Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: Why is the industry so obsessed with awards? I'm really fed up with donning my dickey bow every month and stroking everyone's egos. Is this obsession ever going to end?

A: Funny thing about awards. Everyone's really fed up with them and everyone keeps going.

Now then: see what I've done there? I've done exactly what you did: I've confused awards with awards events - and they're different.

When I won my Silver Quill from the Worlds Press News in 1963, I was the only person to know about it. The WPN may have featured it somewhere in their pages, but probably tucked away at the back just after the small ads for branded plastic daffodils. There were no black-tie dinners, no shuffling visits to the podium - and no job offers. I didn't even get a silver quill.

This, of course, was before The Creative Revolution, whose fire was stoked by the arrival, within a relatively short time, of a national television channel that carried ads, Campaign and D&AD. And it quickly became clear that Creative Awards, and particularly Creative Awards Events, suited absolutely everyone: and the more of them, the merrier.

You will remember the Caucus-race from Alice in Wonderland.

"There was no 'One, two, three, and away,' but they began running when they liked, and left off when they liked, so that it was not easy to know when the race was over. However, when they had been running half-an-hour or so ... the Dodo suddenly called out 'The race is over!' and they all crowded round, panting, and asking, 'But who has won?'

"This question the Dodo could not answer without a great deal of thought, and it sat for a long time with one finger pressed upon its forehead ... while the rest waited in silence. At last the Dodo said, 'everybody has won, and all must have prizes.'"

The advertising award race is exactly like the Caucus-race. Everybody starts at different times, sets off in different directions, and finishes at different places - while attempting to do totally different things. And all get prizes.

But that's just the beginning. If it weren't for the events, awards wouldn't flourish. Britain learnt a lot from Wally Ross. Wally made a great deal of money: first from inventing the Clios in America; then from the nationwide events that revealed the victors; and finally, from travelling the world with the prize-winning reel.

And so it dawned on a lot of people that the award business could be a nice little earner; as long as you remembered that it wasn't the awards that made the money, it was the parties.

However many awards there are, only the entrants win them. The beauty of awards events is that absolutely everybody wins - and not least the organisers.

There are now more awards evenings than there are evenings. Agencies and suppliers continue to buy tables. If they don't, it looks as if they're not creative - and anyway, it's staff welfare with tax advantages. Clients like going, too, particularly the ones who've gone native. And the organisers take credit for supporting the industry, while smiling all the way to the bank.

So why should it ever end? I expect there'll soon be a Festival of Fridge Magnets. See you there.

Q: Is advertising still a place for talented entrepreneurs, given that bright young things now have the alternative of launching an innovative website such as last.fm and making £19 million each within three years?

A: If making £19 million within three years was an alternative open to everyone, I don't suppose there'd be many people working in the civil service, let alone advertising agencies.

The truth is, not everyone has it in them to be an entrepreneur; which is just as well, because entrepreneurs don't actually make £19 million. It's not new money. They somehow acquire £19 million that used to belong to other people. So if everybody could acquire £19 million within three years without having made anything, you would start to wonder who was left to make all that money in the first place. I'm sure you follow.

In fact, ad agencies have only recently become businesses in their own right and haven't traditionally attracted those of an entrepreneurial nature. Until the Saatchis came along, they used to be much more like country solicitors. It's true that James Walter Thompson did eventually sell out; but that was in 1916, to Stanley Resor, who ran the business for the next 45 years. His clients seemed to quite like that.

- "Ask Jeremy", a collection of Jeremy Bullmore's Campaign columns, is available from Haymarket, priced £10. Telephone (020) 8267 4683.

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.


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