There must have been times when D&AD wondered whether it would see its 50th year. The industry's champion of creativity has had its share of crises. But right now, in 2011 and looking forward to celebrating its half-century over the coming 12 months, crisis is not on the agenda. Oh no.
And yet D&AD is in need of some attention. It's not about to go bust. Its chief executive is not embroiled in outrageous scandal. D&AD has faced such challenges and survived, thanks in no small part to the support of the senior creatives in the ad and design industries, and the guidance of Anthony Simonds-Gooding, in particular.
But as a new regime takes charge at the organisation, there is perhaps an even more deadly problem on the table. Whisper it, but is D&AD becoming an irrelevance?
Here is a small example to illustrate: a dozen years ago, an executive creative director says he received a parcel in the post. Inside was a Lion. He'd won one of the top awards at the Cannes Festival. He didn't know he'd been shortlisted, and didn't care much that he'd won. But a yellow Pencil? Ahhh. Winning a D&AD yellow Pencil was the sweetest moment of his young career. It changed the course of his life.
A decade or so on, that same ECD has no idea who won any of the awards at D&AD this year, didn't go to the ceremony, didn't encourage his department to enter and didn't care much. But a Lion? Ahhh.
It's not untypical. Since UK agencies stopped winning so many Pencils, D&AD seems to be slipping down the big agency agenda. Is D&AD losing the hearts and minds of the senior players in its home market? And, if so, does that matter? Or is it just another reflection of the UK ad industry's receding importance on the global stage?
And here we should stress, yes, D&AD is about much more than Pencils (yellow, black and now white - and stubs too). It's a whole educational and inspirational machine, a charity founded on the principle of perpetuating brilliance in commercial creativity. It's also, of course, as much about brilliance in design as advertising. But the Pencils are the pinnacle, the touchstone from which the power of the organisation, its influence and respect flow. And, frankly, there are those who believe that it has become a pale imitation of the Cannes Festival. The Lion has savaged the Pencil.
If that's so, there's a new team in charge determined to fight back. Last week, one of the ad industry's most experienced, high profile and clubbable executives, Tim Lindsay, the former TBWA UK president and Publicis chairman, took over as D&AD's chief executive. Next week, the Bartle Bogle Hegarty deputy executive creative director and partner, Rosie Arnold, steps up as its president. With them comes an air of expectation: if D&AD is to flourish, to regain its stature, something new and different is required.
Lindsay believes D&AD doesn't need radical surgery: "It's had its ups and downs over the years but it's actually in pretty good shape right now. Entries are good, revenues are good. The education programme has been revamped by Tim O'Kennedy over the last few years.
"But there are some things we want to do to move it forward. We want to underpin D&AD's desire to be the world's foremost creative community - we have the potential to be that."
So what will moving forward involve? Lindsay says lots of things are on the table, but it's early days and nothing is concrete yet: "Various international opportunities, online and in the real world, are being looked at -particularly in Asia and North and South America. Also, expanding our programme of events and having on-the-ground representation in key cities around the world, supporting D&AD members and expanding the student programme."
Perhaps more controversially, D&AD wants to get closer to clients, a strategy not particularly compatible with its reverence for the best craft skills without reference to the commercial realities of marketing. On the other hand, if D&AD is about nurturing creative skills, isn't there a case for doing so among young marketers as well as the young creatives that have been its heartland?
"It is potentially controversial," Lindsay admits. "But we live in a world of increasing collaboration - you can't get anything done without partnerships. Good clients make an enormous contribution to the quality of D&AD members' output - they pay for it.
"We want to reach out to companies that are supportive of good work because one of the things D&AD can do to raise standards, and make everyone's lives more successful, is to advise clients on how to deal with agencies. That means extending professional development programmes into the client community, helping educate their people to partner agencies better. That will have an overall beneficial effect on the industry."
Lindsay is also keen to explore how D&AD can work more productively with the IPA (hopelessly unrepresentative of the creative community) and ISBA, as well as other organisations in the business of nurturing young creative talent, such as the School of Communication Arts.
Taking the creative message to government is also on the new agenda. If it's to live up to its ambitions and be the focal point for the creative community, D&AD should certainly have a much louder voice in lobbying for legislative support for the sector. Its track record here is not one to be proud of, and Lindsay promises to shape up.
It's all sensible stuff, but a core problem for D&AD remains: an awful lot of the people running the UK's biggest and best creative departments have lost interest in what D&AD does, and can do, for them. In chasing international revenue, D&AD has compromised its British franchise.
Lindsay admits that D&AD has to carefully pick its way between its Britishness and being the "best of the best". He says: "For international agencies, D&AD is the Oscars. It's still the ultimate accolade for some people, with a tremendous aura about it." Lindsay's key challenge now is to ensure that agencies in D&AD's backyard agree.
THE INCOMING PRESIDENT: WHY I LOVE D&AD
I have always loved D&AD. It is the reason I am in the industry. I pored over the Annual while still a student, inspired, awed and determined to get some of my work in the famous "book".
It was because of D&AD's workshops that I managed to understand the business, channel my creative thinking into answering a brief and building up a portfolio of work. To find myself as the D&AD president is an honour I could never have imagined.
To me, D&AD is the ultimate award and the ultimate educator.
Its 50th anniversary is the perfect opportunity to highlight D&AD's credentials as the best of the best:
- The best creative work judged by the best creative talent. The treasured Pencil is the award that every creative wants more than any other.
