How to Win a Clio Award

10 things I learned as an award judge

I was recently asked to be jury member of the Clio Awards. The Clios? An advertising award that my mother has actually heard of! But wait, it gets better. The judging was going to take place in beautiful and exotic Malta. Whoo-hoo a boondoggle, for sure. Well, what I thought was going to be a fun in the sun par-tay with my fellow creative peers turned out to be a focused, disciplined educational experience. Education? Oh, yeah. Here are ten things I learned about what wins and what doesn’t:

1. Don’t put a sumo wrestler in an ad. Not only were there three separate ads on one table alone that used a sumo wrestler, but it’s been done before. A lot. Original thinking wins. 

2. Visual ads are still king. Let’s face it, it’s hard for a witty headline to play well in a room full of judges whose second language is English. Clever headline ads very seldomly placed highly when compared to their more visual counterparts.

3. Bronze is really damn good. Before judging the Clios, I naively failed to realize was just how hard it is to get a Bronze in a major award show.  Out of thousands of entries, it means the piece rose to the top, which is insanely hard to do.

4. Work that makes you #jealous. One of the best ways to approach the overwhelming judging process is to ask yourself a simple question, “Do I wish I did that?” If the answer is yes, you probably have a winner. The best pieces had the jurors muttering, “I wish I had that in my book.”

5. Craft everything. Looking at the winning pieces: the typography is outstanding, not a letter is kerned too loosely or too tightly. The photography is spot-on. The mood, tone and color palette of the piece is unified and best represents the idea. The product placement isn’t an afterthought, it’s not slapped in the lower right corner without a lot of consideration. The tagline is well-accounted for. The cropping is stellar. Oh, and above all, the idea is a never-been-done-before kind of idea that stops you in your tracks.

6. Gold is truly gold on every level. Winning gold means you scored perfect 10s in every area of an execution. Not one choice was made poorly. I saw the jury drop a piece from Silver to Bronze because the photograph was overly retouched by about 15%.

7. Short case studies win jurors’ hearts.  We watched over 15 hours of case studies in the OOH category alone. That’s 300 case studies to consider. And most of them could be a lot shorter. The most refreshing ideas were those that were presented succinctly. Don’t make a 2-minute case study just because you can.

8. It only needs to happen once. If it’s an experiential or stunt kind of idea, don’t worry about franchising it all over the globe and doing it in different cities. You just need to do it once and document it well. The internet is the new “multi-city” rollout plan.

9. It’s really, really hard to win in a film category. The film jury had to look at a lot more entries than we had to look at. Everyone seems to enter the TV category. But there’s a lot of metal to be won in less sexy categories. B-to-B print anyone? I think we saw only 3 entries there.

10. The best ideas touch us. The best ideas are more than just sales tactics, they’re human ideas that everyone can relate to. They’re clever, touching, hysterical or just plain brainy. They make you feel something. And they stay with you long after the judging is over.

Ultimately, the biggest takeaway I learned is not about the judged but about the judges themselves. Quite simply, serving on a jury makes you a better creative. Sure, advertising is not just about pursuing trophies, but it does come with the territory and (newsflash!) clients like to win too. So even if your first judging opportunities are local shows, with small reaches, it’s important to shift your perspective and see the work as a jury sees it. What does the winning work do that the losing work doesn’t? What magic ingredient does it have? What makes it special? How is it presented? What makes the jurors talk or debate something? In the end, the experience of being an advertising awards judge actually is a boondoggle, whether it’s in Malta or Missoula, the experience teaches you what it takes to win.