s always good to strive to do better, more creative work. And there’s nothing more inspirational than seeing all of the industry’s best work in one place. On the other hand, I can think of a long list of reasons why award shows are not the best way to judge what’s good, and why they’re actually more harmful to our industry than they are helpful.

What’s your take?

How to Read an Awards Annual

You’ve probably already gone through the CA Advertising Annual and preordered your copy of the One Show. (If not, why haven’t you?)

It’s easy enough to go through these books page by page, thinking “Cool…Cool…How’d that get in?…Cool…I had that idea…”

But if you’re serious about understanding what makes an award-winning ad, you can’t just flip through the annuals. You have to study them. Yes, study.

One of the best techniques I know came from my old copywriting professor, Coz Cotzias. Here’s what you do…

  1. Sit down with an annual and a pack of Post-It notes.
  2. Go through the book flagging every ad you totally dig as a creative.
  3. Put the book down. Go see a movie. Read a book. Whatever. Just step away.
  4. Come back to the book, but this time, viewing only the executions you tagged as a creative, look at them as a consumer. Tag the ones you dig as someone who might actually buy whatever it is that’s being advertised.

These are the ads you want to aspire to. Why? Because they’re not just clever. They’re smart. They’re effective. They’re the ones that are rooted in a strategy. The ones that are really solving the client’s problem creatively.

For extra credit, go through all of these ads and see if you can figure out what the strategy was and who specifically they were trying to talk to. This isn’t to turn you into planners. It’s to make you better creatives.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Gary Goldsmith…

We all pay less attention to the process than we should. If doctors and scientists operated in the same manner that we do, it’d be a scary world. What they do is creative, too, in its own way. They’ve devoted a lot of thought to the way in which they arrive at a diagnosis, and the way in which they treat it. But with us, it’s almost like we have this thing in our head, we don’t need to do that, we should just sit down and come up with ideas.

This is possibly the most important lesson I can give anyone in advertising.

Six months into my first job, I was lucky enough to do an ad that got into the One Show. Here it is:


Bolstered by this confidence, my art director and I were certain the same ad would get into the Communication Arts annual. We submitted it. And months later, we got the call. It wasn’t on the shortlist.

I’m not exaggerating when I say I was supremely bummed. The fact that I was in the One Show annual was no consolation. I spent the day in a funk. I was blue. Cranky even. I remember going to sleep that night resolved to work harder than ever. I would never miss an opportunity like that again. I was going to do whatever it took to make award-winning ads.

That was September 10, 2001. The next day, getting into CA didn’t seem so important anymore.

I’ve been fortunate to have great creative directors and great partners and great clients who’ve helped me win awards and appear in annuals and other publications. And I haven’t received a single accolade without reflecting on that experience.

Years before 9-11, Neil French put it another way: “It’s kind of tragic that you can spend an entire lifetime turning out four great pieces of work, and they’re all ads. Nurses and ambulance drivers do something a thousand times as important, five times a day.”

Advertising is a lot of fun. We get paid to think. To come up with ideas. To make people laugh. To change their behavior. We’re very lucky to be in this business. Let’s not be jerks about it. Let’s keep things in perspective. Let’s do good work.

Aristotle to the Rescue

Again, some really great, interesting comments on the last post. Here’s my take. I’d love to hear what you think of it.

It’s Aristotle who inspired the question of advertising things we don’t really need. And it’s Aristotle who helps me deal with it.

Aristotle’s philosophy held that people can only be happiest when we are doing all we are capable of doing.

We can’t be truly happy knowing we can and should do something, and then not act. We can’t be truly happy lounging around when we know we’re capable of starting a business, organizing a club, or writing a letter to the editor. We can’t be truly happy passing a homeless person on the street when we’ve got a dollar in our pocket we know we don’t really need. And when you’re capable of doing intelligent, creative, brilliant advertising, that’s what you’ve got to do, too.

While some may argue that no one really needs a Porsche, vitamin-enhanced water, or an iPhone, I would also argue that the producers of those goods are probably happy because they’re doing all they’re capable of. They’re trying to engineer a better car, make more interesting water, or make media more accessible by whatever standards they set. They’re innovating. And that’s what we do as a species. And if I really believe that about a product, I’m happy to help advertise that.

So how does this relate to any of you today? The One Show College Competition is currently under way. I understand the deadline is February 21st. You’re all capable of getting in that book. What a great opportunity for you to be happy.