Fewer Awards at Hatch 2000

Even as the creative heads of several agencies expressed mixed opinions about the importance of winning a Hatch award, Adweek learned that the regional creative prizes will be harder to win this year than in the recent years.

Only 173 awards will be given Thursday at the Advertising Club of Greater Boston’s 40th Annual Francis W. Hatch Awards, held at John Hancock Hall. More than 250 prizes were awarded last year.

Those numbers were supplied by the Ad Club, though no explanation—other than the whim of this year’s out-of-town panel of eight judges—was offered for the decline in awards. In fact, the total number of entries was up this year, to more than 1,800, compared with 1,752 last year, according to the Ad Club.

Among the work most frequently cited as most likely to win big this year are ads by Boston-based Arnold Communications for Volkswagen of America.

Print executions for VW captured the top prize at Hatch last year, and few area creative directors would be surprised if some elements of the campaign score again in 2000.

“Volkswagen always does well,” said Leo Rice, president and creative director at Christopher Thomas, Boston. “They’ve done new work that is a good extension of their initial campaign that will probably drive sales. They are effective and good creative.”

The Volkswagen campaign was also singled out by Bob Hoffman, president of Gearon Hoffman in Boston, as one example of a true campaign of the old-school variety, with effective executions in all media linked by a memorable, resonant theme that has remained viable.

“Anything that was good, we entered,” said Arnold chief creative officer Ron Lawner.

Other work predicted to take home prizes includes:

• Arnold’s ads for the American Legacy Foundation and Royal Caribbean;

• Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos’ efforts for Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities, John Hancock Financial Services and Voter.com;

• Mullen’s ads for L.L. Bean, which has since placed its business into review, CompUSA’s defunct e-marketing unit Cozone.com and Boeri;

• and Clarke Goward’s print efforts for Ragged Mountain, which were identified as being among the lesser-known work that could take home prizes at the show.

All of those campaigns, as well as Arnold’s work for VW in a variety of media, are known to have been entered at Hatch this year.

But larger, ongoing campaigns don’t always generate prizes at Hatch. “Usually, small accounts can do more outrageous things, and that’s often what sticks out in judges’ minds,” Lawner said. Such funky work can help put smaller shops, or even individual freelancers, on the map.

Nail, a creative boutique in Providence, R.I., serves as a case in point. The small shop this year has submitted work for Berkshire Blanket, Alpert’s Furniture and Atomic USA. However, Alec Beckett, partner and co-creative director at the firm and a member of the Hatch steering committee, expressed frustration that a lot of quality work was submitted in the form of poster campaigns, due to clients with smaller budgets.

“There’s more good creative in this town than there are clients,” said Beckett. “It doesn’t seem fair—good thinking deserves to have money behind it.”

As larger agencies have had the luxury of focusing on large national accounts, some question whether winning a Hatch award has the same cache as it does for smaller agencies.

“For Hill, Holliday, Arnold and Mullen, I don’t think a win or two at Hatch matters,” said Mullen executive creative director Edward Boches, who predicts that the Wenham, Mass., agency’s work for Drinks.com, Co-zone, L.L. Bean and Monster.com might garner awards. “Be-ing truly dominant matters. It says that of the 28 agencies in the region, you’re a creative force.” As agencies strive for dominance, they have a sense of camaraderie, Boches added. “We want whatever wins, regardless of who it comes from, to be great,” he said. “We all want to celebrate great work.”

Others say that Hatch’s prestige hasn’t dwindled. “It’s important because it’s the local show,” said Jonathan Plazonja, senior vice president and group creative director at Hill, Holliday, Boston.

Some executives decried the state of creativity in the region, and the industry as a whole.

“Two years ago, it was like a field day for creatives—there was a glut of dot.com advertising,” said Gary Greenberg, co-chairman and creative director of Greenberg, Seronick O’Leary & Partners, Boston. “They were willing to take risks and they had lot of money to spend. But now they are much more formulaic and traditional.”

Creative work has increasingly become “transient,” Hoffman said. “Maybe you get one or two great ads, but where are the campaigns?”

There’s no time in the dot-com marketplace to create a body of work over the long haul, because client-agency relationships have grown increasingly tenuous, and clients themselves are often quickly sold to rivals before establishing a brand image, Hoffman added.