Cutting through the wank of creative awards

Darren WoolleyTallying up an agency’s awards haul doesn’t really tell you how creative a shop they are. Darren Woolley proposes a better solution – The Crank Score.

News that the Melbourne Advertising and Design Club (MADC) has suspended its awards this year due to lack of support from the major Melbourne agencies did not come as a surprise. In an industry with an over supply of creative awards, and award opportunities expanding annually, there comes a time for a natural rationalisation.

When I was president of MADC there was a trend among media owners to create awards to engage creative people in their medium. But in the internet-connected global creative village where the latest and greatest work is seen all around the world, these local awards are seen as less relevant than those where the work is judged on a regional or, more impressively, global basis.

Today it is clearly more relevant to be creatively the best in the world than simply the best in Melbourne, or Dallas or Timbuktu. So what has this got to do with a pitch consultant?

Well, beyond the pitch doctor’s role in attracting and keeping creative talent within an agency, creative awards are used by agencies in credentials presentations and new business pitches to prove their creative clout. This got me thinking about what these awards actually mean and that perhaps instead of a creative clout score based on the number of awards won, the industry needs a new system. So I have come up with The Crank Score.

Creative clout?

The industry has been using creative awards to measure creativity in advertising for as long as there have been creative award shows. The trade press will often fall for the trap of using a point system to add up the number of awards an agency has won in any year to determine the most creative. The Gunn Report is considered one of the bellwether indicators of agency creativity and it uses a more sophisticated – but nevertheless flawed – methodology to score creative awards. Why is it flawed? Because the additive approach is a great way of recognising a single creative campaign, but it does not indicate the depth or breadth of creative excellence within an agency.

Take the excellent and well recognised Dumb Ways to Die campaign that has swept creative award shows across the globe in multiple categories. If some of the trade journalists were to be believed, adding up the points for the awards won would put the agency at the top of the global heap creatively.

But does this make the agency more creative than an agency that has managed to win as many awards from campaigns and ideas across more of their client list? The real question is ‘do you credit an agency’s creativity for their ability to deliver one great idea or for consistently delivering great ideas?’

Agency credentials

Often when reading through an agency credentials document or presentation, I get to the creativity page to be confronted by either a list of awards or in some cases just an awards count. Cannes Lions – four Titaniums, nine Golds, 12 Silvers. D&AD – 15 Yellow Pencils. One Show etc. It’s impressive.

Just like when you walk into the agency and see the rows of gold, silver and bronze lining the reception area, or the boardroom wall, or the wheelbarrow in the corner. But how often does anyone bother to go and check either what they were won for or the dates when these awards were won? Creative awards have a best-by-date and if they are more than a few years old, it is likely the team behind them is no longer there.

New business pitches

Then there is the pitch itself. At some point in the pitch the agency CEO will make a statement like “we are the most creatively awarded agency in the country” and you know there is an asterisk and a disclaimer. (NB: they often substitute ‘creatively’ for ‘effectiveness’).

But interestingly, it is rare to see these accolades actually associated with the work that won the award. This is because the award tally is often more impactful and a less risky strategy than the work itself. If you show the work and the potential client does not like the idea or the execution, the awards won are irrelevant. Alternately, the prospect may love the ad and congratulate the agency on the award, only to say in the next breath that that it is not the kind of advertising they want for their brand.

So better to just prove creative clout by showing the number of creative awards the agency has won and avoid these potential pitfalls.

But creativity and creative thinking are the foundation of great marketing and advertising. So there must be a better solution and I am putting my hand up to propose one that goes some of the way to address these issues.

The Crank Score

The basis of the system is the methodology tried and tested by The Gunn Report. Basically, you get points for qualifying at any number of recognised creative award shows and additional points for winning or placing best in category or show. There are even additional points for winning in multiple categories with the same idea. So there is nothing controversial here as many agencies use The Gunn Report rankings to promote their creative clout.

But here is where I propose a difference. This point score is then multiplied by a percentage of agency clients that have earned these points against all clients on their roster.

For example, two agencies have earned 100 points but Agency One won all these points for one campaign with one client in a roster of 10 clients. Their Crank Score would be 100 x 1/10 = 10. If Agency Two won the awards for four clients out of 20 on their roster, their Crank Score would be 100 x 4/20 = 20.

