Award shows are important – just don’t get bitchy

Wow, what a storm in a teacup this year’s Axis Awards delivered, as reported by NBR and others. Happy people, sad people, surprised people. To me, the biggest surprise is that anyone is surprised that there were a few people getting bitchy about where the awards should go, and the intricacies around what a valid award is, versus a scam.

Let’s remember, the Axis Awards are at the beauty pageant, ‘Miss Advertising’ end of the awards spectrum – the ones that dole out metal and gongs to the prettiest, the cutest, the cleverest, and yes, the most creative. Results, effectiveness, and scale are not at the forefront of the judging process, just as having a degree in psychology isn’t much help to the average beauty pageant entrant during the bathing suit round. The Axis, however, celebrates creativity and, as long as commentators and critics alike acknowledge that fact, everything can be seen for what it is.

For anyone getting their proverbial in a tangle over the veracity of these awards, welcome to Hollywood. These awards are fundamentally for agency folk to celebrate the craft of advertising, which is important. It’s also to encourage a push for the bleeding edge. Other work may come along later and do something eminently more sensible and effective. And, when that happens, it’s often possible thanks to the breakthrough work done by agencies and (brave) clients that create and green-light that pioneering campaign.

Scanning over the winners, lots of the work was digital in nature, or involved integrated thinking and strategies not overly reliant on TV. All the work embodied a new age and era of advertising. It’s exciting and as an industry we should be proud of that.

If people are seeking evidential proof that something should be winning, they simply need to turn to the rigours of the Effies or the NZ Direct Marketing Awards, to see how strategy, creativity and hard results really stack up. These are arguably the awards that recognise the other part of the advertising industry, the one where effectiveness is celebrated above all else, and delivering on client sales objectives and campaign ROI is deemed to be the most important factor for accolades and award success. In this quite different but parallel world, even the humble letter can win a gold award – as seen at this year’s NZ Direct Marketing Awards (okay, so it wasn’t that humble and was extremely clever).

This is why the industry needs its award shows, ones that know what they are.  It’s horses for courses. Those of us leading or working within agencies understand the employer advantage of being ‘award-winning.’ Similarly, when we are hiring talent, we look for people who have won awards, or have the potential to produce work that will. Creatives, in particular, still largely measure themselves by the number of creative awards won, and this is why some agencies who don’t win many awards (especially creative ones), struggle to attract creative talent, while others have people falling all over them.

And, if you’re a client reading this, let’s be honest, you probably quite like your agency winning awards for you, or winning generally, because there is reflected glory that you chose to be with them too. It’s not as important to you as to them, but there is a nice glow about being a ‘godparent’ to the agency awards genie. Awards say ‘you chose well’ and nine times out of 10, your work is probably better for it.

A lot of good stuff came out of this year’s Axis, not least the recognition of Peter Cullinane as the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award. Mr Cullinane, like many of the big winners on the night, has focused on innovation throughout his outstanding and continuing career. This is something we should all aspire to and equally be inspired by.


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