The Engines of Objectivity: Media Awards Shows … and the necessity of the Faustian pact by which we are judged

another week another round of award entering and ceremony attending. or at least so it seems. this week’s PHDcast is a debrief from last week’s MFA Awards … we discuss the events of the night, the winners, the fall out, and the very point of awards themselves. what exactly, are awards good for anyway?

the growth in local and international awards reflects the fragmentation of media itself. here in Australia we have the Mumbrella Awards, B&Ts, Adnews, and of course the MFAs from last week. regionally you get the Spikes, Campaign Asia, but also Festival of Media … and globally Cannes, the Internationalist, (more) Spikes and Festival of Media … I could go on (there’s a rich seam of digital awards to mine I haven’t touched on), but the point is I think made, that award entering could pretty much be a full-time job.

the growth extends to more categories within an individual award platform; each year see’s more and more categories at Cannes, and the MFAs this year had an additional two categories in which contenders could do their thing.

all this means more resource in agencies to fuel the fire of award entering and competing – a point very elegantly made by Zenith’s Ian Perrin in a guest post on Mumbrella back in August. in the rather provocatively entitled ‘Let’s end the awards obsession and stop putting our dollars in the hands of publishers’, Perrin referred to a conversation with a CMO, who commented:

“I am so sick to death of being asked to submit our work into bloody award festivals that nobody has ever heard of, or cares about. If I went into a board presentation and declared that we had won a bronze in a Tasmanian advertising awards festival, I would be fired on the spot. And yet all my agencies seem to care about is entering these awards” he said. “Who cares if the Tasmanian’s loved my print ad, when I still have stock on the shelf at Coles?”

unnamed prominent and influential CMO

the comment thread (bitching a trolling aside), pretty much gets to the nub of the issue: award shows are big business … EMAP, which bought the Cannes Advertising Festival (now the Cannes Festival of Creativity) in 2004 and manages it under it’s i2i brand, last year returned to profit in no small part due to the healthy return it generates from the event and others like it.

“The star performer has been events division i2i grew revenues about 10% year on year in the first half to £71m, thanks to its Spring Fair retail event at the NEC centre and advertising event Cannes Lions in France, with underlying earnings up 16% to £33m. The division accounts for half of Top Right’s revenues and 70% of underlying profits.”

source, the Guardian, July 2012

70% of underlying profits coming from events. that’s probably something that isn’t too far from the reality of a lot of former publishers (I say former as many have now well and truly diversified their businesses and incomes to combat the decline of print ad revenues – no more elegantly than Mumbrella). awards are a pretty good way for publishers to make money, so what’s ultimately in it for agencies?

well rather a lot …

a showcase for the work, the work, the work (as one agency puts it). and not just the work you would like to be rewarded and acknowledged but rather the work that has been peer reviewed by your industry colleagues, which leads to:

acknowledgement of the results you are delivering for your clients … awards are tangible demonstrations of how an agency is helping clients grow their brands and generate return for their investment in your strategies and ideas, which leads to:

a reputation for thinking and work that is, crucially, acknowledged by your peers. you don’t just say you rock – you have a subjective benchmark to say just how much you do, actually, rock. which in theory leads to:

getting onto more pitch lists, clients respect your thinking and want to explore how you can deliver for their brand and business. so awards are ultimately (of course) about growing your business.

we’re not, I think, alone. across other industries in which the success or outcome of the product is inherently subjective (design, architecture, literature) awards are prevalent. awards are like objective engines … transforming the subjectivity of opinion into tangibility of proof. of course they’re still essentially subjective (the Effies perhaps aside), but not all subjectivity is, I suppose, created equal.

and so we’re left with a rather Faustian pact; publishers build the engines of objectivity that agencies need … and we feed them. relentlessly.

which is no bad thing … especially in an awards platform like the MFAs, throughout which (as entrant, judge, and attendee) I’ve seen nothing but professionalism and careful consideration and judgement. indeed they have created and been the forum for important debates – like the one Nic and Stew describe from their judging room (in the PHDcast above). and you also get to have a bit of fun on awards night.

so a big congrats again to all the winners, especially team PHD for their ANZ nomination and PepsiCo win, Steady for his induction into the MFA Hall of Fame and Initiative for their Grand Prix win. you can view all the winners here. see you next year for more of the same.

MFA Awards 2013 1

MFA Awards 2013 2

MFA Awards 2013 3

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