Cannes: The awards dilemma cost vs glory

Every agency craves a Lion but in this financial climate, do the benefits of winning one offset the costs?

There's no shortage of enthusiasm for advertising awards. There were 22,652 entries at Cannes alone last year. But the global economic crunch has produced a dilemma for agencies eager to make a creative impact on the world stage and yet forced to make a difference to the bottom line: can we justify entering award shows?

Awards entering is no small ask. For a start, it's expensive. An entry to Cannes this year cost EUR600 or so, while D&AD charges EUR485. And that's just the fee; the real cost is in time and agency resources.

No surprise, then, that those thousands of Cannes entries were, in fact, 20 per cent fewer than the year before.

Graham Fink, the executive creative director at M&C Saatchi, has a strict list of awards to enter: Cannes, D&AD, Creative Circle, BTAA, the Campaign BIG Awards and the occasional entry at the One Show. "I think in this climate we have to be more brutal than ever," he says. "When you start to look into it and see how much you are spending, I could have a team for that, so you should be careful."

But Fink, like the vast majority in adland, is a firm believer in awards. "They are important, they're good for creativity," he says. "Entering and winning awards inspires people and people like to be recognised by their peers and by the competition. Wanting to win improves creativity."

Entering awards is also a business investment. Winning awards keeps an agency or network in the top 20 of The Gunn Report's most award-winning shops, where global clients will go to clock top agencies before drawing up a pitchlist. It also gives agencies the chance to send press releases, including titles that, crucially, will be read by the City, not to mention bolster the Google ranking for creativity.

At The Won Report, which logged 11,000 pieces of winning work in marketing services last year, the editor, Patrick Collister, estimates the business of advertising awards to be worth around £2 billion globally each year. A former Cannes juror and award-winner himself, he sees the business arguments behind entering: "Intelligent clients want the most talented people to sort them out so they go to where the talented people congregate, which tends to be the most lauded places." But he warns: "Other clients get extremely worried that the agency is using them to fill their own shop windows."

Agencies - traditional or new kids on the block, big or small - will not be deterred. Last year, the awards were peppered with surprises, from the rise of the Belgians to the conquering of the film category by a digital agency.

Tribal DDB's Film Grand Prix at Cannes for Philips' "carousel", through its Amsterdam office, gave the digital agency huge kudos. Matt Ross, the executive creative director at Tribal DDB London, recognises that there's an art to entering awards. "We do calculate where and when to enter awards," he says. "A campaign needs some time to penetrate the public and industry consciousness."

Sometimes success takes an agency itself by surprise. In 2009, TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris Johannesburg rated its chances of winning Lions so low that only John Hunt, a founder and the TBWA worldwide creative director, went to Cannes. It ended up scooping nine awards for The Zimbabwean's "trillion dollar" campaign.

Last year's Cannes saw Jeff Goodby, the co-founder of Goodby Silverstein & Partners, calling for agencies to stop entering ads into awards that are "either small or marginal efforts for legitimate clients, things we made for real clients that the clients seem not to have ever heard of, or out-and-out fakes". The message coming out of Cannes last year was that juries were ignoring ads that weren't part of a real campaign and getting real results.

But another call by jurors will probably be roundly ignored. The phenomenon of the many-tentacled entry, where an integrated campaign is entered into every category that it can squeeze into, has led to jurors calling for more discriminating and fewer entries. But each jury is made up of different people and who's to say where a campaign might score?

Not all agencies enter awards. Scott Goodson, the StrawberryFrog chairman, explains that the agency once preferred to spend its budget taking the staff on hot air balloon trips or boating in Sweden. Now it's changed its tune, even sponsoring a new client award in the Young Lions category.

Like all those agency pilgrims who will be at Cannes, Goodson has his eye on where the hottest new talent can be found. "Cannes does an excellent job of showcasing the work that is redefining culture. It's coming from unexpected countries and agencies and we're going to continue to see that,"

he says. "You'll see countries you've never heard of power in and scoop up lots of awards. That's the future - the democratisation of new ideas coming from anywhere."


Keith Weed - Chief marketing officer, Unilever

In this cluttered world of multiple brands and messages, innovative solutions - in both creative work and media - are becoming more and more important to cut through and get attention. In this environment, all approaches that foster excellence and effectiveness and encourage people to push the boundaries should be encouraged.

I have always been supportive of awards and recognition internally and across the industry. At Unilever, we have our own awards, through which we highlight the success of marketing initiatives and our agency partners. Industry and peer recognition is also a highly motivating force - one that is worth leveraging.

