April 10, 2009

Bullies in the Creative Schoolyard

What a farce. What a total wankfest. For the second year in a row, I sat there watching the president of the jury--the JURY--walk up on stage to receive award after award for his agency's campaign of the year. Oh, no--excuse me. Unlike regular old juries, this one simply couldn't decide which campaign was better, so the president and another member of the jury shared top honours AND collected 3/4 of the prizes. All for the same 2 campaigns.

Welcome to our city's annual creative gala. Check your coat at the door (for $2.50, if you please) and watch as we hand each other awards all night.

I'm staring at the awards book now and I still can't believe it. The jury president hauled himself up on stage over 20 times. It felt like your neighbour held a block party, and all night you and all the other neighbours sat and watched as he awarded himself with trophies for Best Dad, Best Lawncare, Cleanest Minivan, and Best Sprinkler System. It was trite and dull and insulting. It was a joke.

I don't know what the other big loser agencies entered, but our humble little private agency--whose name would draw a blank from most--had a great year. And we bat a big one. A really big one.

So we entered it.

What were we thinking?

The guys who worked on this campaign (and no, I wasn't on the team--just an admirer) had a challenge: small campaign, big impact, huge client. And I mean huge, but one of those clients with torque and teeth. So they came up with stuff so teetering on the edge, we had meetings where they'd lay out the layouts in the boardroom and ask people "Is this too much?". And most would cover their mouths, stare, and laugh--that secretive deep-down laugh.

So up the campaign went.

And the phones started ringing.

The newspapers called. The TV stations called. The blogs started debating the merits versus the implied insults. We received two lawsuit threats (to the utter delight of the AE, who spent the week in interviews). But, most of all, it got people talking. People on the street were saying the client's name, talking about the campaign, telling us how they FELT. They were engaged, they were moved. A few were taken aback, but by far most loved it. They loved that it spoke right to them, 'cause it was a campaign that would work here at home and nowhere else. People were--oh yes indeedy--interacting. And it was good. The client was ecstatic. Sales were up. We were in. Our little agency was in.

Not so fast.

Come awards night, the category passed in a flash. Literally. The jury deemed that no entry deserved a win, and only 1 meagre entry, from one of the jury's agencies, no less, even got nominated. End of story.

So the copywriter--hyped on beer and adrenaline--spoke to the jury president at the after party, under the guise of trying to improve their chances for next year.

"Oh yes," said the president. "Yes, I think I remember that campaign. Look, that's a pretty big client. You should have raised the bar a little higher."


I'm not saying the campaign should have won. I'm not even saying it should have beat the other contenders in the category. But to be deemed not good enough to even get in the door?

Look--here's what you need to do to win an award in this town. First, work for one of the big agencies. Then get yourself on the creative jury. And finally, rev up your wrist and reach for your neighbour.



  1. Working for a dysfunctional mfg few years ago, the CEO (cowboy east of orlando) at our Florida head office announced a contest to name a new product in the lawn and garden sector. Well hundreds of employees all over entered all kinds of names to get the token couple hundred dollar prizes for top few. Well after much deliberation he picked his own name.

    Good to be the king, long live the king.

  2. But, doesn't this happen in EVERY award show? 1 or 2 campaigns manages to win in every award category because the big agencies have enough money to enter the same campaign 30 to 40 different times.

    But, what the hell does it mean that no one won in a category? Sounds to me like someone's agency/campaign couldn't win in THAT category.