Feature

Big Awards 2008: Time for the Big Awards? - You be the judge

Caroline Marshall and Rufus Olins recall the opening chapters of Campaign's awards history, and explain why a revamp for 2008 is the right thing to do.

"They might be big but they also need to be the best," is what Nigel Bogle said a year ago when the group chairman of Bartle Bogle Hegarty accepted our invitation to chair the inaugural Campaign Big Awards.

Today, with the first Big Awards behind us, and planning underway for the 2009 Awards, we have strived to be both the biggest and the best.

The Big Awards grew out of a belief that advertising and its awards should reflect the times. So for the first time digital takes its place alongside television, radio, direct, outdoor and press advertising. Press, in fact, is where it all began 34 years ago.

Late in 1973, a small taskforce met to plan the very first Campaign awards. Campaign Press started as a low-key lunch in 1974, and was largely driven by Lindsay Masters. A few years earlier, Masters - famously maverick, famously perfectionist - had turned a dull Worlds Press News into Campaign.

Masters wanted to bring the uncompromising perfectionism that he brought to the magazine to its awards. So in 1978, Campaign's then publishing director was asked to revitalise the event. Mike Potter's objective was to make it a red carpet affair, with the awards given out at a lavish dinner in the Grosvenor House.

Potter and his team expanded the categories, recruited a prominent jury chaired by Ronnie Kirkwood, and commissioned trophies that set the tone - Oscars remodelled to be reading a copy of Campaign.

This idea came from Ron Collins, one of the founders of WCRS. He borrowed Glenda Jackson's gold-plated, 13-inch-high Oscar to take a mould. Potter recalls: "After two years I received a letter from the Academy's lawyers insisting we stop using it and asking us to destroy them all."

The 1979 event propelled Campaign Press into the first division, giving the prestigious D&AD Awards a run for their money for the first time and setting a template that has been successfully followed by trade magazines everywhere. It was black tie, had a huge entry level and awarded the cream of the year's advertising. Margaret Thatcher, then the leader of the opposition, spoke at the dinner.

By 1985, with David Abbott chairing the jury, Campaign Press was attracting more than 2,500 entries. The winners reflected the business and regulatory climate of the time - Benson & Hedges shone in tobacco, Barclaycard in finance, Sainsbury's in retail and Bergasol in fashion.

The genesis of the Campaign Poster Awards, which were launched in 1980, is a little different. They were once run by the poster industry in partnership with the Council of Industrial Design (later the Design Council). The CoID, in one of its periodic cost-cutting exercises, pulled out and Campaign's then editor, Bernard Barnett, spotted an opportunity. Barnett knew that a major contractor, British Posters, was encouraging agencies to use posters in the same way they used other media - in bursts, rather than on an annual basis or not at all. The service to agencies was improving and a couple of Heineken ads created such impact that creatives started taking a serious interest in the medium.

With Heineken's posters showing the man having his moustache refreshed and another with a man having his drooping nose turned up fresh in his mind, Barnett arranged a meeting with representatives of all the companies in the posters sector - all, of course, viciously competitive. He offered Campaign as the organiser in place of the CoID. As the poster industry was offering higher quality inventory, could Campaign help stimulate creative people to evolve even better work?

Barnett recalls: "I got a polite hearing but the upshot was that the poster industry ought to be able to organise its own awards, thank you very much. I heard nothing for the next couple of months, then got a phone call to say: 'We can't agree on how to go forward - we'd like Campaign to come in and run the awards for us.'" Campaign Posters was launched in 1980 and by 1996 it attracted almost 1,600 entries.

Campaign Press and Posters were the pioneers. But with integration and the rise of direct and digital media, other creative award schemes were called for. Campaign Direct launched in 1999 and Campaign Digital in 2005.

By 2007 we began to wonder if those individual schemes had fallen victim to the over-complexity that easily bedevils advertising awards - too many categories split too many ways, too much emphasis on the medium over how entries were likely to work in the genuine competition of real business. And the absence of radio and TV or cinema was increasingly frustrating.

So, for 2008, Campaign has amalgamated those four awards schemes into the Big Awards, and invited TV, cinema and radio entries. The highest standards of craftsmanship prevail in the judging but all the entries have been entered and judged by product category. In order to reflect the regulatory climate of the day, the work must have run in the UK, though not necessarily have been created here.

Campaign's view is that this is the only sensible way to handle any kind of advertising prize-giving and we hope that the effort will be justified by what our readers and winners see in this Big Book - a lasting and true barometer for UK creative excellence across all media and all product sectors in a given year.

A couple of flaws appeared in what we believe has been a smooth operation and we would not be honest if we did not mention them here. First, we need to award campaigns as well as single executions. Second, the television and cinema entries for the Media and Entertainment category included a number of self-promotion films. The problem was that most of the work entered did not qualify as paid-for media, so we felt obliged to judge only the entries that were eligible under our published rules. We are returning entry fees for work that was not eligible and next year we will review this category.

Finally, some thanks. To our jury chairs and their judges for their hard work, and for making the process so enjoyable. To Campaign's outstanding in-house events team of Matthew Davies, Helen Horton and Steven Lewis for managing six juries through two judging rounds and creating an elegant awards night (appropriately, our 1,000 guests were back at the Grosvenor House where it all began).

Sincere thanks also to Nigel Bogle. How piquant that Bogle, whose agency designed the original Campaign Press trophy based on the bow tie, should chair these awards and set the tone with his own one-word brief to the juries: seek work that is "fresh". Thanks also to John O'Keeffe, Mark Reddy, Carly Pratt and others too numerous to mention at BBH. Relentlessly perfectionist and enthusiastic in the face of a media owner "client from hell", they created an outstanding multimedia campaign to launch the awards.

Finally, congratulations to our winners. If work as good as this continues to be produced across our key communications disciplines, we can all feel proud.

SOME HIGHLIGHTS

1974: Launch of the first media-specific awards for creative advertising in the press.

1978: Campaign Press Awards becomes a red carpet, black tie event.

1980: Launch of Campaign Posters.

1989: David Puttnam returns to advertising from the film industry to judge Campaign Press.

1994: Campaign appoints a professional awards producer as director of events (thanks, Matthew).

1995: The Kinks feature as cabaret at the National Newspaper Campaign Advertising Awards.

1999: Launch of Campaign Direct.

2002: The then Ogilvy creative directors are caught changing ads before submitting them to the Press Awards. Campaign's decision to permanently bar the pair from Campaign awards juries and exclude their work from Campaign awards for three years reflects a groundswell of opinion.

2004: Ricky Gervais hosts Campaign Poster Advertising Awards to huge acclaim.

2005: Campaign Press Awards moves from Grosvenor House to Truman Brewery and stages a gallery reception and presentation hosted by Al Murray.

2005: Launch of Campaign Digital.

2008: Birth of the Big Awards.