Are industry awards really worth it?

Taryn Payne
By Taryn Payne | 26 June 2023
Taryn Payne.

It’s awards season. Or perhaps not so much a season as an ongoing to do list. And with hundreds of shows across the globe, awards have become an industry of their own. The Cannes Lions alone attracts more than 30,000 entries and in 2019, generated $112 million (a figure that dipped since COVID).

Given the attention awards get both locally and globally each year, and the investment it takes to enter, it’s worth some reflection. As a decisive person, it’s come as a surprise that it’s taken me years to establish a comfortable position on awards. I’ve grappled with questions like whether they are important - or not? Why do we enter them? And where’s the value for agency and client partner when there’s other business issues to be solved?

Different agencies take different approaches. Some even opt to boycott them altogether. I previously worked at an agency which took the boycott position because they felt too much ‘scam’ work (i.e., created just for awards purposes and run once at 2am in regional Australia) was being awarded. They believed it created an unfair playing field, and made it harder for legitimate work created for legitimate clients in response to legitimate, real business problems within the constraints of the real world to be recognised.

This agency wasn’t alone. Some holding companies in the past have dipped out of entering certain awards for years to take a stand against scam and exaggeration. Understandable when you consider the real cost of entry – which is time spent away from real paying work to collate and put together award entries.

By comparison, other agencies deliberately and carefully invest in awards, and I’ve also had experience within one of these. One overseas agency I worked at had an ‘awards committee’ who had budget and met monthly to meticulously plan, create and resource work that could win. This was usually legitimate work for clients, but designed and pitched with award-winning in mind – solving business-trivial problems with off the wall ideas and obsessive craft.

Some would argue that they’re onto something with this deliberate approach. I recently completed James Hurrman’s Master of Advertising Effectiveness. One of his key tenants is that highly creative advertising (awarded work) is more commercially effective – by seven times! In his study ‘The Effectiveness Code’, awarded work generates a 3.5% market share gain for every 10% of excess share of voice as opposed to the average of 0.5%. In addition, the more awarded the agency the more effective their clients.

They’re impressive stats. But before jumping in to the next award entry, it’s worth asking what benefit awards really bring to a more day to day business basis?

To answer this question, I’ve reflected on why I got into this industry in the first place. It was because I love creativity. Recently I worked on a brand strategy for a client that centred around Human Creativity. It defined it as the “fundamental skill that will ensure we can prosper when the future is filled with challenges the like of which we haven’t encountered before, and opportunities we’ve yet to imagine”. I firmly believe in this. I also just love ideas, new thoughts, discussion, imagination and beautiful things. I definitely believe in anything that can surface and celebrate them in all their forms.

But in the context of ad industry award shows, keeping a clear head on our purpose as agencies is critical. Creativity is incredibly important. It’s also incredibly exciting. However, creativity without strategy is just art. We ultimately operate in a commercial environment… and actually don’t exist without our clients. The success we create for our clients creates reciprocal success for ourselves. We can’t afford to lose focus on this. We should be assessing the work for awards based on these criteria: whether it used creativity to effectively deliver business results and or change behaviour.

Which brings us back to the question at hand. Are our industry awards really worth it? And after some time, the position I’ve landed on is yes – if they provide an opportunity to really celebrate success, not just art.

We work hard in a hard environment (read: 2023 the year of hyper-fatigue), so it’s absolutely critical we stop and smell the roses. Enjoy the amazing people we work with and the changes our work makes in the world. And when it is right, enjoy the reflective opportunity that entry-writing offers.

Most importantly, we should celebrate the successful partnerships with our clients that are delivering real results. That are fun to be part of. That have respectful tension. That produce wonderful work that shifts the dial.

We should prioritise the award shows and categories that celebrate what matters: our client’s business results. Because there is no agency without our clients and no clients without business results. And no awards without either.

Taryn Payne is 303 MullenLowe's Head of Business Management

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