The True Hope of Award Shows

This letter is an informal open response to this article written up in Digiday, titled “The False Hope of Award Shows,” by the anonymous “Agency Exec X.”

This response is not to disagree, but rather to take the conversation further.

I could not agree more with you, Agency Exec X, that in its current state, the award show industry does not make any sense. But since I run two international award shows and have worked with almost every single one of the big ones in existence, I thought I could shed some light into the process.

First, let’s look at the finances of award shows. Yes, award shows make money. It’s our #1 source of revenue at the Art Directors Club. However there are two big differences that I think agencies have to consider when spending money in award shows, the first being who is non-profit and who isn’t. Organizations like Cannes Lions and the CLIO Awards are private for-profit companies. Even though they compete with us, there is a massive difference in what we do because they have one objective and that is to make a profit. Making thirty new categories each year is not fueled by an effort to adapt to and reflect currency in our industry, it is fueled by the motivation to take more money away from agencies. When I, as an award show manager, do not even understand my competitors’ category structures, it shows that it’s getting out of control.

Organizations like ADC, D&AD and the One Club are not-for-profit entities. All the money that agencies send in entries goes back to the industry. At ADC, we fund everything from traveling exhibitions, educational industry magazines and scholarships, to several in-house programs including Saturday Career Workshops that expose high school students to the possibilities in advertising and design. Every dollar that comes in from agencies goes back into the industry. As a pro-industry, non-profit organization, it is our job to push the industry and to serve it.

ADC’s mission is to elevate art and craft. That’s what we are committed to, and in that sense entering our award show kills two birds with one stone. It lets agencies vie for reputation and earn awarded status among their peers, but it also makes a contribution toward the good that we do for the industry as a whole. You must keep in mind that if we simply went out to agencies and asked them to donate money to fund an organization like the Art Directors Club, there would not be enough money to accomplish what we accomplish on an annual basis.

I agree about the poor sense of judging and what juries can do to politically alter results. As we move toward the ADC 93rd Annual Awards, I have decided that our judges will not be chosen based on popularity. We are going to put out a call to the visual communications industries this year to nominate potential judges. I am tired of seeing the same people judging all the time. It doesn’t mean that top CD’s from big agencies should not be among the ranks; they got to where they are because they are very talented at what they do. However, I experimented in the 92nd Annual Awards this year by adding different types of professionals from diverse, but intimately related industries to our juries and it was amazing because they were experienced, knowledgeable wild cards who were not used to the award show game. Therefore they kept us all objective, centered and grounded. I am going to continue to change the juries to invite more and more people from other facets of our creative industry.

We also filmed our judging process and have, and will continue to, make those behind-the-scenes videos available for the public year-round, which is something I’ve been doing with Tomorrow Awards since its inception. The camera keeps everyone honest.

The most important point I would like to make is that I totally and wholeheartedly agree with you about the purpose of the current award show system. I find the notion of simply giving a golden figurine to an agency or creative, followed by a let’s-go-get-drunk-at-the-bar, and then sending a press release a selfish and pointless action. Don’t get me wrong, we should celebrate the work you put so much effort into, but it doesn’t end there. With winning comes responsibilities.

I have just sent a letter to all of the winners of the ADC 92nd Annual Awards outlining just what I believe these responsibilities to be: each winner needs to do their part to teach the industry about what they learned in creating that piece of award-winning work. I am encouraging them to write editorial, to share with their peers their learnings, and to share with us the behind-the-scenes story, so that we can actually elevate the level of craft in our industry.

To be exceptionally clear and spell it out, I believe it is the ultimate responsibility of an award show to not only award, but to help disseminate the knowledge behind the making of award-winning work.

As we continue to move forward on this mission, ADC is going to become the school of craft, and I plan on squeezing every bit of knowledge out of our winners. A good example is our brand new Art Directors Annual 91 App, which not just shows the winners of the 91st Annual Awards but in many cases has an option to see the behind-the-scenes in the making of a campaign. I get more excited about this learning opportunity than I do about the actual entry.

The purpose of award shows was much simpler in the past because with only TV and print as the main media to award, we didn’t need much explanation as to why a piece won. If the spot was funny, we knew it was because it was well-written. If it was an epic spot, we knew it was because a lot of money was spent on a great director. Nowadays, with campaigns that span every media from augmented reality to geo-location tagging, it’s not possible to simply award something and then not talk about it.

If we completely re-haul the award show system, which I am definitely going to do at ADC, we can convert award shows back into helpful, non-partisan resources that help our industry advance each year. I asked all of my judges this year to reflect on the following question when awarding any ADC Cubes: “What message are you sending the industry when you award this piece? What is the lesson behind this award-winning entry?”

Like I’ve said many times in public, if we use the word ‘creative’ so much and so liberally in our titles, should we not also be creative with our own industry? Should we not change the systems that run in our community? Just because we have run award shows the same way for so many years it doesn’t justify keeping them running in the same way.

The litmus test is simple: an award should educate, inspire and positively influence everyone from a student, to a junior, to a worldwide creative director. If we cannot do that we do not deserve to exist.

Ignacio Oreamuno
Executive Director
Art Directors Club