‘The Oscars of advertising’: Can the Clio Awards parlay its Mad Men fame into more entries?

The Clio Awards is looking to cash in on its fame with more entries from overseas agencies. Alex Hayes sat down with its president Nicole Purcell and one of Australia’s most awarded creatives, Andy DiLallo, to talk about the role of creative awards, tackling the creative department gender gap, and getting the Clios back on TV. 

Fans of TV series Mad Men may well be more familiar with the Clio Awards than many in the Australian ad industry. But its president, Nicole Purcell, is determined to change that and to translate its “pop culture” fame into new entries for the competition.

Despite being one of the biggest creative awards programs in the US, the Clios have struggled to gain traction in Australia compared with larger rivals, the Cannes Lions and D&AD.

Part of that drive includes a new global initiative to hand an Agency of the Year award to the top performing agency from its top 15 countries.

Purcell visited Australia this week to hand that gong to M&C Saatchi, which managed a haul including two Grands Prix in the Digital and Public Relations categories of the main show last year, for the Clever Buoy initiative, as well as a Gold and Silver at the Clio Health Awards – a subsidiary global event.

Nicola Purcell hands the award to Andy DiLallo and the winning M&C Saatchi team

Nicola Purcell hands the award to Andy DiLallo and the winning M&C Saatchi team

The main Clio Awards have 18 categories separated into medium such as film, out of home, social media and public relations, as well as awards for craft, including film and audio technique, and integrated campaign. It began in 1960 to celebrate US TV ads but broadened quickly to a global remit and wider categories.

It has since spawned subsidiary events including health, music and sports for creative achievements.

Purcell told Mumbrella she felt there was “always going to be room for a couple of awards” in the creative space, adding: “Everyone asks ‘why are you different?’ and I think our difference is pop culture; people know the Clios from Mad Men”.

“Our goal is to really get out there in pop culture so everyone knows what you’re holding when you’re holding a Clio Award – just like they do with an Oscar. That’s our goal with the brand.”

Don, Joan and Roger enjoy the fictional Clios ceremony

Don, Joan and Roger enjoy the fictional Clios ceremony

Indeed the US press made a big deal of the fact that lead character Don Draper won a Clio in an episode aired on the same night the show picked up an Emmy for Best Dramatic Series.

Purcell added her “dream” was to get the glitzy award ceremony back on broadcast TV, adding: “Maybe it’s not the exact awards show we have at the History Museum in New York – I think that will be streamed again – but to be on television in all these different countries with awards focusing on creativity and advertising, and that can be extended to anywhere with creativity.”

Asked about his thoughts on the Clios, M&C’s Andy Dilallo said: “For me there are five or six awards shows in the world that really matter outside of Australia, and Clios is firmly amongst those.

“I think the fact it has delineated in terms of different categories is giving you a chance to compete with other things amongst that set as opposed to being a catch-all. And having jury members who are part of that world and [who] are cultural icons from the industries on those juries really adds credence to the award.”

Andy DiLallo

Andy DiLallo

DiLallo joined M&C Saatchi in April last year after eight years as chief creative officer of Leo Burnett Sydney – a period in which he became arguably Australia’s most decorated creative, picking up metal for a range of campaigns, perhaps most notably the Coca-Cola Small World Machines.

But what is it that drives agencies to pump thousands of dollars into entering so many global and local creative awards?

“I think it plays several parts. Ultimately, business is about winning,” says DiLallo. “Whether that’s winning awards, winning clients, winning the hearts and minds of the culture – it creates momentum and people want to be winners, whether that’s clients or the best creative talent in the world.

“My ambition is to attract top five creative talent in the world; it’s one of the best countries to live [in] and one of the best lifestyles and, creatively, we punch well above our weight and are one of the top places anywhere.

“Being recognised among the best creative companies in the world, that’s absolutely a beacon to draw great talent to us, and when you have that you draw great clients.

“It’s a symbiotic relationship between awards. It’s not everything; you don’t set out to just win an award, you set out to do the best that you possibly can. I also think there’s a million different pieces of work out in the world [and with] somebody aggregating and bringing them together and distilling those down to the absolute best and saying these are the benchmark, and being able to reference that in selling your own work and reference that to guide the work you’re creating is immensely powerful and important.”

