Back in May I received one of those emails you cannot ignore. “Dear Olly, we would like you to be a judge in the inaugural Health and Wellness category at the LIA (London International) awards in Las Vegas in October.”
Hotels and flights paid for.
Hmm, let me think for a moment.
To be honest, the LIA awards could have been judging the Lactose-free Inkjet Awards or the Lazy Imbecile Awards and I would still have signed up.
Leaving aside, for the moment, why an awards show that has resided in the middle of a Nevada desert for the last ten years is called the London International Awards, it did seem like an opportunity too good to miss.
Pharma and Health and Wellness continues to come of age, thanks in no small part to the likes of our Jury President – Jeremy Perrott, Global Chief Creative Officer at McCann Health, pushing our often reluctant industry in to the limelight where it belongs. The LIA awards are another step to being part of the genuine adland gang.
Indeed Healthcare is where the action is these days.
The glee of this invitation lasted right up until this week when the tragic shooting took place and turned the town known for its partying and freedom of spirit in to a bloodbath.
I cannot write about the relatively frivolous activity of judging creative work without mentioning it, because as these events often do, it puts everything momentarily in to perspective.
Anyway, let’s hope America gets a short break before the next NRA funded terror attack happens.
And so it is I found myself last Wednesday in a cab driving past the shimmering Mandalay Bay hotel travelling through a town with 30 degree heat, to sit in a darkened room for three days looking at some of the best work in health and wellness over the last 18 months.
So why do we need another awards show?
Well, what the LIAs isn’t about is huge cabannas on the beach with tech company logos dominating the skyline. It’s not a trade show, indeed it’s not even an awards show in the traditional sense.
The LIAs is palpably about creative awards, celebrating ideas and new innovative thinking ( they dropped the ‘advertising’ from the awards title in 2004 to recognise how the business had changed). Set up by the founder of the Clios, Barbara Levy, the money from your entries goes in to funding young creatives and account people to come to Las Vegas and learn from the big names across the industry. It’s putting something back, which has to be admired.
Isn’t that better than an international show where no international people show up to collect their award and everyone just gets wasted?
Ok don’t answer that.
It’s aim is to be a genuine rival to Cannes (in terms of kudos at least) and if the level of judging is anything to go by, it already is.
Our first day was pretty brutal. I’ll take you through the deal.
Seven judges from around the world, including Japan, Sydney, Sau Paulo and Toronto with around 240 Health and Wellness entries to separate, the first task was to sort the wheat from the chaff. A large screen displays the entries and we are furnished with a small ipod with an in, out or abstain choice for each hopeful. First day is no talking, just watching.
After ten hours of tinkling piano and ernest voice overs you emerge in to the desert twilight suffering from compassion fatigue. What might have seemed an appropriate peice of music for a heart wrenching story when you were editing your case film a few weeks ago now seemlessly joins up with the next case film and the next heart wrenching story producing an end result that is like watching a sort of eight hour long, disjointed Swedish Independent film.
Day two comes and some discussion creeps in. The ipods now have a numbered scoring system which you mark from 1 to 10 depending on your affection for the concept.
The cut off point is arbitrary to an extent but we began by looking at everything that got above 60% with the ability to ‘rescue’ any forgotten or overlooked soldiers.
It then becomes clear who has a passion for what. I’d say generally most people agree on the big stuff, the zingers. It gets harder to agree when the work is just really good. Is that animation good but the idea a bit unoriginal? Does that campaign belong in the same gang as the others in its category? Does that endline let it down? Is this just a cool looking film but with a flimsy idea at its heart?
At some award shows you are desperately looking for something half decent to award, here – as in Cannes, the half decent doesnt get a look in.
By the end of day two we managed to get a good shortlist narrowed down. Then the next task was to choose what would medal and what wouldn’t.
It’s amazing how long this stuff takes. Personally, when I judge I want to be my own devils advocate and ask the questions that might expose a leak where other campaigns are watertight.
These tiny flaws are what make the difference between Gold Silver or Bronze. Sometimes it might be whether the intent of a great film is actually met. For instance it might be a stunning commercial but does it work as a fund raising machine as intended? It might be an incredible peice of innovation but does it have a legitimate role. Conversely, does it matter if the idea is hard to detect but the work moves me anyway?
Day three was a totally new experience.
The organisers wanted the aforementioned junior creatives and account handlers ( aged between 21 and 30) to sit in on the session when we chose the medal winners.
So about 30 fresh faced young’uns shuffled in and sat quietly (almost) for the whole day as we debated and voted.
I’ll admit that this was a bit weird for probably all of us. But after a while it became a bit like a viewing gallery in a surgical theatre, you just got on with the work and the debating.
It’s also fair to say that at first these whippersnappers also were not that keen on observing a health and wellness jury. I mean, who on earth wants to join a healthcare agency right?
Who wants healthcare briefs when they could be selling sugar to children?
Well, if nothing else I can honestly say that the work selected as winners in our category proved to be as stunning and inspiring as any consumer category at any show anywhere in the world.
One kiddiwink even admitted at the end of the question and answer section that she felt so impressed at the kind of work that’s possible that she had to apologise to us for her initial, albeit silent, prejudice.
But then that’s how we all feel isn’t it?
From the outside our business just looks like a bunch of press ads with headlines about tolerability and efficacy doesn’t it?
Ok, don’t answer that.
But from the inside the jury room at the LIAs, Health is looking more and more like the most exciting gig in town.
Check out the winners in November and the shortlist published here, and start thinking about getting involved for next year.
Because the LIAs have arrived and for the first time, what happens in Vegas, isn’t staying there.