Close-Up: Live Issue - Why should agency staff be on juries?

Judging work can be rewarding and boost an agency's international standing, Kunal Dutta writes.

JWT might not be the first network in London you equate with the Cannes Lions. But, last week, Craig Davis, the network's chief creative officer, was appointed chair of the Cannes film and press juries.

The significance of this should not be underestimated. To quote a Cannes Lions spokesman: "This role is exclusively reserved for someone at the very top of their career worldwide. Not just a representative of one country or agency."

It's a prestigious invitation. But is the judge's wig a blessing or a curse? This year, more than 25,000 submissions will hit the tables from all over the world. Five days will be spent in darkened rooms wading through the work. The line-up is still being finalised, but is set to include 21 of the most respected minds (and egos) from more than 20 countries. It's certainly not a holiday in the South of France.

"Cannes is always the most exhausting of judging experiences," Graham Fink, the executive creative director of M&C Saatchi, recalls. "The most interesting bit is the end when the arguing starts. But to get there can be so depressing. You often have to sift through so much dross and find yourself exasperating at how much money, time and research has gone into some of the rubbish you're watching."

Davis appears prepared for this. A straight-talking Australian who has previously worked at Saatchi & Saatchi in Singapore and Hong Kong as well as JWT, his creative sense is bolstered by a global and cultural gravitas. He has sat as a juror on numerous awards, including that for last year's Cannes Titanium Lion, and is optimistic.

"Judging is always mentally stretching as well as a rich source of learning," he says. "You come away having seen things from different perspectives."

Invitations to judge the most prestigious awards such as D&AD and Cannes are not just about the exposure. Many view them as a prestigious honour. In advertising, where opinions blend and clash, there is something omnipotent about being invited to pass judgment on other people's work.

"Invitations to judge are essential for a creative director's ego," one executive creative director says. "It validates your existence and proves that your world-view is still widely respected."

It can also be of huge benefit for the creative's agency as it not only shows they have the top creative talent, but it boosts the agency's standing globally, especially as there is an increasing trend of jurors being invited overseas to chair domestic advertising awards.

Nick Fox, the chief operating officer of DDB London, says: "It's a two-way gain. Not only can the juror provide an alternative view, but it also allows them to scope where the best work is and newest talent is emerging from."

Davis is a passionate advocate for world advertising and hopes to uphold the heritage of creative excellence, while ensuring it doesn't become too self-congratulatory. "We shouldn't lose sight of the audience," he says. "Cannes doesn't allow for real representatives in the room - at the very least we've got to put ourselves in the mental and emotional space of our audience."

He sees his role to steer and oversee debate without getting too actively involved in the minutiae: "I would only see active participation in judging to resolve deadlocks. People need to vote using their judgment and instinct. Part of my job is to ensure that happens."

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CREATIVE - Simon Waterfall, creative distractor, Poke; president, D&AD

"It's an honour and a ghastly nightmare at the same time. Judging is an extremely difficult job. But if you feel passionate about your industry, at some point you're going to be asked to give back to the industry and hold your judgment up to account. And if you don't want to, you shouldn't be here.

"Nowadays there are so many different awards. Yet in creative minds, there are awards that you carry out of a burning house, and other awards you leave to lie on a beach."

CREATIVE DIRECTOR - Graham Fink, executive creative director, M&C Saatchi

"It is always nice to be asked to judge. But on the day you do it, it can make you groan. It takes an awful lot of time and until you get to the last day or two, a lot of the early work can be complete dross. That said, it keeps you up to date with everything that is going on.

"I've played the chairman role on juries and it's important to give a perspective before people start judging stuff. People can get hung up on trendy agencies and it's amazing how influential certain people in the jury can be. When there are arguments, it's good to reframe the situation."

DIGITAL CREATIVE DIRECTOR - Ben Clapp, creative director, Tribal DDB

"Judging is a good way to see what other countries are doing and to build a wider context for work. It's an art that comes with experience. The longer you're there, the easier it gets.

"From an agency point of view, it's great PR. If an agency has had a good year, being on the jury can really bring that to attention. If you win a D&AD, you're usually invited back as a juror.

"Smaller juries tend to be more influential. If someone makes a speech in a small jury to stick up for a piece of work, it can push people into reconsidering."

CREATIVE DIRECTOR - Charles Inge, creative partner, CHI & Partners

"Judging is not self-serving. It's a duty to the business rather than what we get out of it. For the industry, it's critical that the best eyes are judging the work. The bigger the awards schemes, the better the eyes.

"One thing that is consistent is that you start off very disillusioned by how much bad stuff there is. But by the time you whittle it down, you can end up very inspired. That emotional swing is very common.

"It's still a huge privilege to be asked and should be considered a service to our industry and advertising generally."


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