CAMPAIGN DIRECT ISSUE: Opinion moves slowly in favour of DMA awards but less of them. Some agencies feel direct marketers still have a bias toward results instead of creativity. By Robert Dwek

For the third year running an ad agency has won gold in the DMA/Royal Mail Direct Marketing Awards (sponsored by Campaign’s sister publication, Marketing). As the integrated 90s draw to a close, it would appear that above-the-line folk are at last coming to terms with a more adventurous agency culture - one in which a below-the-line gong no longer looks incongruous on a shelf full of D&AD pencils.

For the third year running an ad agency has won gold in the

DMA/Royal Mail Direct Marketing Awards (sponsored by Campaign’s sister

publication, Marketing). As the integrated 90s draw to a close, it would

appear that above-the-line folk are at last coming to terms with a more

adventurous agency culture - one in which a below-the-line gong no

longer looks incongruous on a shelf full of D&AD pencils.



Appearances, however, can be deceptive.



Consider first the fact that TBWA Simons Palmer, which was actually a

joint gold winner alongside DP&A (for the integrated Goldfish campaign),

somehow failed to turn up for the awards. It would be nice to know why,

but the agency was deaf to repeated calls from Campaign.



DP&A had been the one which entered the awards (and paid the

accompanying pounds 200 fee) and was there to make the speeches. David

May, client services director at DP&A, says nothing should be read into

this since TBWA Simons Palmer has entered other awards on his agency’s

behalf. ’If we weren’t comfortable with joint billing, we wouldn’t have

done it,’ he says.



Consider also some pretty strong comments from the ad agency that won

gold in 1996 - Duckworth Finn Grubb Waters. Its work for the car maker,

Daewoo, hit the right note with many below-the-line judges, who added

another gold and silver in different categories to the overall prize.

But DFGW’s deputy managing director, Charlie Dawson, remains sceptical

about the awards - even though his agency won two silvers this year for

its HEA work.



Dawson is disillusioned with the judging process, in which he has taken

part for the past two years. He believes there are too many categories,

too much dominance from the old-school direct marketers and not enough

flair. ’The organisers have tried to get more non-direct marketing

people involved,’ he concedes, ’but at the same time there is a large

part of the DM industry that has a closed mind when it comes to new

approaches.



There is still hostility towards people like us - there was booing when

we won the gold.’



Dawson believes the awards would gain much more prominence if they were

significantly pruned, so that a handful of top prizes could emphasise

the importance of ’forward thinking and a broad vision’. As things

stand, the plethora of categories harks back to direct marketing’s

tactical roots and focuses too much on technical proficiency. ’They’re

not seeing the wood for the trees.’



All of which means, as far as Dawson is concerned, that the DMA awards

have ’a long way to go before they’re on a par with D&AD’. Invited on to

the judging panel, he ’thought it would be a good opportunity to get my

views across, but I have a feeling that nothing much has changed’.



Not surprisingly, Fabienne Tyler, chair of the awards committee,

disagrees.



She starts by noting the record attendance at this year’s dinner - 1,200

people, with many turned away, compared with 300 a decade ago - and goes

on to stress the greater ’democracy and integrity’ in the judging

process.



This has recently been changed to allow a much larger and more diverse

range of views, including those of clients and ad agency people. The

awards themselves, Tyler continues, have been reviewed so that they are

a better reflection of direct marketing’s strategic and brand building

potential.



When pushed, however, Tyler admits there is still a lot of defensiveness

among the below-the-line old guard, who remain acutely aware of the

degree to which they were snubbed by above-the-line agencies not so long

ago.



Nevertheless, Tyler and her colleagues have ’been going out of our way

to involve advertising agencies in these awards’ but have been

’disappointed’ by the lacklustre response from some.



But before things get too hostile, there are a number of ad agencies -

all winners of the DMA awards - who see things in a more positive

light.



HHCL & Partners was the first major ad agency winner when it took gold

two years ago for its Apple Tango work.



The agency’s joint chief executive, Rupert Howell, goes so far as to say

that the DMA awards are beginning to look more relevant than D&AD, which

has ’become a bit reactionary’. Howell has also started to put his

agency forward for major sales promotion awards - with some success.

Recognition from the results-orientated below-the-line community means a

lot to clients, he says, which compensates for any lack of kudos.



Johnny Hornby, head of account management at CDP (a winner this year for

its Honda campaign), agrees. ’It all comes down to what agencies pride

themselves on. We’ve been building towards total communications for the

last few years, so we don’t view these awards as a poor relation.’



Hornby found the actual awards ceremony ’surprisingly professional’.



He suggests ad agencies find out more about the judging criteria before

submitting work, because ’many still don’t realise that the results and

strategy are as important as the creativity’.



Saatchi & Saatchi, another of this year’s winners, takes the awards

’incredibly seriously’, according to the creative group head, Gary

Sharpen. ’We feel that since we’ve been doing fully integrated work for

several years now, it’s just as important to be in these awards and

others like the SPCA, as it is to win recognition from Campaign or

D&AD.’ He is confident that the ’extra gravitas’ conferred on the DMA

awards by agencies like Saatchis will create a ’virtuous circle’.



Sharpen’s only gripe is a wish to see ’a bit more of a balance between

creativity and results’. The emphasis, he feels, is still too much on

the latter.



One last ad agency comment - from Ammirati Puris Lintas, which won this

year for its Rover work. The account manager, Tim Watson, says that

although the direct marketing awards aren’t quite on a par with D&AD,

’everyone appreciates they are very valuable in their own right and

something you can be proud of’.



Nevertheless, the doubts remain - and they don’t all come from above the

line. Ben Stephens, managing director at TBWA Payne Stracey, feels the

same way as Sharpen about the lack of DMA emphasis on creativity.



’We will only be taken more seriously by our above-the-line colleagues

when the creative standards are raised,’ he states.



And Chris Martin, creative director of Bates Communications, feels the

awards are in danger of regressing. ’This year’s awards set the industry

back five years after what had been two very progressive years,’ he

declares.



’There seemed to be a move back to the more traditional stuff rather

than an emphasis on changing people’s behaviour.’ Too many of the

winners ’were completely uninspiring, almost embarrassing. And many of

the categories looked very self-serving.’



It looks as if we’ll be well into the next century before the UK’s

above- and below-the-line awards feel fully integrated.



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