Cannes I get a witness?

You might have noticed a bit of a ruckus at Cannes, with awards being returned and organisations like Greenpeace having a say about the Lions. Warren Davies breaks it down.

I often get asked by clients, “how will we know it works?”

While little is certain in life, there’s a very good chance if your sales/users go up with the only difference being sustained effort and investment in creative comms, it’s working. Because we’re an impatient bunch of monkeys though, we can’t wait that long, and awards have become a proxy for what works.

Awards like the Cannes Lion are coveted because we tell talented young people they matter, and because clients need to provide social proof to decision-makers for their choice of agency (‘have you seen their reception!’). And it’s not cheap. The Venn diagram for most awarded agencies and those with high disposable income is a circle. Network agencies: if you really give a damn about that cause, contribute your award entry fee to it instead.

When you’re young or headstrong, or know what to ignore, awards are smashing. But people with the most to gain/lose from them are waking up. At Cannes, awards are being handed back, young creatives are standing up to polluting or profiteering clients, and advocacy groups of the calibre of Greenpeace have cottoned on to the fact the industry needs an honest conversation about what matters.

I believe there is a place for awards and that creatively gifted and seasoned judges can pick excellent creative work from a field. Recognition and encouragement for people on the rise is helpful but somewhere between ‘you love me, you really love me!’ by Liza Minelli and the Mouldy Whopper we got off track.

What matters more than French gold is the impact our creative work has on people and the planet, as reliably measured by results over time for the client business or organisation. It’s not too much to ask to get on with something else (we’re very good at that) and circle back in six to twelve months to see what actually happened. Short-term recognition comes in the change in thinking and values within the client team (they ‘get’ it), the actual thanks and feedback once the work lands and the esprit de corps among the crew.

There are good initiatives for awarding work that’s worthwhile: Cannes for Good is a start, but work for brands is not eligible, and you can’t actually enter these with intent – they are awarded once the work has been awarded elsewhere at the show. D&AD have an Impact and Future Impact category and there are a range of up and coming shows for social and environmental impact. For the older heads out there, you can even take a bow with Queen’s Birthday honours, recognition by local and state governments and other forms of peer recognition if you stick at it.

For people in the tender part of their career in creative comms, your work does matter and is essential to a good outcome for the planet this century. But it’s worth looking a little deeper for where the recognition comes from and having your ears pricked for unexpected sources of praise.

Warren Davies, owner and managing director, All or Nothing


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