Close-Up: Why is the UK failing at awards shows?

How come UK agencies don't seem to be able to win global awards anymore, Caroline Lovell asks.

British advertising. World-leading. We could teach the rest of the world a thing or two about creativity, right? Well, not according to the recent One Show and Clio awards nights: not a good result for London agencies. Not at all. The UK only managed to bag a meagre handful of gold and bronze awards. So have we Brits lost our creative edge?

Excuse one

The competition is more fierce than ever. Fast-growing markets such as Thailand, Australia, New Zealand and South America can now be relied upon to produce work that surprises and excites. And the global take-up of planning, once the staple of the UK and the US, has upped the standard of international agencies' work.

Excuse two

Inviting more international entries and judges can mean more money for the awards organisers, but is it diluting the evaluation of the work? Damon Collins, the executive creative director of Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, suggests that the quality of international juries is adversely affecting the global awards. Judging at D&AD this year, Collins left depressed after a lot of good work did not get voted in because the jurors could not agree on what made a great ad. "You end up with people on the jury who you wouldn't even hire in your creative department. How valid is their opinion?" he says.

Excuse three

Compared with Australasia, where marketing teams are small, UK creatives have to battle harder to get ideas through layers of middle management.

Excuse four

Perhaps our approach doesn't travel as well as that of some other countries. Because international briefs are relatively scarce here, UK agencies concentrate on domestic campaigns with domestic reference points that don't have the same sort of impact beyond these shores.

Excuse five

Scam ads. We play clean, not everyone else does. Only last month, the organisers of this year's Dubai Lynx awards had to withdraw the Agency of the Year award from FP7 Doha because its ads were not genuine.

Excuse six

Whatever agencies say, we haven't really, really mastered integration here yet. But integration is the darling of awards juries. At the One Show, the green Pencil and the Best of Show both went to integrated campaigns ("help the honey bees" for Haagen-Dazs and "the best job in the world" for Tourism Queensland, respectively); the UK didn't win anything in the category.

The good news is that UK digital agencies are performing well. One of the winners of a gold gong at the One Show Interactive awards is Lean Mean Fighting Machine's Dave Bedwood. He credits the digital industry's success to its ability to embrace collaboration and innovation. "Digital feels a bit more like the Wild West; we're all scrapping around for money and taking more risks," he says.

And when the UK does traditional advertising well, it does it really well: Cadbury's "gorilla" and Guinness' "noitulove" both picked up the Film Grand Prix at Cannes in recent years.

However, the awards shows and their juries are moving inexorably towards a more integrated focus where a beautiful TV ad is only one facet of the campaign - both UK agencies and their clients need to respond or get pushed off the international awards podium.

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AWARDS ANALYST - Patrick Collister, editor, The Big Won

"There are three major reasons. First, the competition has got better around the world. Second, in other parts of the world, a lot of agencies' reputations are bolstered by scam, which is an increasing problem. Behind all of that is the third thing, which is a lot of UK advertising is samey because of our clients. There are so bloody many of them.

"If you look at New Zealand and Australia, which do creatively punch above their weight, clients go to one agency with one budget and one problem. You see a freshness as a result of that."

GLOBAL CREATIVE CHIEF - Bob Scarpelli, chairman and chief creative officer, DDB Worldwide

"I wonder if creativity throughout the world is less prominent because of the economic times. Are we trying fewer things and being safer?

"Perhaps clients in the US are much more aware and understanding of integration. UK work is always so insightful, smart, witty, intelligent and beautifully crafted, but where are the big 360-degree campaigns?

"You see, integration is really pronounced in the US as we've got big clients with big budgets. People are really understanding of integrated ideas and we're using all of the media, new media, and inventing and creating media to reach out to our customers. It's critical."

PLANNER - Andy Nairn, planning director, Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy

"Planning has now become the norm around the world, rather than a peculiar job function that only existed in the UK. In turn, this has helped international agencies develop more insightful and lateral strategies.

"Integration has also been embraced more enthusiastically in other markets. Indeed, many developing markets have never known the distinction between above- and below-the-line disciplines. So they're producing more innovative, holistic ideas.

"On a practical level, we face a much stricter regulatory framework than most other markets - we simply can't 'get away with' some of the things other markets can."

CREATIVE - Jeremy Craigen, executive creative director, DDB London

"America has come back strong again. I am completely jealous of their integrated work. No agency here is producing anything like HBO's 'voyeur'. We are light years away from that in the UK. The work needs to be tied to a bigger picture. We're missing the boat.

"I don't think the winners at BTAA or Creative Circle were particularly outstanding. If the winners of the British-only awards shows aren't that good, we're not going to be great internationally."