PERSPECTIVE: Doctoring to win: it's not OK just because everyone's hard at it

Our letters page this week goes some way towards indicating the depth of feeling over the issue of doctoring ads to win awards. It follows the antics of Nigel Roberts and Paul Belford, the Ogilvy creative directors who have admitted, more or less cheerfully, but certainly brazenly, to "tweaking

their entries to the recent Campaign Press Awards.

Hear, hear! to John Hegarty's letter on the topic. You'll find the rightful winners and some new finalists printed on page 17 this week.

But it seems the issue is not whether Belford and Roberts did it - they are, of course, grossly guilty as charged. The issue for many turns out to be whether they are guilty of being caught.

I've learned a great deal about doctoring this week. Some of the very best, the most admired ad agencies could win awards at it. Indeed, it is telling that the only reason it has come to light this time is because two clients - last week Peter Buchanan of COI Communications and this week Marc Sands of Guardian newspapers - have exposed Belford and Roberts in these pages.

So, for the benefit of clients who may be wondering who is supposed to be policing their interests if agencies are prepared to take such liberties with their ads, here is a bluffer's guide to doctoring. Mild cases might consist of a little gentle logo size manipulation, a spot of copy tweaking, the director's preferred cut, or the "team's chosen shot", and so on.

More accomplished doctors, I'm told, go a little further. There's the classic dealer ad for a car, for example, where a team has persuaded the client to run a favoured ad (once, probably) as a poster, with the dealer's address details below it. But when it comes to awards the pesky commercial details are removed. Other agencies turn into airtime doctors: they pay for ads to run, often and deliberately in the most obscure places/time spots - examples on request.

Some of these practices, undoubtedly, are more rotten than others. Many of them are an established part of awards culture, which is why some people imagine this dispute is going to fade gently into Campaign folklore - that once the dust has settled agencies and their hapless clients will muddle on as before.

I'm not so sure. Campaign is determined to protect the integrity of its awards and we are instituting measures to prevent doctoring. We'll be requesting voucher copies from all Press Awards winners and finalists.

We'll double-check Poster Awards winners and finalists with library shots held by the relevant media owners.

It is as much in Campaign's interest as in the industry's to reward not just creativity per se, but creative achievement in the service of a client. There is no point in putting Belford and Roberts in the dock - and by implication any creative who has ever doctored an ad to stand a better chance of winning an award - unless we are prepared to stick to our guns.


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