- The best organisation to promote and educate future talent - especially as the global recession means cuts to arts education everywhere.
- The best body to champion excellence and engage the Government and the general public in debate about the importance of design and creativity.
The current president, Sanky (Simon Sankarayya), and I have introduced the white Pencil. The first new D&AD award in many years, the white Pencil is a way of demonstrating the power of creativity to change the world for the better. Unlike the other awards, it will be given to work that answers a specific brief.
For 2012, the brief supports the United Nations' Day of Peace on 21 September. I am fascinated to see what work comes out of it. I like to think that the winners will be the best creatives in the world because anyone, from anywhere in any media, can enter. The only criteria is that the work will have appeared in some shape or form.
With the white Pencil, I hope to bring D&AD to a wider audience. I'd like to extend that reach to more business communities. Clients commission and pay for our work and the best ones make a big contribution to the outcome. Clients should be recognised - after all, it takes a brave client to buy brave work.
I think we should continue to make the D&AD website the best place to go for inspiration, information, debates and, of course, education.
When better than this anniversary year to remind people of D&AD's values of excellence and build on its unique history and talent base to make it the most important creative community in the world.
Rosie Arnold is the deputy executive creative director and a partner at Bartle Bogle Hegarty.
CREATIVE CHIEFS ON D&AD
Damon Collins Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R
D&AD has always meant a lot to me. When I was trying to get into advertising, "the book" was my main point of reference. The gems within its covers taught me and many others our craft. But that was a while ago. Before the globe went global. Before everyone could find everything in one place. Before the money men noticed that awards schemes meant money.
D&AD has always been about high creative standards rather than high profit margins. (That's why there are far fewer D&AD Pencils awarded than Cannes Lions.) Not dolling out armfuls of awards isn't good for repeat business. And the web's ability to offer up every ad that's ever run means that the Annual is not the eagerly awaited and highly sought-after thing it once was.
It's not that what D&AD stands for isn't relevant any more. It's just that what it offers is no longer unique.
Jonathan Burley CHI & Partners
I have to admit a certain creeping ambivalence towards D&AD - too po-faced an Annual these days for my very particular tastes, and not quite celebratory enough. Some nice people on the juries saw fit to award my agency a couple of those rather lovely yellow Pencils this year - but, even so, I can't quite help but feel that the D&AD brand has become increasingly joyless over the years.
Perhaps it's the relentless pursuit of the international entry fee, or perhaps it's simply a notoriously ungenerous industry refusing to applaud the competition, but I genuinely find the Annual and awards show too mean-spirited to regard it with any kind of real affection.
Mick Mahoney, Euro RSCG London
I've been a D&AD member off and on for most of my working life. I've sat on numerous D&AD juries, been to various D&AD lectures and benefited enormously from D&AD workshops as a student. So it may seem odd to say, but I've never felt that D&AD was particularly approachable as an organisation. Instead, it has always been a little haughty and distant. Asking around, it seems a pretty common view.
But at a time when attracting young talent is a key industry issue, D&AD needs to project a more accessible and welcoming face. Which is exactly what Rosie Arnold will give them. She's definitely a Pencil for casting.
Jeremy Craigen DDB UK
I think there is a real opportunity for D&AD, in its 50th year, to go back to its roots.
I don't believe D&AD is the Holy Grail of advertising awards any more - Cannes is. But rather than play to its own strengths, D&AD continues to try to be more like Cannes each year. This year, it even had its awards show in the week preceding Cannes (a clever ploy, I thought, to get more internationals at the show en route to Cannes).
I also thought there were way too many international jurors this year. Yes, the best in the world should be judging at D&AD, but not to the detriment of the best of British.
It's why the D&AD Annual is looking just like all the other international awards books, albeit a lot thinner.
Good luck, Rosie!
Andre Laurentino TBWA\London
When I started my career, to open the D&AD Annual was to learn how crafty you could be. The Pencils often made me yellow with envy, even if only I got my cyan levels wrong and missed the green. Then, two things happened: the industry evolved and the book became more international.
At first, seeing other countries in it was a bit like having sugar in your tea (sorry, if you do). But was this just my reaction to change? Isn't the whole world becoming more international? These are rhetorical questions, as my very presence in the UK is enough to answer them. There's a golden rule for writing great screenplays (and for great autobiographies): change is inevitable.
Whatever D&AD may do - from training to nurturing young talents or widening the scope of its awards - it has to keep its standards as high as they have always been.
At the end of the day, D&AD should be about the highest quality standard, wherever that may be found.
Danny Brooke-Taylor Dare
I was walking home from the Gutter Bar in Cannes. I was pissed, sunburnt, but happy - we'd won some stuff. Suddenly, out of the shadows stepped a woman dressed head-to-toe in leopard-skin and carrying a tray of novelty lighters.
"Zees is all well and good, but eets no D&AD, eez it?"
"I'm sorry love, what?"
"Zee benchmark! Zee not-for-profeet organization zat champion commercial creativity across an increasingly convergent range of disciplines.
"Zay nurture talent, putting two million Eengleesh pounds into education every year. Zay inspire people, encouraging zem to be braaave."
By this point, she had grabbed my collar and lifted me off the ground a couple of inches.
"And zay have launched zee 'white Pencil' to galvanize zee energy of zee creative community around a pressing global issue, to ultimately create an idea zat changes zee world for zee better."
She put me back down.
"Now, are you going to buy zee funny lighter or what? This one looks like a willy, see?"