In regards to the use-by date of creative awards, I propose a half-life of one year. That means points from the previous year are halved and halved again for the year before. Once points are more than three years old, they are worth zero.

According to the famous statistician George Box: “All models are wrong, but some are useful.” I’m not saying I agree but if creative agencies want to use creative awards to promote their creative clout, then there has to be a more useful model than the one currently used by the trade press and the industry. And before someone says marketers do not care about creative awards, I would ask you to explain the increasing numbers of marketers attending the big creative shows like Cannes (beyond the obvious junket opportunities).

It is more productive to come up with a better model than to argue the merits of creative awards. Award shows are here to stay. Let’s come up with a better way of finding meaning in these awards. I open the discussion to you.

Darren Woolley is the managing director of TrinityP3.

Issue 23This story first appeared in the weekly edition of Encore available for iPad and Android tablets. Visit encore.com.au for a preview of the app or click below to download.

Comments


  1. Jon
    24 Jul 13
    1:26 pm

  2. Darren, A good post on a key topic. Here’s a client’s view, from an ex-client who has some understanding about the value of creativity and creative awards in winning new business. An agencies creative awards tally might get you on the list, but once you are in the door it counts for squat. If you are going to brag about it, some form of adjusted average like you suggest is smart. Otherwise everyone would currently be moving their business to McCann. I’d add to the mix the relative size of the agency. If you made 1000 ads last year, that will affect your success. With enough crap thrown at the wall some will stick. BUT…

    Once you are in the room, banging on about your success at Cannes will do more harm than good. Even tallying your Effies is only an indicator of how good you were. Not how good you will be. In an industry as incestuous and cyclical as advertising, past performance is not always a good indicator of future success. I actually think agencies need to talk less about how creative they have been and start talking about two new topics. Talent / Culture management and Process. How good are you at attracting, retaining and developing your people? And how have you codified your thinking and creative processes so that they are replicable and scalable. Talent and Process – that’s all you have.

    These are the predictors of future success. Many agencies I know and some I like, would probably be intimidated by that suggestion – especially the dreaded P word. Certainly many would not do well under close scrutiny on those topics. They are for me (and I may be alone) the hallmarks of the great agencies. Get those right and the creative awards and new business will come. What do you think?

  3. Zeppo
    24 Jul 13
    3:13 pm

  4. Awards mean zip, but then I’ve not got any*, so I’ll zip it

    * well I did win Gold for something once but it meant zip in the scheme of things, oh and a finalist but that really equalled zip too

  5. Peter McDonald
    24 Jul 13
    3:17 pm

  6. For those who enjoyed reading the above article, might I also suggest that you check out James Hurman’s excellent 2011 book – ‘The Case for Creativity’ – two decades’ evidence of the link between imaginative marketing and commercial success’. In it James uses some great approaches to adjust for an agency’s awards’ winning potential by making allowance for its size and so forth. While as Patrick Collister, Director/Founder of The Big Won Report states ‘to be a top 5 agency in the Big Won rankings, an agency has to produce work to a consistently superlative standard across most of its portfolio of clients.’

  7. You're wrong on Gunn
    24 Jul 13
    5:14 pm

  8. Gunn Report specifically limits the amount of points a single campaign can win at any given show.

    Also, Gunn has a non-additive bias towards multiple campaigns when assigning points for its agency of the year table. They don’t just blindly add up points.

    A 5 minute search of the Gunn methodology on their website tells you this.

    I don’t think there is any need for Darren’s patented new methodology. Gunn works pretty well. And given it is annual and only takes into account awards won in the previous calendar year, it’s as up to date as you can get.

  9. Colin
    24 Jul 13
    5:36 pm

  10. “the pitch doctor’s role in attracting and keeping creative talent within an agency”

    Darren, how exactly do you do this?
    From my experience, you serve to drive prices down so agency’s are in the situation where they can’t employ senior talent. would love to hear your take on it.

