Hot on the heels of last month's ICADs, yesterday saw the announcement of the shortlist for the ADFX Awards. Happily DDFH&B managed to do very well in both – picking up six bells and 10 nominations in ADFX (the most of any agency) – so it seemed like an opportune time to think about awards and our industry.

With the possible exception of the film industry nobody loves awards as much as us. There are gongs for every conceivable aspect of the business – art direction, copywriting, strategic planning, media planning, production and every single product category within each of them. Each week my inbox is full of strangely named awards festivals in far flung corners of the globe urging me to enter our work. It can all get a little overwhelming, not to mention confusing.

But why are we so enamored with them and do they really matter?

To me awards have a two-fold purpose in that they work for the benefit of both individuals and companies. For individuals winning awards is a fantastic way of increasing your perceived worth – particularly for creative. It means you’ve arrived. You’re as good (hell, better) than some others and quite possibly even worth poaching. For companies they work as an excuse to boast (in as polite a way as possible) about your perceived expertise that you’re as good (hell, better) than some others and quite possibly even worth giving your business to.

Recently I had the good fortune to chair a lively discussion at OFFSET on exactly that topic and it was quite revealing. On the panel there was a client, a creative director, a designer who liked awards, one who didn’t and a psychologist, Professor Ian Robertson. Of all the things we discussed the one that has really stuck with me was Professor Robertson’s fact that Oscar winners live, on average, four years longer than their non winning peers. For Nobel Laureates, strangely that figure drops to three years (though that was probably skewed by Marie Curie!)

So external validation is a good thing and awards are the almost perfect example of external validation by your peers - but there’s more at work as well.

We’re all intrinsically competitive in this industry. We’re competitive for business, we’re competitive to do well for our clients and we’re competitive with each other, however much we pretend not to be. And it’s that competition that keeps pushing things forward that keeps us looking for new and different ways to do things. All that goes to benefit our clients and keep us sane, it means we’re not stuck doing the same things day in and day out. We do the same basic things but with the necessity of doing them differently each time.

So do they actually matter?

Well in a perfect, idealised and slightly boring world, the answer would probably be no. But I remember my children’s early Sports Days and the awards given out to everybody who participated, which only served to confuse the children who actually won the races – “You’re not better than me” “No, but I’m better than you at running” and if everyone is the same, why bother having races at all? And in some ways all the awards we have are a little bit like grown up Sports Days (except the creative one’s which aren’t really grown up at all).

They exist and if you don’t agree with them it’s much better to be able to say so from the position of having won some, rather than having entered and not won anything. And as we currently stand the DDFH&B group uniquely holds Grand Prix in each of the areas of our business – ADFX, Digital Media Awards, APMC and Media Awards – so obviously it would be polite and humble of me to say that they don’t matter. But let’s face it, they do.

They’re not the be all and end all, it’s not what we’re in business for. We’re in business to help our clients gain every conceivable advantage over their competition in the battle for consumers’ attention but if we can have a good night out and pick up a few shiny baubles and gold stars on the way hurray for us. 

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