Media Forum: Do Annas show papers' rebirth?

Did the winners at the NMA Awards offer hope for the medium?

The Newspaper Marketing Agency has been up and running for three-and-a-half years now - more than enough time for the industry to assess its impact. Last week, it hosted its second annual Awards for National Newspaper Advertising - and the Winner of Winners award went to the creative team of Chris Groom, Stuart Harkness and Guy Featherstone, who were behind Wieden & Kennedy's "St Wayne" ad for Nike. They'll share a not insubstantial cash prize of £25,000.

Is it, to put it crudely, money well spent? The NMA was set up to do the same sort of job for the newspaper medium as the Radio Advertising Bureau had been doing for its sponsors since the 90s. The RAB had developed an effective two-pronged attack: providing, on the one hand, the sort of case study and effectiveness research material that can help media planners justify difficult decisions; and, on the other, attempting to reignite enthusiasm for the medium within creative departments.

There had been a growing feeling that the press medium was becoming somewhat unfashionable within a new generation of creatives obsessed with the power of moving pictures - a situation, some said, that was only going to be compounded by the rise in importance of all things digital.

So, what's the consensus in the wake of last week's awards? Do schemes such as the Annas help to improve creative standards in newspapers?

It's not surprising to find Stuart Taylor, the commercial director of Guardian News and Media, praising the Annas - he's also the non-executive chairman of the NMA board. He states: "What's impressive and important is that the Annas get creatives together to talk about newspapers in a really positive way. It does a great job of providing the challenge for them to pick up a pen and exceed what's already out there. And that focus is crucial if standards are going to be raised - if good newspaper ads are going to make up more of the paper more of the time. From my perspective, that's fundamental because good creative is a driver of more effective ads, and clients should care about this."

But interestingly, although Tim Delaney, the chairman of Leagas Delaney, was also heavily involved as the chairman of the Annas judging panel, he's a good deal more sceptical about their effect. He explains: "All awards should in theory inspire creative teams to do better work and the Annas are no different. Having said that, after judging a month's worth of newspaper ads, the theory is very rarely true in practice."

He thinks the blame lies outside the creative department, however. He adds: "I have a view that the broken link between media guys and creative teams has given rise to unusable, certainly uncreative spaces. But even then, how do you explain the number of banal or indecipherable whole-page ads in national newspapers? The fact is, newspapers still offer great opportunities for brands - award winners showed what can be achieved. The bigger challenge, however, is how to involve a whole generation in a medium they think is either full of news they can get elsewhere or is simply a celebrity callsheet. Only those who truly want to connect, have any chance in the future."

This is a theme that Derek Morris, the chairman of ZenithOptimedia, takes up, too - but he comes at it from a different direction. He explains: "For me, the awards were a reminder of the power and importance of creativity. As a media industry, that's something we forget at our peril. The danger of unbundling is that it has distanced us from this issue and we think about engagement planning in isolation - so anything that helps link the two sides together has to be a good thing. My feeling looking at some of the work was about how brilliant it was, and the balance of the event was right. It wasn't the love-fest that some of these events can be. Creative was on an altar, but it wasn't too high an altar."

Vanessa Clifford, a managing partner at MindShare, admits she has one or two nagging doubts - but she does applaud the overall impact of the NMA and the awards. She says: "The Annas definitely highlight the fact that you can put more impactful advertising in a newspaper environment. We're now seeing the sort of work that historically people would be nervous of putting in a national newspaper - the sort of work people would regard as magazine advertising. It's important to have a body actually talking about the medium and how it's developing."

YES - Stuart Taylor, commercial director, Guardian News and Media

"The Annas have helped creatives take another look at newspapers and they've shone a spotlight on what can be achieved. And all this work is showcased in the awards annual, providing a lasting and inspirational reference beyond the event."

MAYBE - Tim Delaney, chairman, Leagas Delaney

"Unless clients and creatives believe in the power of the medium - and in this digitally obsessed media world they don't seem to - newspapers will continue to get just the crumbs from the media planner's table."

YES - Derek Morris, chairman, ZenithOptimedia

"Three or four years ago, you would definitely have argued the newspaper medium was starting to look old-fashioned. Now it is very clearly starting to get to grips with some of the things that have been holding it back."

MAYBE - Vanessa Clifford, managing partner, MindShare

"Everything on show at the awards was conventional in size and format. Innovative formats will help maintain the medium's position as the market fragments further. That's something the Annas should be doing more to address."

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