Do advertising awards matter?

Just over a month ago, the world’s advertising industry descended upon Cannes, France, for its annual Festival of Creativity. At this event, agencies the world over are awarded for their creativity and, in a few small cases, for work that actually increased sales.

Cannes is but one of many advertising awards festivals that occur over the course of the year. But it’s the biggest, the brightest and the most coveted of all. Certainly much of the entered and winning work is worthy of praise. And certainly the individuals behind the work deserve to have the spotlight shown on them in the presence of their colleagues, coworkers and friends. But…do awards matter?

By matter, I mean a few things. Do awards generate business for the agency? Do they further the career of the individual creative? Do they positively affect the brand for which the agency won the award? Are they a metric a brand can use to determine the capability of an agency?

We turned to a few in the industry to help us answer these questions. And though the general consensus is that advertising awards do have value, not everyone in the industry thinks awards are the pièce de résistance of advertising success. Denver-based Cultivator Advertising & Design partner and account director Scott Coe isn’t a believer and told us, “Awards have their value. They are great for recruiting new creatives. And maybe for getting your shop’s name in the local city business report. But are they relevant to our business – which is to drive our clients’ business? I don’t think so. Or even as a new business tool? Agencies that proudly display a wall of hardware in front of clients, as shorthand for ‘look how successful we are,’ are sending the wrong message. A client wonders, ‘what will this agency do for me and my business?’, not ‘what will my work do for theirs?’”

Jonathan Schoenberg, TDA_Boulder’s executive creative director, supports the notion that awards may not be an effective barometer of an agency’s ability to drive business for a brand. But what’s replacing them? “For large clients, while they have always been interested in Effies, and have become enthusiastic about Cannes, they are not all that interested in other accolades. Which at first seems odd in that — more than I have ever seen in my career — clients want to do great creative. But now they measure great creative in terms of how consumers embrace the work, via earned media and ROI. You don’t need statues any longer to quantify creative. These new metrics are mutually beneficial to client and agencies. Consequently they, not awards, are what agencies are emphasizing in new business meetings.”

Schoenberg’s position supports a growing trend in the marketplace towards quantifiable success metrics as expressed by the adoption of inbound marketing and other forms of metrics-heavy marketing tactics.

Others feel the less objective metrics upon which most awards are based still have value. Venice-based Neighbor CEO Chad Seymour argues awards remain an important and necessary barometer by which a brand can assess an agency’s abilities. He told us, “Awards do matter for two simple reasons. They provide recognition for well-made ideas. And any creative — individual or team — takes pride in being recognized for great work. Second, for all the advances in metrics, it remains tremendously difficult for clients to assign a pure financial value to what it is their agency delivers. So awards become a bit of a barometer. Awards can help clients assess an intangible that would otherwise be in a feedback loop void.”

Additionally, Seymour claims awards are integral to acquiring great talent which, ultimately, contributes to the success of an agency and its clients. He ads, “There are tons of young, ambitious people who want to put themselves in an award-winning environment. If awards draw better young talent, and that talent enables your agency to do better work (it will), awards can build your business.”

Panos Sambrakos, executive creative director of OgilvyOne Worldwide Athens, the agency behind the famed Lacta Chocolate brand, supports Seymour’s notion that awards can directly affect how clients perceive an agency’s ability to perform, saying, “Awards are an indication to a future client that you know to do your job well, to come up with ideas, to fight to see them through.”

So which is it? Alone, awards are, for the most part, meaningless and should never be used in a vacuum as an indication of anything at all. But, when used alongside hard data that reflects sales generated for past campaigns or clients, they are an important metric to be considered when evaluating an agency. Just like any data scientist, reporter, researcher or car buyer, it’s always wise to consider multiple metrics when making a decision.

Post by Steve Hall

Steve Hall is a marketing professional, publisher, writer, community manager, photographer and all-around lover of advertising. Steve has held management positions in media and account service at Leo Burnett, Starcom/Mediavest and others, working on such accounts as Reebok, Marriott, and Marshmallow Fluff.