Not all awards are born equal

jonathan kneeboneIn this guest post Jonathan Kneebone argues the ad industry needs to focus on which awards really matter, and puts the case for D&AD.

There are simply too many award shows for one industry, business, call this thing we do for a living what you will.

There are four Grand Slams in the world of tennis amongst a year long calendar of competitions. Not forgetting the Davis Cup, of course. But tennis is a competitive sport. And that’s generally what these guys signed up for to sustain their Monte Carlo lifestyles.

You could spend your entire year competing to win advertising awards of course. Or indeed, judging them. But frankly, haven’t we got better things to do? I think there was a failed attempt a few years ago by some senior creative directors to agree to just enter a few, to limit the sheer expense of it all if nothing else.

And today, there’s a miserable old bloke who makes a living simply by counting up the number of awards that agencies win to print a report which declares the most numerate winner the most creative one. What’s more he charges agencies for this report. And what’s more shareholders take it seriously. It’s most definitely become a Gunn to the industry’s head.The Gunn Report

He’s either very smart or we’re foolish to let him get away with it.

In reality, whether a piece of work you create wins an award at a local festival or international event, ultimately its value comes down to the quality and calibre of the jury. And the motivation they have for determining something to worthy of winning. As a student at the School of Communication Arts, I remember Paul Arden telling us that if a truly original piece of work didn’t win an award then chances are the jury weren’t good enough.

There are awards worth winning. And I think perhaps by nature of the different scale and diversity of their reasons for existing, a few award shows have their place.

Cannes Lions logoNotably that one in the south of France. But there is only one award show which is organised by a not-for-profit company. And only one creative entity which puts education ahead of all else in its motivation for being.

As a young student, quite frankly the idea of winning something at D&AD had a whiff of pie in the sky to it.

In an ideal world, the people who judge every awards show should be Paul Arden standard.

As a result, the things recognised would always be extraordinary in their determination to explore and expand the communication arts. The show should recognise the creative people responsible, not the faceless networks seizing their chance to push their financial agendas.

D&AD New Pencil Line-up 2015I was fortunate enough to see the D&AD journey in action from beginning to end, during last year’s film craft category to Black Pencil judging. And when you understand the degree of difficulty and the desire to maintain standards, it does restore your faith in the desire to put creativity on a pedestal.

The fact is, winning anything should be hard. And the reason D&AD will forever have value in the communication arts is that it is undoubtedly the hardest award to win. It’s ok, we were told, if nothing wins. No sponsor is going to get upset. We heard the words, ‘Your shortlist is too long’.

And at the end, if we decided the standard wasn’t as good as last year, then that fact needed to be passed back to the entrants. There was no need to justify their entry fee. That after all should have been their job.

I am pleased and disappointed in equal measure to say I’ve never won a Black Pencil. Grands Prix and Titaniums yes, but no Black. I would like to think one day I might create or direct something worthy of it. But it’s the importance of having a goal that is virtually impossible to kick, which makes this particular award so important.

And if the money we pay gets put to good use by developing and broadening the creative arts, as opposed to lining the pockets of a few, then even losing has its merits.

  • Jonathan Kneebone is the co-founder of The Glue Society

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