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To a glass-half-empty kind of person, the 2001 awards season will play out the logical conclusion of a very rough year: Clients were buying less and proceeding more cautiously; in turn, agencies are now loath to spend six figures on entry fees, and there's less standout work to show. At major awards shows, entries are down at least 20-25 percent.

On the up side, awards-show directors had expected a drop of up to 50 percent in entries. And judges seem to be about as positive as most agency types get about the quality of the work, proclaiming that, as in any year, awards shows will still showcase the best work—just less of it.

One Show executive director Mary Warlick was expecting entries to drop by a third but received just over 14,000 submissions, an 18 percent dip from last year. "I was pleasantly surprised," she says. Entries from overseas, particularly Asian markets, helped make up the loss from the U.S., she adds. Still, 3,000 fewer entries roughly translates to a loss of $500,000 in fees.

Sponsors of other top shows—except for Cannes, which doesn't yet have final numbers—are similarly relieved that the news isn't as bad as expected. The Andys and the Art Directors Club both report a 25 percent drop in entries; the Clios expect a 20 percent decline And most say the falloff in submissions will not translate into lower quality of work at the shows, just fewer honors. The Advertising Club of New York, for example, will hand out 15 percent fewer awards next month than it did last year, says executive director Gina Grillo.

Perennial top performer Cliff Free man and Partners entered four shows this year—Cannes, The One Show, the British Design & Art Direction Show and the Clios—instead of its usual 10. And the New York agency is entering only standout spots rather than entire campaigns. "An agency can easily spend $100,000 on entering awards. In leaner times, you have to be more selective," says Eric Silver, senior vice president and creative director. "But even in lean times, you'll enter anything you think has a chance. You look at awards shows in terms of what's going to grant you the most buzz."

DDB New York also pared the number of shows it entered, asking creatives to name their top five shows. The shop eventually chose seven: The One Show, the Andys, the Art Directors Club, the Clios, Cannes, AICP and Communication Arts. Chairman and CEO Bob Kuperman suspects the choices were driven by the Gunn Re port—Donald Gunn's global ranking of agencies according to award wins—to optimize DDB's place on the list. "It was never that complicated when I was entering work," Kuperman laments.

Perhaps shops are just doing judges a favor by weeding out work that's not really awards-worthy. Says One Show judge Michael Patti, vice chairman and senior executive creative director of BBDO, New York: "I don't think [this year] is any different from any other year. Only 15-20 percent [of the industry's work] breaks through. What is really good stood out."

Andys judge Jim Ferguson, however, did not have the same experience. "There are usually campaigns that make you say, 'Holy Shit!' " notes the president and chief creative officer of Young & Rubicam, New York. "The overall quality was good. But nothing really jumped out like it has in years past." For example, Budweiser's "Whassup?" won the 2001 Grandy hands down, he says, while this year, "the final voting went round and round. Everybody liked different things."

Ferguson predicts extensions of proven campaigns will fare best, citing entries from Budweiser's agencies. He also liked Dr Pepper's U.K. campaign, tagged "What's the worst that can happen?," from Mother, London.

Judges have also praised Levi's mesmerizing ads from Bartle Bogle Hegarty, London, as well as Heine ken's humorously grating celebrities from Lowe Lintas, London, and Nike's engaging "Play" from Wieden + Kennedy, Portland, Ore.

Kellys judge Ted Sann, vice chairman and chief creative officer of BBDO North America, was among the underwhelmed. But then, "No body ever says it was a spectacular year," he observes. "I've been in this business 20 years. Nobody ever says that."