Jarek Ziebinski on judging the APAC Effies: ‘There is no conflict between creativity and effectiveness’

Jarek Ziebinski Jarek Ziebinski was chairman of the judges for the APAC Effies, a competition to find the most effective advertising in Asia Pacific. The winners were revealed last week.

In this Q&A, the chairman and CEO of Leo Burnett Asia Pacific tells Mumbrella why his jury selected a pro bono campaign for best in show, whether Asia is getting better at ad effectiveness or writing awards papers, and why creativity and effectiveness are not mutually exclusive.

Why did the jury choose a pro-bono campaign for a charity as the winner of the Grand Effie? What was it about this campaign that stood out for the jury and for you personally?

The essence of the Effie Awards is all about recognising “Ideas that work – the great ideas that achieve real results and the strategy that goes into creating them”. Communication needs and goals are not limited by sales results, growth of market share or increase in profit. What is key is whether the campaign’s idea, thinking and creative have gone above and beyond achieving its communications objectives and the strength of the strategy that is behind its success are what an Grand Effie Award winner should look like.

In Asia Pacific and everywhere else in the world, we face social issues that negatively impact millions of people. As professionals of the communication industry, we have the skill sets and ability to make a difference in the very market that we do business in. I think it is wonderful that Effie Awards – as a globally recognised gold standard in communications effectiveness – provides the platform to support outstanding examples of work that do good.

The “No Child Brides” campaign was a standout from the beginning – it was one of the most highly-scored work by the jury. It is a simple and powerful idea that inspired the solidarity of millions to act together to raise awareness of an important issue. Child Survival India came from a place where they had little to nothing to park behind the campaign for an issue that remained largely invisible to the world. It was truly the strength of the idea and strategy that brought this massive social problem into the spotlight, and what’s more, during one of the most challenging times (India’s General Elections) to get any visibility or interest from the media.

Based on what you saw at the APAC Effies this year, do you feel that the standard of advertising is rising in the region, or are agencies just getting better at writing Effies papers?

I think it is a combination of both. I had observed that there are quite a number good campaigns in Asia Pacific that used to remain largely under the radar. The increasing prominence of effectiveness-based awards like the Effies in this region had provided the platform for these cases to been seen and celebrated. Over time, there will naturally be an improvement of the quality of presentation of case studies and submissions. At the end of the day, if there are no compelling results, a case can’t win, no matter how well written, as it vetted by two rounds of judging by top professionals from across the industry, and is scored based on the degree of challenge, and results achieved.

Having said that, there is still a lot of room for growth in entrants learning how to present cases effectively. We still see examples of effective cases that write themselves out of a win through lack of necessary data and context to judge their success.

The Effie Awards is probably the only competition where the organiser takes great effort in sharing best practices and conducting training for agencies on how to prepare their cases. This year, the APAC Effie team embarked on a eight-city promotional tour during the call for entries to share the entry process and the gold standard of award-winning entries, along with training on how to prepare the cases.

Another interesting observation this year is that more entries from India are in the limelight, closing the gap with strong competitors from Australia and New Zealand – which have been two of the strongest markets in the region on the effectiveness stage.

Effectiveness awards tend to be less susceptible to “initiative work” than creative awards shows, but how did you ensure that the winners at the APAC Effies were credible?

The Effie Awards team has put in place a stringent set of requirements across entries and judging stages to govern the process to ensure that the best of true marketing successes are celebrated and awarded. This meant that the multiple layers of processes, from the entry stage to the different judging stages, would have progressively eliminated non-credible cases. To illustrate, judges are not matched with entries that would prove a conflict of interest. Scoring is anonymous and confidential.

Highest and lowest scores are dropped when determining awards and scores reviewed for bias. For the APAC Effie Awards this year, I also implemented the addition of the requirement of having both the client and entrant agency’s sign-offs before the entries could be accepted. This is to ensure that all parties are aware of and endorse the facts that are being presented in the submissions as authentic information about the work.

Also, all data provided by entrants are required to reference their sources, failing which judges are asked to disregard the information or mark down as appropriate. During the live judging round, if there are facts that are perceived to be suspicious, the jury is able to flag them for further clarificatios not just with the entrant agency, but also directly with the clients. To date, we have not had a situation where an award was given that needed to be revoked because data was false. However, should the situation arise, we would have no hesitation to revoke an award.

By the time an Effie entry has reached the winners’ circle, it has survived at least two rounds of evaluation from a rigorous jury of senior industry executives who have been carefully selected against established selection criteria based on their professional experience and achievements as well as judging experience.

It would be a challenge to get through two rounds of screening (entry review by Effie and the first round of screening by judges) with unsourced data. Harder still would be getting though two rounds of judging by industry executives with poor or incorrect data and falsified sources. Effie also has a minimum score for a Gold, Silver and Bronze Effie and for a finalist. And every year there are categories with no finalists or no winners.

With the rise in importance of tech, data and accountability in advertising, do you see the time when creative awards will be replaced by effectiveness awards altogether? And what in your view is the key the building a culture of advertising effectiveness in an agency? Does focusing on results mean that more creative work gets sidelined?

These two questions seem to come from the premise that effectiveness occurs in isolation of creativity. A premise that I disagree with, as I see that there is no conflict between creativity and effectiveness. The direct correlation between creativity and the most successful brands has been proven over and over again.

The advancement in technology and data merely increases the possibilities for creativity today. Accountability in business is the normal order of the day in our world now (across industries) and is as natural as how we need air to survive. I strongly feel that creativity is the only competitive advantage in business today – it is how we perceive and harness creativity for our work that we should be focusing on.

The way I see it, creativity should not be seen as a one-dimensional concept. It definitely has multiple facets, whether it is from a craft, strategy or storytelling point of view – creativity comes through in different forms. The most successful example of creativity is a combination of these various elements (at their creative best). Different awards platforms exist to support the multi-dimensional development of the vast communication business which I think makes sense.

Leo Burnett once said, “Our real purpose in life is that of improving the sales effectiveness and reputation of our clients through ideas.” He certainly did not say that recently. The culture of advertising effectiveness for any agency should be a given. It is precisely why we are in business today. True and sustained effectiveness in the long run would only exist on the back of great ideas – you’d agree with me that the best creative agencies and brands in the world today all recognise that.


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