How important are award fests anyway?

How important are award fests anyway?

While Lowe does not take part in competitions, the current economic slowdown is clearly dissuading others. Piyush Pandey, executive chairman and national creative director, O&M, says it’s a tough year and one has to identify priorities and the frills one can do without—in this case, entry fees and related costs. At a time like this, you have to evaluate the costs and benefits, he says.

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Prasoon Joshi, executive chairman, McCann Worldgroup India, and regional creative director, McCann Asia Pacific, says cost is an issue. At a time when salaries are at stake and clients’ budgets are being impacted, they will not take part in either local or international contests. Besides, it is a member of a multinational network; as part of the same profit centre, it is also affected by the network’s losses, he says. Shiv Sethuraman, chief executive of TBWA, says he would rather spend money on better increments, training and travel than on award shows in these difficult times. His agency will participate only if some money is left over.

Conventional wisdom says ad awards are good marketing tools to gild an agency’s and the industry’s brand image among peers and clients. Some say awards help agencies forge stronger relationships with clients—especially for those who win at these shows—and could help attract fresh business or new clients.

By not participating in award shows, are agencies losing an opportunity to build both agency and industry image? Most of the non-participants believe that the solutions they offer clients are relationship builders, not awards.

Says Joshi: “Clients are very cynical about awards." Echoes Sethuraman: “Most clients don’t give a fig about awards. Client relationships strengthen if, and only if, the agency demonstrably helps grow the brand they’re entrusted (with). Awards are, at best, merely a by-product of great work." Pandey says O&M clients support his view. R. Balakrishnan, chairman and national creative director, Lowe, underlines how his agency has never taken part in festivals—this has never affected its business or quality of work.

Still, such awards encourage professional networking and the cross-pollination of ideas. Young creatives get a platform to build their careers, as the superstars did before them. They can measure themselves against the industry’s best and the creative bar is raised.

Pandey, however, believes his agency’s young creatives are not being short-changed. He says he will reward them internally. Besides, the decision not to participate was a unanimous one in his creative team.

Colvyn Harris, chief executive of JWT India, and chairman, Goafest 2009, says agency executives wear two hats: an agency hat, where they deliver to their company, clients and people, and keep their own agency brand alive. They also wear an industry hat, where they owe their success to the industry and give back. Both have a bearing on such decisions.

He says it is important to give a fillip to the local ad industry—which is small—by participating in boom times as well as difficult ones. International award shows are still running in these times, he says—and wonders why any “non-participating" agency would enter for international award shows which are more expensive than their local counterparts.

O&M is participating in Adfest, a regional ad show organized by the Asian Federation of Advertising Associations, or AFAA, which Pandey says is similar to Goafest, and at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival—the industry’s biggest global awards competition. Given restricted budgets, O&M may as well compete with the world and not on smaller platforms, says Pandey.

There are, of course, other reasons why agencies don’t participate in award festivals. Goafest has attracted its share of controversies—allegations of illegal entries, flawed adjudication processes, biased juries, news leakage, et al.

Balakrishnan of Lowe says the entire premise of judging advertising at awards, which are today a business globally, is wrong, though Goafest is not a money-led venture. There’s a pressing need to create a system for ad awards that have better relevance in today’s world, he says.

Generally, it doesn’t mean you have done great advertising if you have won, he adds. By not participating, he says he’s actually helping young people by keeping their vision of advertising alive. It’s not about connecting with a few people, but about producing interesting work for a lot of people to connect with. Balakrishnan clarifies he’s not talking about awards based on the success of advertising and results achieved, but about appreciating advertising that solves problems.

Marion Arathoon is Mint’s advertising editor. Your comments are welcome at