Where Credit Is Due

Award-show season is upon us again—a time to shine a light on the best and brightest in our industry.

But there seems to have been a shift in the past few years. I’m noticing that, instead of celebrating the agencies that actually did the fresh, breakthrough work, more and more headlines and news releases are celebrating the aggregate medal totals of agency networks and holding companies.

And I’m not sure what this accomplishes.

Call me simple, or overly purist, or behind the times, but I’m a lot more interested in knowing who’s really doing the kick-ass work than which agency network won more pounds of metal.

Is this really happening? Or is it my imagination? I dug up press releases and stories, and there does, in fact, seem to be a trend afoot. Example one: The Gunn Report press release for 2003 reads, “Crispin Porter takes Gunn top spot; Miami shop is most-awarded in world for ’03.” Flash forward to Gunn Report press release, 2004: “DDB named most-awarded network.”

Lost in the shuffle are Almap BBDO in São Paulo, the Gunn Report’s single most-awarded agency in 2004, and Wieden’s “Cog” spot, the most-awarded TV spot.

But the Gunn Report isn’t alone. News from The One Show, 2003, reads, “Crispin scores big at One Show.” By 2004, the emphasis changes: “TBWA Worldwide gets most One Show Awards,” reads The New York Times. “The TBWA network picked up the most pencils,” was Adweek’s lead for a news blurb on the winners.

And, y’know, good on my friends at TBWA, but the stories that get subjected to body copy (at best) include Best of Show (“Cog” again, the bastards) and, maybe even more interesting, Adidas coming out of nowhere to be named One Show client of the year.

The story wasn’t much different for Cannes: 2004’s headlines trumpeted, “Omnicom sweeps Cannes,” and “TBWA ranks clear number one at Cannes.”

And 2005 promises more of the same. The New York Times recently reported that The Art Directors Club awards were dominated by, and I quote, “agencies that belong to the BBDO Worldwide division of the Omnicom Group.”

Gee, that sounds so, um, inspiring.

I bring this up for a couple of reasons. First, it’s hard to see where the next Crispin or 180 or Campbell Doyle Dye is going to bubble up from if they’re a footnote to a perpetual lead story about which agency network won more combined awards. And more mature agencies with consistently strong creative (from Wieden to Carmichael to Mother) stand to suffer the same fate.

Second, award totals aren’t an absolute statement of network creative health. Yes, TBWA did well at Cannes last year. They always seem to; in 2004, they had the agency of the year (Paris) and won the Grand Prix (London). But while eight of their offices brought home a Lion of some sort, the other 227 did not. If I were a client, I know which I’d make sure I was working with.

Come Oscar time, you don’t see headlines touting Paramount’s or MGM’s Oscar totals. Even Hollywood gives credit where credit is due: to the people and teams and work that made a difference.

I’d like to see our industry do the same.