A great friend and colleague asked me:
From a “client” perspective would it be safe to say you give zero f**ks about awards that agencies win? I’m getting tired of people asking me to submit for awards and would rather do something more creative with the $10,000 we’re going to spend on applications. Either a charitable donation, or some kind of bounty that brand managers would care about and think is interesting.
It’s a great question. My perspective on this topic has definitely changed, over the years. But, I think it’s a question, just about every agency asks/considers at some point, especially when you consider the costs for award entries. Those costs become important, when you consider, they’re part of the overhead for an agency and that means, ultimately a client ends up paying for them in the hourly rate. More on that topic here.
Getting back to the question at hand, here’s my perspective on the value of awards.
- Ultimately the awards an agency, who isn’t my partner, wins, have 0 bearing on me. I suspect, this is the case with more “clients” who are satisfied with their existing partners. Now, keep in mind, satisfied, doesn’t mean you’re thrilled with your partner, it simply means they’re good enough that the juice isn’t worth the squeeze to entertain switching.
- Now, if you’re my agency and I’m your client, I of course want you to win awards, but I care more about awards that are won for initiatives done on my business, than for another client. I’m glad when my partners (agency or otherwise) win an award. I want them to be successful. Why do I care? Because, they’re both a motivator for my partner and a sometimes powerful reminder, that we’re doing some amazing things together. However, no award compensates for poor business objective performance, unless it’s so transformational that you can convince yourself it’s meaningful beyond pure dollars and cents. For many, I’m sure the Oreo Super Bowl tweet is a great example.
Awards, at the core, are like a Michelin rating for a restaurant. When you make a reservation, you don’t intentionally, go out to pick a Michelin rated restaurant. Well, unless you’re a special kind of person. Those people aside, you pick a restaurant on a wide set of criteria: location, price, cuisine type and of course availability. But, should all those things lead to a place that was Michelin rated, 3 things happen:
- You instantly feel validated. After all, your choice is brilliant, if the Michelin people rated it. Who can question that seal of approval.
- The people you bring to the dinner, can’t hate it. “Wait, you mean, you completely disliked the place with 3, yes 3, Michelin stars? Are you crazy?” Now, that said, they don’t have to love it, but they can’t hate it. In agency terms, rarely does an executive get fired for picking the AdAge agency of the year or the agency who won 6 lions for X, Y and Z campaign. Granted, they may not get promoted for it, but they don’t get fired either. When I worked with a commercial banking client, back in my old agency days, the client remarked, “our problem is, no one gets fired for hiring Bank of America.”
- You invoke some amount of jealousy, which feels good, from people who know you went to that restaurant. Here’s the key…that jealousy is only generated from people who actually know what a Michelin rating means. Net-net, some awards matter and some don’t. For example, just about everyone knows what a Lion is. Not everyone knows what a Shorty Award is.
That said, here’s the 2 reasons, I do think awards can matter for an agency:
- When I was at Fallon, David Lubars would say something to the effect of, “awards help make sure, we get an unfair share of creative talent, from a small pool.” His point being, creative people want to do award winning work. If you’re the place getting all the awards, you get the people, you might not normally get. I can tell you, when we did EDS Cat Herders, Buddy Lee and BMW Films, you got people to move to Minneapolis, who wouldn’t normally have considered it as a place to live and work. Be it creative, strategy, tech or some other function, people want to work with the best. Awards are one yardstick.
- In a startup capacity, as validation and a door opener. When XYZ company launches, companies don’t just take their call, in the same way they would if a well established and known company, called. This hurdle is no different than the one that exists in buying a new car/tv/dishwasher/etc. from a company you’ve heard nothing about. But, all of a sudden, if your company is the most awarded or earned the highest/best award, you’ve got a heck of a door opener. SaaS companies have been relying on Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for, what seems like forever, for this very reason. That validation, puts them on the map and makes getting someone to take your call, a hell of a lot easier.
I can tell you that I don’t have an objective, for # of awards to win, but I can also tell you, we want to win them, just as badly as the next company. That said, if you had a choice between spending $100K in award submissions or investing that $100K into your employees, choose the investment option. Your employees will thank you.