Cutting through the crap of creative awards

Darren WoolleyIn this guest post, pitch doctor Darren Woolley suggests another way to measure the creativity of awards-chasing ad agencies.

We are coming to the end of the creative award season, if there is an end to it. With D&AD, Cannes and One Show being three of the biggest and highest profile internationally. And now the Spikes Awards in mid-September, not to mention the individual market awards throughout the year.

The fact is that agency and individual creative reputations are made and lost based on the results of these awards. DDB, Dentsu and Ogilvy are known to battle it out in the award stakes across Asia.

The trouble is that the way these award wins are promoted by both the agencies, the trade press and the industry can be misleading and deceptive.

So what has this got to do with a ‘pitch’ consultant?

Well beyond their 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 needed a new system. I have called this 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.

Gunn Report: Asia's most awarded agencies in 2012

Gunn Report: Asia’s most awarded agencies 2012

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. You can check their methodology online at GunnReport.com. But basically it is a point system per award show win, across 45 award shows, but capped for each award show.

Why is this 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 “Dumb ways to die” campaign that has swept the 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 it would put the agency at the top of the global heap creatively.

But does this make the agency that created it, McCann Melbourne, more creative than an agency that has not entered every award show, but has still managed to win as many awards across more campaigns and ideas across more of their clients?

The real question is ‘do you credit an agency’s creativity on their ability to deliver one great idea, or for consistently delivering great ideas?’

Agency credentials

Clemenger BBDO Melbourne's awards wheelbarrow

Clemenger BBDO Melbourne’s awards wheelbarrow

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 award count. Cannes Lions – 4 Titaniums, 9 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 ether what they were won for and the dates of when these awards were won? Creative awards have a best-by-date and if more than a few years old and it is likely the team 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 is 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.

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 best of 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 the have earned these points against all clients on their client roster. E.g. If two agencies have earned 100 points. But if Agency 1 won all these points for one campaign with one client in a roster of ten clients their Crank Score is 100 x 1/10 = 10. And if Agency 2 won the awards for four clients out of twenty on their roster their Crank Score is 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 that points from the previous year are halved and halved again for the year before. More than three years old and they are worth zero.

Now according to George Box, “all models are wrong, but some are useful”. And I certainly do not believe this is right. 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 many in 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.)

I think 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. But let’s find a better way of finding meaning in these awards.

Darren Woolley is the managing director of TrinityP3


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