  11. Darren Woolley
    24 Jul 13
    9:37 pm

  12. Dear ‘You’re wrong on Gunn’ I have read the methodology and yes it limits a single campaign score in one show, but is across 45 shows and so there is an additive effect across the 45 shows, which they do not disclose. Certainly Gunn and The Won Report are the best system to date. But this is not the approach used by many of the trade press including AdNews and Campaign Brief. For AdNews to proclaim that McCann Melbourne has scored 500% higher than Leo Burnett Sydney, the next ranked agency in their system, seems ridiculous to me. Does that seem right to you?

    Peter McDonald, great to hear from you. There is certainly a proven case for creativity delivering commercial success. That is not the point of the article. I think the challenge is bringing a more considered approach to the evaluation of creativity beyond simply ‘Number of awards won’.

    And Colin, that assertion that we drive prices down is a scurrilous lie in regard to agency fees. Almost regularly in pitches our benchmarks are higher than the fees proposed by the agencies themselves, making a mockery of our benchmarking, until we apply it to an existing relationship, when suddenly the same agencies want to charge their existing clients much more to recoup the costs of their heavily discounted new business win.

  13. You're wrong on Gunn
    25 Jul 13
    8:31 am

  14. Actually, CB don’t use an additive system at all to arrive at their hot+cold rankings and AOTY. They look at the body of work from the agency’s previous 12 months (if supplied) and then go on a ‘general vibe’ which is actually the exact opposite of the additive method you have an issue with.

    Anyway, all it takes is 60 seconds effort on behalf of anyone to truly assess the agency: go to agencyname.com.au, look at their case studies, use your own judgement on which ones you believe have creative merit, and away you go.

    re AdNews… the fact is they DID score 500% (or whatever) higher than Leo’s. But I don’t think anyone’s saying that Mcccan is 500% better than Leo’s. No awards tally system in the world is going to tell you that. And I’m pretty sure when adnews do their AOTY they won’t just add up points.

    Fact is, if a marketer doesn’t have the judgement to look at an agency’s body of work and assess it for what it is – that god help us because that is one piss-poor marketer.

    I’m a CD and numbers of awards will get me to look at someone’s work, but it’s the work itself (amongst other factors) that means everything. I don’t think anyone takes sheer numbers of awards seriously enough to let it cloud their judgement to the point where we need some kind of system overhaul.

    Gunn (and bigwon) works just fine IMO.

  15. Mmm
    25 Jul 13
    11:26 am

  16. I’m with Darren

  17. Colin
    25 Jul 13
    11:35 am

  18. Well, that’s not what’s happening in the real world.

  19. A client
    26 Jul 13
    3:49 pm

  20. While Darren’s refinement is a marginal improvement over current score cards, the debate still boils down to: Which completely irrelevant measure of creativity do you prefer?
    The totally misleading one? Or the less misleading one?

  21. Paul Eveleigh
    28 Jul 13
    8:46 am

  22. “…what really drives success, in my experience, is repetition and consistency, not creativity. I think people who are in the [ad] business tend to get more hung up on the creative aspects. They start to think of themselves more as artists and less as businessmen. We have the same problem with tailors, by the way.”
    George Zimmer, Men’s Wearhouse,

  23. it's all a lie
    28 Jul 13
    11:45 am

  24. I’d like to see a side-by-side comparison of work that effectively shifts business (but has never won an award) alongside the award winning work that is also ‘effective’. I have a feeling one of them would be a substantially longer list than the other.

    Truly great work doesn’t really need a little Lion for proof does it?

    Awards, are an unneccessary junket maintained as part of the Advertising industry elite culture. We are not creative artists, but rather we are Professional Pitchers chasing the consumer $$. Nobody cares if its a great execution if it sells nothing.

    Success of race cars is judged by winning races.
    corporations are judged on commercial performance
    advertisng should only be judged on improved market performance (the rest is irrelevant industry self indulgent twaddle).

    The industry PRAISE combined with sheer lack of objective accountability (i.e. in changing train crossing behaviour in Melbourne) for “Dumb ways to die” says it all. The advertisng industry is more concerned with approval from its peers than objectuive performance.

  25. willy loman
    30 Jul 13
    4:02 pm

  26. It’s not hard to judge creativity as good creative stands out in an ocean of mediocrity. If you didn’t have any award events would the standard drop? Likewise has it risen because there are awards to be won? The answer is probably not to both questions.