Epica Seeks Higher Profile on Awards-Show Circuit

Revamps prize categories, welcomes new judges

It's been around since 1987 and is judged by advertising experts from 42 countries, but the Epica Awards hasn't enjoyed the sort of U.S. exposure seen by the likes of Cannes, the Clios and The One Show. 

This year, the awards show hopes to expand its profile and position itself as "a legitimate and necessary alternative to other global creative competitions," said Mark Tungate, the organization's chief spokesman and editorial director, tasked with assembling an annual 400-page coffee table book about the show.

Acknowledging that it cannot compete against iconic events like the Cannes Lions in terms of scale, Epica—scheduled for Nov. 19 in Berlin, and open for entries through month's end—has added timely, trendy awards categories and expanded its jury pool in an effort to attract more attention, especially in key markets like the United States.

New and enhanced prize brackets include personal electronics, humor, product design and virtual reality, among others, increasing the number of overall categories to 68, up from 62 last year. In addition, the international jury has been enlarged, and the show expects to welcome 53 judges, compared to 43 in 2014.

"If you're a creative professional, this is the only chance you'll have to get your work judged and celebrated by a jury that combines the objective viewpoint of the public with a deep expertise that comes from years of covering the industry," Tungate said. He makes that claim because—since the show's founding in 1987—the Epica jury has been composed entirely of journalists who follow marketing and media. (Adweek digital managing editor David Griner will serve as a first-time juror in November.)

Jurors are not allowed to vote for work from their own countries, subtracting traditional awards-show politics from the equation. "No one has an ax to grind. You get an award if you do your best work—that's it," Tungate said.

"At their best, journalists are proxies for the audience," said Teressa Iezzi, the former Fast Co. senior editor, who served as Epica's jury president last year. "And the audience is the ultimate arbiter of whether advertising is good or effective or not." So, handing over the judging reins from industry practitioners to the press helps keep the show in tune with broader public opinion.

Michael Aimette, executive creative director at BBDO New York, which won the show's Grand Prix in Film last year for GE's "The Boy Who Beeps," buys into that logic, calling Epica "an important one to win." The agency enters the show every year.

That's not true for all shops, however, so Epica is looking to add value beyond the awards. For the second year, the show will also sponsor a Creative Circle conference, giving ad professionals and the press a chance to discuss topics such as virtual reality, photography, graphic design and the impact of urban life on creativity. In a sense, the event is transforming itself into a forum for insightful sharing—where the best concepts of a given year also happen to receive prizes.

Room for improvement

Despite its lofty goals, Epica, which focused on European creativity until going global three years ago, remains somewhat obscure. The show received about 4,000 total entries in each of the past two years, roughly one-tenth as many as Cannes this year.

"It feels completely unfair, and probably pointless, to compare [those two shows] as their character and purpose are different," said Carlo Cavallone, executive creative director of 72andSunny Amsterdam. The shop won a digital Grand Prix at Epica last year for "Night Walk," an immersive journey through Marseilles, created for Google. "Epica has an appeal as an interesting prestigious award outside of the closed advertising circles."

Fair enough. But "every award show is competing with Cannes and every other show for the agency awards-entry dollar," said Iezzi, who suggested that expanding the jury pool beyond the trade press would be a plus. "Open up the jury invites to a broader array of plugged-in journalists who work in the wider business and culture worlds. Doing so, she said, would "help with exposure and bring fresh eyes to the work."

Several recent attendees decried the show's low-key, almost restrained atmosphere. They said it's more like a typical industry conference with a gala dinner than a full-on awards show—and it doesn't generate enough excitement. "A proper social gathering" before and after the prize ceremony would help attract more attendees and drum up publicity in the press, Cavallone said.

Francois Kermoal, former publisher of French marketing journal Strategies, and jury president in 2013, noted that other shows have become places where "people network and see each other," while Epica sorely lacks this dimension.

Some people in the industry suggested Epica's late-year timing could work in its favor; it offers a preview of campaigns that could win big at the following year's events. "Epica is often a bellwether for next year's shows," said Tungate. "We were the very first show to award 'Epic Split' [the Volvo spot won a Gold in 2013], and '#LikeAGirl' won a Grand Prix with us before it went on to further success in Cannes. So we do create a momentum, and even set trends in our own small way."