5 Ways Local Awards Shows Make the Ad Industry a Better Place to Work

They build a sense of community and fuel a new generation of talent

Last week I attended the Hatch Awards for the 34th time. I had nothing entered. I didn't get to walk up on stage or leave with a silver bowl. My name didn't appear anywhere in the book. I couldn't enjoy that self-centered little rush that comes from beating out a crosstown rival in a category we both hoped to win.

But this year's Hatch may go down as my favorite, better than the first time I took home some hardware. Better than the night (a really long time ago) my partner and I won Best of Show.

Why?

Because without the pressure of prevailing, or the nerves of waiting for a category's outcome to be announced, I got to enjoy a regional awards show for why it actually matters.

Hatch, along with creative celebrations like The Show in Minneapolis, or the Addys in many mid-sized cities, might never be as big a deal as the Cannes Lions, The One Show or D&AD. A Paul Revere bowl with your name engraved on it won't make the work go viral, and enthusiastic applause from your co-workers can't guarantee a raise. 

But good local shows like Hatch, which had a seriously impressive jury this year, continue to serve a purpose.

1. They bring the community together

Even before the work appears on the big screen, a local awards show has done something meaningful simply by assembling the extended creative community in the same place at the same time. Not just to compete but to share in the joy of creating.

When I started at Mullen, Boston had two dozen boutique agencies all vying for any client with a checkbook. Hatch was a way to get a leg up on the competition. Selfishly, we wanted to kick the shit out of each other. But we also shared a common goal: to elevate Boston as an advertising and creative center.

Today Boston's a much bigger market. Many agencies compete nationally and beyond. But community still matters. It reminds us that we're part of a tribe with a common purpose: to create and put meaningful work into the world.

2. They help small agencies make a name for themselves

Awards show entries are expensive. At the national and international shows, the agencies and clients with massive budgets are usually the ones who enter and win. A local show gives the startup agency a chance to shine, flaunt itself and send out a warning that bigger things are on the way. At this year's Hatch, Sleek Machine, less than a year old, made itself heard by winning 13 awards.

For a startup, this has multiple benefits. Eager young creatives see a new place to work. Clients looking for an alternative to the big shop get a glimpse of what a startup can do. And the agency gets a story to put on its website and send to consultants.

When a small agency has a great showing, the big agencies take note. Other small shops see hope. And at least a few people go home eager to start planning the launch of their startup.

3. They celebrate the entire team

Chances are pretty good that the studio designer, in-house editor, technologists and back-end developers are not going to Cannes or even the New York awards shows. The execs, creative directors and traditional creative teams usually get the tickets and hotel rooms. But at a local show, everyone can be there.

John Wolfarth, a digital CD at Mullen Lowe points out that having the extended team see their work celebrated by the larger community leads to increased morale that plays out in hallway conversations and even makes some of those late nights easier to take.

I saw that last week. That long list of names that appear on the credits these days? Many of those folks were there.  Eating, drinking and feeling part of something bigger than the job itself.

4. They improve the work we do

As the saying goes, if you want an agency to do more innovative work, create an awards show category for it. Typically, a creative competition represents the kind of work that agencies already do, but by adding or modifying categories it can inspire agencies to be more innovative and less ad-centric, and it encourages participation from creative companies that aren't your typical ad agencies.

Hatch, for example, has categories for rich media, social media, unconventional format, Web, mobile, innovation and even one titled "creating a movement." I feel positive some agencies went home from the show thinking, "Damn we didn't have any entries in 'creating a movement'."

5. They inspire the next generation

"Local award shows are like Triple A in baseball," offers writer/cd Roger Baldacci.

Hatch and its counterparts are usually the first opportunities for young teams to see their work recognized for creative excellence. The best juniors may quickly go on to win pencils and cubes, but until then the chance to compete and be rewarded by top-notch judges is motivating. That opportunity can also be the difference between a shop keeping young talent and losing them to a more prolific competitor.

Dorothy Urlich, the CMO at Sleek Machine concurs. "For young talent, the local shows are stepping stones towards national and international recognition. And for the agency, they're a chance to attract and retain new talent." 

For students, it also reinforces the joy of creating and the importance of peer recognition.  This year, eight students from my spring semester portfolio class at Boston University won their first awards. The looks on their faces were priceless. But perhaps more assuring was the reaction of current students, who simply observed. They went home eager and determined to get back to work and produce something that gets them on stage next year.

I'll be there cheering them on.

Edward Boches (@edwardboches) is a professor of advertising at Boston University, a former partner/CCO at Mullen and a frequent contributor to Adweek. A long time ago, he won awards at the Cannes Lions, The One Show, NY Art Directors, Andy, CA and Hatch.