Opinion

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.

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