Industry awards have the added benefit of motivating and recognising individuals within the agency. We want to have the best people clamouring to work on our briefs, and we want to enable their creativity and their drive to go the extra mile.

Recognising the success of a campaign is not only important for the agency - it is also important for our own brand team. In addition to recognising work already done, it sets standards and expectations for the future. It is my experience that people will work to the standards asked of them: if you set high standards, the agency and brand team will strive to reach them; if you settle for less, people will not work to the best of their capabilities.

While there is no doubt that industry awards are a sign of excellence, we do not choose agencies on the basis of these alone. We like working with agencies that are proud of the quality of their work and achievement, and strive to make it better every day - but this may or may not come in the form of awards won. The right agencies for us are those most effective in delivering real, measurable results for our business. Whether the effectiveness of these results is also worthy of an award is just an added bonus, and one I am happy to support.


Olivier Altmann - Chief creative officer, Publicis Worldwide

It takes just one outstanding award to change an agency. A Cannes Titanium Lion can revolutionise a culture. Remember how Honda's impressive integrated effort, kicking off with "cog", put Wieden & Kennedy London on the map? Or how the Nike+ platform, by netting pretty much every award worth winning, drove buzz around R/GA? Or the way in which GT Tokyo was last year catapulted into the limelight thanks to its "Love Distance" love story for Sagami Condoms?

Whether you're a small hotshop trying to make your mark on the worldwide stage or a global network showcasing great ideas - awards can change the conversation about a brand, an agency, a network.

Award-winning work sends a signal to employees (and not just the creatives) that creativity is key to success - that playing top league is achievable. It's a magnet for top talent and it's a virtual cycle: great ads mean more awards. More awards mean more buzz. More buzz means more pride, more ambition, which lead to more brave clients signing up for more great ads.

As a company, we're committed to the tough task of being a top-five creative network, because the most enlightened clients are those looking for the most creative of agencies, knowing the enormous added value great work can bring to their brands and products. They know the power of a truly creative idea in motivating consumers.

To my mind, you don't always need a lot of work to make an impact on the worldwide scene. Think Cadbury's "gorilla" from Fallon, Boag's "pure waters" from Publicis Mojo or Orange's "rewind" from Publicis Conseil.

Tactical entry strategies are crucial and success also comes from good buzz generated in the pre-show season - the more positive and high-profile the conversation, the warmer jurors feel about the creative. It's a "contagious" process. Remember that you're fighting against the world, not one country or an agency in particular, and that success should be a win-win because great campaigns are used by agencies and marketers alike as a benchmark. Most importantly, hard-won awards make us proud and show we're in the right place: that the hard work, tears, stress, long nights and weekends away are all worth it.


Jorrit Hermans - Copywriter, Boondoggle

Last summer, Boondoggle from Leuven, Belgium won five gold Lions at Cannes. We celebrated heavily for a minute or so and then decided the best thing to do was to make something new out of it.

The result was our infamous "Yellow Copper Lions" viral video (http://tiny.cc/n68jr), in which our gold Cannes awards get thoroughly checked by goldsmiths using various acids, sanding blocks and knives. It was the world's first ad that even Terry Savage found somewhat disturbing. But why?

Frankly, I was amazed no-one had ever done this before. We simply threw - I mean gently placed - our gold Lions in a heavy-duty grocery bag. Then we grabbed our CEO's home video camera, erased the cheesy footage of his son's first birthday and set off to Antwerp. There, we spent the first hour looking for goldsmiths that were not in any way related to the gold mob. It proved a tough search. Eventually, we did find some jewellers who agreed to examine our gold Lions on film. We shot a couple of hours, survived one near hold-up, came back and spent the rest of the week editing on iMovie. The result soon appeared all over the internet. Gold Lions were not gold but lead or copper! "Boondoggle" even became the word of the day on Twitter.

And I still wondered why ...

Since the first international advertising festival in Cannes in 1954, no-one in the business had dared to challenge, doubt, criticise or mock the literal value of the renowned gold Lion award that was given to the year's best ads from around the world. Until we did.

This proves two important things.

First, how sacred the Cannes Lions really are. There probably is nothing in the ad business that can spice up your resume like a Lion can.

And second, how little we care about that.

Don't get us wrong here. At Boondoggle, we are all suckers for big creative ideas and great stories. If you come up with one, our creative director will personally text you how excited he is, preferably late in the evening.

This is probably the way it goes in hospitals, nursing homes, fire departments and day care centres: "Great job! Thanks, man."

Then you go back to work.