Close-Up: Is D&AD alienating its British core?

With just four Pencils won this year, do UK creatives feel pushed out at D&AD?

Richard E Grant, the host of the 2009 D&AD Awards, did not need to repeatedly jokingly tell the audience to "stop f**king laughing" during the ceremony last week. Nobody was. Well, not from the UK anyway, which had its worst year to date.

Only three UK agencies - Bartle Bogle Hegarty, DDB and Mother - picked up four yellow Pencils on the night. It was a result that led to some to question whether D&AD is alienating its British roots.

Ever since it changed its entry procedure to bring together English and non-English entries into one bag in 2006, it has slowly moved away from its previous incarnation as British advertising's equivalent of the Oscars and moved inexorably towards a Cannes-esque global behemoth.

The decision may have expanded its bank balance, but it has led some to question whether it can ever top the Cote d'Azur festival, and if it is short-sighted in trying to.

"It was always the cornerstone of a creative's year, but I feel less and less like that now. It seems to be moving away from why it was set up," one creative says.

This year, the struggle the organisation had in recruiting executive members from the world of advertising caused a bit of chatter on the blogs. Some even assert that they no longer even bother opening the Annual when it comes out - a statement that would have been sacrilegous just a few years ago.

D&AD is a very different beast today from when it launched in 1963 as a British-only awards show. It may have recently redressed its juries to ensure a British majority (65/35) but it's hard to get away from the fact that 69 per cent of this year's entries were international.

There are also some who feel that D&AD's advertising juries, which are renowned for having high standards, were too hard on much of the work. The UK only secured 60 of the 174 nominations and 39 per cent of the work in the Annual.

"There was a lot of good stuff that ended up just as nominations. I think the judging has been a bit stingy this year. There are certain pieces of work we did that didn't get into the book, which should be recorded at least," Jeremy Craigen, the executive creative director at DDB London, says.

Others claim that great work was overlooked this year simply because multinational juries struggle to understand the idiosyncrasies and cultural reference points of local UK work - such as Hovis' "go on lad", which only made it into the Annual. There are, of course, still UK awards schemes of note - Campaign Big Awards and Creative Circle - but there's no doubt that D&AD's decision to go global has left a bitter taste in some creatives' mouths.

However, despite the negative gripes, there are plenty in the market who saw the awards results as a challenge to push themselves to do better work.

As Nick Gill, the executive creative director at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, explains: "It's ridiculous to think we aren't working in a global market. I draw a lot of inspiration from the different types of thinking that goes on in different markets around the world."

Graham Fink, the executive creative director at M&C Saatchi, adds: "If you don't have the international work at D&AD, it's like winning a gold at the Olympics when Russia didn't turn up."

Nevertheless, it has become harder for British creatives to get a look-in as other countries have raised their game. The question is perhaps less about whether D&AD is alienating British creatives and more about the fact that UK agencies are failing to produce integrated work to the standard of Droga5, which picked up two black Pencils on the night. It is a refrain that just won't go away.

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CREATIVE - Simon Learman, joint executive creative director, McCann Erickson; D&AD executive member

"There is a need for D&AD to get more British, but I don't think it's necessarily alienating its British base.

"We've got to get over ourselves a bit. If we live in a flat global world we have to compete with the rest of the world. If we get too isolationist we'll get left behind.

"It is appropriate that we judge ourselves against the rest of the world, but I would like to see a greater British representation. We need to stay in tune with what is going on in the UK, and the new website is a great start."

CREATIVE - Nick Gill, executive creative director, Bartle Bogle Hegarty

"No, D&AD is not alienating British creatives. D&AD is sending out a signal that everything has changed, and I think for the good.

"I thought a modern and forward-thinking body of work won at D&AD. There are agencies out there, like Droga5 and Crispin Porter & Bogusky, that are doing really good stuff and we can learn from the way they are working.

"Droga5's 'million' campaign was not advertising as such, but a brilliant lateral solution to a problem. It's about trying to engage with clients at a business level, not an advertising level. That's the story of this year's D&AD; so much of the interesting stuff was those types of initiatives."

CREATIVE - Ewan Paterson, executive creative director, CHI & Partners

"I'm sure D&AD does alienate some British creatives, but by being global, that's a problem we can't avoid.

"I don't think our work has been brilliant so four Pencils is a fair reflection. It would be terrible if we got loads of awards we didn't deserve. It would be very inward and a falsehood.

"D&AD has grown and become a global thing which can only be good because Britain doesn't necessarily do the best work all of the time. I think in the past, you could have accused D&AD of being too UK-centric."

CREATIVE - Damon Collins, executive creative director, Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R

"People do get upset in this country when there is great work that is clearly not being recognised. You start looking at the judging system and the people judging.

"The worry now is that a lot of D&AD's potency and value is potentially diminished. A lot of people haven't opened the past few years' Annuals. A lot of the stuff in it isn't as good as the stuff that isn't in it.

"It's a great British institution that is in danger of not meaning as much as it should do to people. There's a danger that the value of Cannes is already taking over from the D&AD Awards where D&AD has historically always been the apex of advertising and design."