Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: Should adland ever take part in reality TV shows?

A: No. But then nobody should. In Victorian times, people paid good money to see Eliza Jenkins the Skeleton Woman, The Balloon- Headed Baby, John Chambers the Armless Carpenter, Jo Jo the Dog-Faced Boy and Hairy Mary from Borneo. Freak shows are nothing new. There will always be an audience for them. The Skeleton Woman and her fellow freaks were mercilessly exploited for profit by the Victorian showmen and then discarded. Most of them ended their lives in penniless obscurity. Given this history, it's hard to see why anyone should agree to be exploited by Endemol.

Q: An executive creative director ponders: "I'm considering putting my foot down and refusing to enter our work for any awards schemes. After 20 years in the industry, I'm unconvinced there's any business benefit to be made by winning awards. Here's the but: I'm worried our 'no awards' policy will put off potential candidates for my creative department. How can I convince young teams there's more to life than a few gongs?"

A: Your question came up a few weeks ago and I wrote: "You can't. But since this question merits more than a smart-alec answer, I'll return to it some other time."

Some other time has arrived.

From your question, I deduce that you and your agency have never been hugely successful in the acquisition of gongs. By saying this, I'm not (simply) accusing you of sour grapes. It's just that any agency with an impressive record of creative awards would happily concede that they'd delivered a clear business benefit: if not for their clients then certainly for themselves. Why else would they bang on about them on their websites? Furthermore, though clients may often question the relevance of awards, they just as often question their absence. Conspicuously failing to win awards makes an agency less attractive to potential clients and potential employees.

Every survey highlights the importance to clients of something called creativity; yet nobody knows what it is, let alone knows how to measure it. The number of awards won is the only available metric (note my confident use of this term) - and so, if you don't think about it too hard, the immeasurable gets measured. Well, sort of.

Not all awards are equal, but the better- conducted ones do more good than harm: they encourage, inspire and recognise abilities that agencies need and clients are happy to pay good money for. When awards do more harm than good, it's your fault rather than theirs.

Creative teams - and even creative directors - will have noted that the winning of awards leads to instant greater personal glory: more money, more lunches with headhunters, more imaginative packages, more extravagant titles, more localised fame. They will also have noted that consistently contributing to clients' business successes leads to none of the above. No metric exists. No league table can be constructed. No publicity is generated. The very occasional Effectiveness Award goes to the whole agency team - and it's the planner, if anyone, who gets what little glory is going.

It's a curious fact that no creative people are primarily famous for what creative people are primarily for: the creation of effective persuasion. And while it may be true that the majority of award-winning work is commercially effective, it is certainly not true that the majority of commercially effective work wins awards.

Given all this, and left as it is, you haven't much hope of "convincing young teams there's more to life than a few gongs". Everything they've read, seen and experienced tells them there isn't. But there are things you can do to correct the distortion that a disproportionate obsession with awards can create. Use internal communications to complement external communications: in other words, to praise the work that works. Set up an in-house effectiveness scheme and give a monthly award. Feature it on your website and the intranet. Get the client in question to dish it out. At your annual do, reveal the name(s) of the overall winner(s) and pay someone really sexy to hand over some extravagant metal objects. Create your own heroes.

It's all about Pavlov and his dogs, really.

Q: Will the smoking ban have a positive or negative impact on the output of ad agencies?

A: I've no idea. And what's more, I don't care. And what's more, I don't understand what use it would be to anyone if I did know. There must be more interesting things to think about.