What Makes a Brand Genius?

A brief history of how our tent-pole event was born

True story: When we relaunched Adweek three years ago, we also set out to recast our events. First up was Marketer of the Year, which had stood the test of time but was in want of renewed energy and an infusion of verve.

At the same time, staff writer Robert Klara was dazzling with his new Perspective column. His deep-dive reporting and institutional knowledge of brands ranging from Chanel No. 5 to La-Z-Boy recliners was impressive enough to warrant Robert getting the ultimate newsroom courtesy: a nickname. In his case, it was “Brand Genius.”

I suppose it would be more dramatic to say that Robert’s handle transferred to a full-blown awards program and ceremony after long, tense meetings and focus groups, but that’s not the case. We liked the name and settled on it after a few instant message exchanges. A franchise was born on the fly, and now in its third year, Brand Genius has become a key tent pole for Adweek.

We honor 10 brands and their chief marketing executives who have pushed well past convention to deliver breakthrough branding initiatives for their companies. Some represent large companies (Samsung, Volkswagen) with a legacy of marketing excellence. Others are small and burgeoning (Warby Parker, Beats by Dr. Dre), but early on have proved deeply savvy in their approach to marketing in this social and fragmented world.

With our Brand Visionary award, now in its second year, we honor prescient vision and a discipline of purpose, both of which are hallmarks of this year’s honoree Russell Simmons, co-founder of Def Jam Records and a founding father and champion of rap and hip-hop, which would emerge as a genuine American art form and cultural force. Finally, we hold back one award, the Grand Brand Genius, chosen from our 10 winners, as the best of the bunch, to be revealed during our Brand Genius ceremony this Wednesday evening in New York during Advertising Week.

The research behind all this takes months and represents a team effort by Adweek’s editors, writers and designers. But the guy doing the heaviest lifting is Robert Klara, whose nickname we aptly borrowed to help shape our future.

[View Adweek's 2013 Brand Geniuses]