Confessions of an awards tart.

I’ve been honoured and lucky enough to have been asked to sit on three awards juries this year.

Cannes Pharma, LIAs Health and I’ll be attending Clio Health in November. I was asked to be on the Globals but although honoured of course, I had to raincheck that one. I do have a day job.

Hopefully next year.

But ok, yeah, I’m an awards tart. And I love it.

(So, if you didn’t or don’t win at any of those, it’s probably partly my fault somewhere along the line.)

But juries are actually, apart from being an enjoyable few days with like-minded peers, an incredible Creative Director training day.

Especially the bigger more international shows, like the above.

It’s not structured like a training course (of course), but I find the analysis, the discussion and the critical thinking of other creative minds, fascinating. It re-calibrates my Creative Director bar every time.

Sometimes we can get carried away with thinking our work is fab and should win everything or at least something, only to come up empty handed.

Other times I think, shit, we should have entered more.

But mostly I feel, shit, we need to up our game.

Each show, because of the dynamic of the group, throws up different winners, with some exceptions obviously.

There are some bits of work that transcend individual opinion and unite juries, but for me the more interesting ones are around the edges. Is it a bronze or a silver or a shortlist?

Watching incredibly worthy and tear-jerking films for some desperate causes or diseases and judging them on a spurious creative basis sometimes feels rather shallow, but judge we must.

What I can say is that if you can get yourself on to a shortlist of any of the big shows, that is a major achievement and one that is not to be overlooked. If you can hit that bar, you are in with a shout because that’s where it gets interesting.

I’ve seen work that has gone from shortlist to silver via one judge’s passionate advocacy. And I’ve seen work that has medalled at one show and not even shortlisted at another.

Almost every judge has that moment when they are the only one who loves something and everyone else looks at them in abject horror.

What, just me? Oh ok.

Some more existential questions have presented themselves too lately.

Like should what used to be rather daintily called ‘feminine hygiene’, be part of a health and wellness awards show? Aren’t they consumer products?

It looks and feels like it should, I agree. It has all the hallmarks of a H&W category.

But who exactly is ill?

Work in that field invariably ends up with all the male jurors voting highly because well, we don’t really know one way or another and …cough cough…we, er…well, it might be best to just go with it.

Then all the female judges, roll their eyes and vote it out.

Case history films seem to have settled in a kind of groove that works for most people: Set up, issues to solve, concept, results.

(By the way, you may not need to do a case history film if your film is great already- sometimes it can just speak for itself.)

The better ideas also tend to have the slicker productions but most jurors can see past a thin idea masquerading within a glossy case video.

It’s also weird because it used to be that ‘creativity was all’ at creative awards shows. I mean, who cares if it worked? – it’s sooooo amazing!

Of course creativity is still a priority and a given, but these days every jury I’ve been involved in has scrutinized the results. what exactly did it achieve? Ironically you probably won’t win gold now if your campaign was only seen by five people on YouTube, even if it was incredible.

Unless five people was all it was intended to attract.

It’s complicated in Healthcare.

But generally this means that far from the creativity for creativity’s sake winners of yesteryear, today – at least in the H&W categories, winners tick all the effectiveness boxes too.

However, the phony results are also, I’m sorry to say guys, easy to spot these days too.

A few years ago stating ‘our campaign got 2 billion impressions’ might have cut it. These days it’s greeted with, yeah whatever. We know what impressions mean.

One thing I can never fathom is how, when every entry claims massive internet and social media coverage for their idea, showing TV news coverage and thousands of twitter posts, is why the first time any of us ever hear of these projects is when they present themselves at awards shows.

I kinda miss the days when ideas were less targeted and more mass appeal, it had a unifying effect.

Another question that arises among juries sometimes is the notion that ‘anyone would have thought of the same thing if they’d been given the brief’.

This for some, somehow devalues rather cynically a really clever idea or solution.

I am not sure this matters to me. ‘Is it a good and creative solution’ is my primary concern, if the answer is yes then so what if you or I could have thought of it?

Sometimes the best ideas look like they are easily come by. I’m not so sure.

Whether your project or ad wins bronze, silver or gold, is almost entirely based on a kind of a jurors sixth sense.

It’s somewhat arbitrary and is based on a sensibility that’s almost always questionable. Jurors are often fallible, have little time to make snap judgements and on another given day could make entirely different decisions.

But that’s the risk you take. And that’s also the magic of different jurors and different awards shows.

Personally I have found myself to be on the generous side of my fellow Creative peers. I often like the small ideas that have no scale but made a difference. I would have longer shortlists if it were up to me.

Because I think that the problem with some H&W awards juries is that we can be overly harsh, and yes slightly chippy in relation to our consumer cousins categories. We are so critical of ideas that sit on or around the shortlist level that we can inadvertently shoot the whole category in the foot. Discouraging entrants who see no possibility of success within them and reducing numbers, possibly resulting in the closure of the whole category.

Every awards show needs entrants, no matter  how creatively elite the shortlist is, the empty categories of no nominees and no shortlists only serve to discourage our industry peers.

There will always be the deluded ones who enter god-awful rubbish but how many really nice ideas are never entered because the agencies are just too dispirited?

An example of this self-consciousness, was demonstrated to me while I was in Las Vegas judging the LIAs. (It’s a tough life)

We had all loved an ad, and yes it was a 30 second TV spot.

It consistently got a laugh from the room, but somehow only got away with a bronze. That’s still pretty good, granted.

Late one night, as we tried to fox the ‘dueling piano’ players with obscure song requests, one of my juror colleagues reported a conversation with a jury member judging film and TV.

They had given it gold and couldn’t understand how we’d been so stingy.

It’s not an exact science, and of course there’s always anomalies, as I said. But I get the sense that other juries don’t seem to have the same manacle of having to match consumer categories for quality.

If they like it, its good enough.

That’s my benchmark.

So if you find yourself on an awards jury some time soon, I wish you luck. It can be soul destroying wading through it all, but the thrill of seeing something wonderful for the first time, that jewel, is what makes it all worth it.

And always remember the other thing about awards:

Nobody cares about your award as much as you do.

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