Campaigner Cindy Gallop hit out at Leo Burnett's all-male creative hires via Twitter

Campaigner Cindy Gallop hit out at Leo Burnett’s all-male creative hires via Twitter

Turning to the issue of diversity, which has been a red button issue in the Australian industry since campaigner Cindy Gallop attacked Leo Burnett Sydney for a press release heralding its appointment of five, all-white male creatives, Purcell admitted the Clios had suffered in the past from a lack of female representation on juries.

That culminated with a storm of criticism in 2013 when 10 men were named as the chairmen of the juries, with just 16 women amongst the 69 jurors.

Purcell enjoying the 2015 award ceremony

Purcell enjoying the 2015 award ceremony

Purcell said they had made a conscious effort since then to become gender equal – although admitted that was no easy task.

“Three years ago, on our main jury we had all male chairs, but it was not because we did not ask females; we did ask – lot of people said no,” she said.

“It really is a big ask to put together an award jury for a category and [to] figure out all the agencies and the countries, so when that happened people did reach out socially to us and asked ‘why is it all men?’

“As an award show it’s hard as we’re trying to get the right people for the jury. You have to have a certain stature and to have won some awards and we, for the last two years, have made sure it’s a 50/50 jury.

“We were able to do it but it was not easy, a lot of them declined to come away for a week or so for the judging.”

Asked whether she thought it had made a difference to the way the awards were judged, Purcell said: “I do see a difference in the jury room, we definitely see a different conversation. Again, now that we’ve done it the last two years of doing 50/50 on a jury we never hear anything about that either.

“I think that’s a problem. I think people should talk about all the women who are on these juries. We hear it on-site from jurors but we don’t hear it in the media.”

DiLallo said he felt global award shows had an important role to play in the efforts to get more female representation in creative departments, adding: “The whole thing with global award shows is about getting a global perspective of the work.

“It’s not about one person black, white, Asian or female; that’s what a global award show should be – it should be as diverse a representation and view of the world of advertising and marketing communication as possible.”

Asked about his thoughts on the extensive recent coverage in the trade media around Gallop’s attack on Leo Burnett, and subsequent fallout from the agency, DiLallo added: “The conversation has started with the coverage of the Cindy Gallop thing.

“I didn’t necessarily respond as well to the approach. It felt like it was a bit of an attack on one agency, but the result justified it. Although the approach wasn’t necessarily the best in the world it was an important conversation to have.

What we need to be trying to do is fuel as many young female creatives into the business as possible and help the ones that are here. As a company M&C Group we do have a stronger female representation, but I do think of us as a creative company.

“I think if we look at every single individual department inside an agency and start measuring whether people are female or male it throw things off balance. Absolutely we need to have as diverse creative departments as possible and I welcome anything that helps bring balance to that.”

Figures obtained by Mumbrella from the Communications Council showed female representation in creative departments was just 23 per cent, while departments like account management heavily over-indexed with 68 per cent of people working in that field female.

Asked about the importance of having diversity in creative departments DiLallo said: “It’s getting different perspectives – unlocking problems and solving them from different angles is what we’re all about.

“If we’re homogenous we’re going to come up with the same answers. Getting people from different backgrounds – from overseas and different religions – that’s what creativity is, it’s about taking two different things and putting them together and coming up with something new. To be missing 50 per cent of that is crazy; it’s a massive opportunity.”

have you seen this dog panasonic cannes blissful dog posterScam – advertising created solely to win awards – has also been an issue which has dogged creative competition over the past few years, in particular, the Cannes Lions.

Asked what the Clios had done to avoid being tarnished with the issues, Purcell said: “It’s really hard. We go through every piece of work that comes in [but] still things get through and we don’t catch everything, but the jury members – if they think it’s a scam ad – they’re going to push it out.”

Purcell is also on a mission to get more participation from sporting bodies in the Clio Sport competition and planned meetings with several organisations, including the FFA and Cricket Australia, on her trip.

“We’re trying to explain what we grew in the last two years with Clio Sports and get them on the juries,” she explained.

“Once someone is inside a jury room their world opens up. It changes their mind on award shows and we change the jury each year for all our programs and to try and get someone from a team, a league or an association each year is what we try and do.”

With D&AD also aggressively looking to increase its participation rates from Australian agencies, and Cannes set to add yet more categories to its bloated scheme, 2016 could well be the year that local industry makes it to peak creative awards.

Alex Hayes is editor of Mumbrella


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