5 Reasons Why Award Shows Still Resonate With Creatives

To clients, brands and agencies alike

An award show offers validation not just to the creative behind the work but also to the clients. Getty Images
Headshot of Mark Tungate

Without wishing to sound like the director’s cut of a Demi Moore movie, let’s start with full disclosure: I’m involved in an awards show. The Epica Awards, to be exact, which as far as I know is still the only international competition judged not by creative folk from agencies, but by journalists who write about creativity.

Hosting the jury and emceeing the show is a neat way of thanking the industry that has paid my wages for 30-plus years. Because, as many legacy media brands have found, it’s pretty hard to run a newspaper or a magazine without advertising.

But that’s another article. Let’s get to the point of this one.

One of the phenomena I’ve come across fairly frequently since getting embroiled in Epica are the claims that awards shows are irrelevant, that they exist purely to line the pockets of their creators and that they have no bearing on the real world.

This bubbled to the surface in a big way, of course, when Publicis announced its yearlong awards hiatus last June, and WPP began making loud noises about the costliness of Cannes. As Cannes is looming on the Mediterranean horizon once more, I thought it might be a good time to list the reasons why award shows matter.

Better than likes

There are competitions in almost every sphere of human activity. There’s the Turner Prize for art, the Man Booker Prize for literature, the Oscars for cinema and the Bird Photographer of the Year Award for…—well, you get the idea.

People love competing, and above all, they love winning. Nobody dislikes getting an award. Nobody. One of my works was once nominated—just nominated; I didn’t even win—for a Business Book of the Year Award, and I’m still delighted.

We crave validation—that’s why Instagram is so popular—and creative people crave validation more than most.

A barometer of creative excellence

Don’t quote me on that—quote Mark Tutssel, executive chairman of Leo Burnett Worldwide, whose actual words were, “Awards are a vital barometer of your creative health.” Of course, he was chatting to me for an article in the Epica yearbook, but I’ve no reason to doubt his views.

We crave validation—that’s why Instagram is so popular—and creative people crave validation more than most.

David Lubars would agree with him. Chatting to Lubars a couple of years ago, also with my Epica hat on, he pointed out that “the IPA in London conducted a study over almost a 10-year period proving that award-winning ads are 11 times more effective than other work. Creativity is an economic multiplier.”

Being regularly showered with awards is an ideal way of luring the world’s best creative talent. Because let’s not forget…

Awards help build careers  

I feel a little thrill of pride when somebody mentions the fact that they’ve won an Epica Award on their LinkedIn profile. I don’t presume to think we’re viewed in the same way as Cannes or the D&AD Awards—in fact, like the Effies, we offer an alternative path to glory—but I rather like the idea that we’ve contributed to someone’s resume.

One of the reasons there was a collective gasp of alarm when Publicis announced its awards hiatus was that metal is an effective career building material. You can tell me you’re creative until you’re blue in the face, but I’ll be a lot more convinced if you’ve got a row of awards on your desk.

There’s the motivational aspect, too. I’ve never worked full-time for an agency, but I know it can be grueling. I imagine awards make those late nights and weekends feel more worthwhile. Plus…

Clients like awards

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I’ve interviewed dozens of clients over the years and many of them have told me awards are important to them.

I recently got this reply from Giovanni Perosino, vice president marketing communication at Audi. “Awards are creative currency—if our agencies win awards for Audi work, it will be easier for them to attract top talent. Also, the best creatives will want to work on our briefs; not just because they love our brand but also because we give them a chance to become famous.”

By the way, you will have noticed that a D&AD Black Pencil was recently bestowed on “It’s A Tide Ad,” made by Saatchi & Saatchi, a Publicis Group agency. Now, that may have been the result of some backstage negotiations between the awards show, the agency and the client. But even if that was the case, the client was sufficiently proud of the work and, more to my point, keen to win a prestigious award, to throw its weight behind it.

Creativity is your weapon 

When I first started writing about this business, we were still in the “full service” era when advertising agencies did a whole bunch of things alongside making ads: media planning and buying, research, direct marketing and so on.

Gradually, all these were spun off into separate units until the ad agency had a single raison d’être, which was to make attention-grabbing ads. It made sense, therefore, that agencies should duke it out on the strength of their creative reputations.

Today, agencies are once again doing lots of varied stuff, but I think it’s fair to say that they’re still in the business of grabbing attention. And the best way of doing that, as we’ve just agreed, is through creativity. Awards allow agencies (and those who work with them) to showcase their expertise and gain recognition for their creative talents. This is then converted into press coverage and hopefully new business.

Awards provide a valuable service. At the end of the day, it’s as simple as that.

@marktungate Mark Tungate is a Paris-based freelance writer, author and editorial director of the Epica Awards.