Kind of a big deal – the relationship between media agencies & awards

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Our Renegade Writer of the Month Winner for July, Josh Gurgiel, takes us through his thoughts on the love/hate relationship between media agencies and winning awards.

I’m a terrible footballer.

When I was 11 years old, I had one dream in life – to play AFL football. The late and great Jim Stynes was my hero, followed closely by Gary Lyon, then Shaun Smith (Mark of the Year, 1995 – look him up!) I joined my local under-11’s football club with the high hopes of becoming a running-jumping-kicking-tackling-handballing machine, however there was just one problem – I was a terrible footballer.

My boyhood dream seemed to slip further away with each passing season. The tackling became fiercer, the game became faster, yet my skills saw no improvement. I took one mark in 3 seasons; that’s one mark in almost 60 games; that’s a single mark in 240 quarters of football! I came to be known as “the seagull” as I usually hovered cautiously around the pack without actually joining the action. Finally, following an under-13’s season that was filled with an inordinate amount of time spent on the bench, my parents literally hung up my boots and encouraged me to focus on my musical theatre pursuits.

So you can imagine my surprise when I won the “Coach’s Award” at my club’s presentation night that year.

Sure, everyone knows that the “Coach’s Award” is only awarded to the most uncoordinated, friendless goodie-goodie in the team, but at the time it confirmed in my mind that I was indeed destined to become the next Shaun Smith. As I grew older, I realised that I don’t actually like football and my childhood dreams evolved accordingly. But I also started to question the validity and the purpose of awards.

The media industry loves an award ceremony. Whether it’s the Cannes Lions, the MFAs, the Mumbrellas, the AdNews…s, or just drinking G&Ts at the B&Ts, we love a good celebration of all things “creative.” We even hold a Media Hall of Fame lunch each year, which makes me question whether we are uniquely self-involved, or do the glass-blowing and horticulture industries have similar annual luncheons?

The point is, we in the media industry love two things above all else:

  1. Drinking.
  2. Patting ourselves on the back and celebrating how amazingly creative and super legendarily awesome we are and how the world simply couldn’t function without our super amazing creative legendary awesomeness.

These award ceremonies serve to recognise and reward the “best” media campaigns of each year. The recipient agencies place the coveted trophies in their reception areas and update their email signatures to reflect their achievements. In the words of Ron Burgundy, these awards are “kind of a big deal.”

So you can imagine the industry’s surprise when a creative agency won the MFA Grand Prix last year.

Creative agency The Monkeys took out the Grand Prix for their “Stay Living” campaign for Boost Mobile. It was a fun, fresh and frightening campaign that had the right balance of entertainment and viral shareability to see it snatch this major media prize. But The Monkey’s aren’t alone – there has been an influx of creative agencies at other media award ceremonies, sparking some concern that we in the media industry are losing our creative edge. Are creative agencies encroaching on our territory? Are we at risk of becoming redundant?

We can only answer these questions by asking a slightly more challenging, and taboo, question:

Do we actually care about winning awards?

What seems to make a successful media award entry at any given ceremony is the presence of an “exceptionally clever idea.” An idea that attempts to creatively solve a problem beyond normal, rational thinking. An idea that stops you in your tracks and makes you (and the judges) wish you had thought of it. However, I fear that the “cleverness” of such ideas may often overshadow the effectiveness of their implementation. In Intellectual Property law, you don’t have any actual rights in a mere idea; it is only once that idea has been expressed in a physical form that you can claim ownership over the representation of that idea. Similarly, a mere great idea is meaningless unless it manifests a tangible, desired result.

The fact that creative agencies are winning media awards is both utterly meaningless and frighteningly threatening, depending on how we measure the success of our work. Sure, at this present time creative agencies might be producing more ground-breaking media ideas with the sufficient “wow factors” to capture the industry’s attention; it would therefore be tempting to view this emerging “turf war” as an opportunity to shake up our thinking and “challenge ourselves creatively.” But in doing so, we must not lose sight of our primary purpose – to solve the specific business problems faced by our clients.

I’m not saying that awards don’t matter. I felt elated when I won that “Coach’s Award” and I entered the NGEN category of the MFA awards this year for one reason – to win. But we must put this threat posed by creative agencies into its appropriate context. We should always strive to produce work that will push the boundaries of the media landscape, however we must do so for the sole reason of driving business success for our clients. Awards serve as an important validation that we as an industry are continuing to innovate and should be celebrated by their recipients, but must never be the driving force behind the work we produce. Our responsibility is first and foremost to our clients and must remain so when our imaginations run wild with self-interest.

The best campaign is one that works, and the best award is the positive feedback we receive from our clients acknowledging that we understand their brands and their goals.

And if you ever receive the “Coach’s Award”…it might be time to find a new hobby!

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