Hermaneutics: Awards or education? Guess which one agencies pick.

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The advertising industry in focus from the editor of MarkLives.com. By Herman Manson (@marklives)

 

Yup. That didn’t take two seconds did it? You want to move on up in adland you better land a couple of awards. Who needs multi-skilled, educated self-starters anyways.

 

David Nobay, Creative Chairman at Droga5 in Sydney, last year told delegates at the Loeries seminar that modern award shows are oversimplifying what is considered ‘creative.’ And I quote: “Awarding winning work has become a matter of looking at a piece of work and having an immediate reaction (on the judges’ part) to it before moving to the next piece.” And while most businesses are running in maintenance mode, and need solutions that cater to this, award-winning creative has become all about the new.

 

On the other hand, the supposed juniorisation of marketing departments aside, more people on client side today have a good grasp on marketing and advertising fundamentals, making it harder for agencies to win any argument, unless they know more than all those young guns client side trying to impress the boss with their alternative social strategy.

 

Creative awards don’t carry the weight they did ten years ago. Creative rankings are less likely to get you on a pitch list in an age where the CEO has a direct stake in setting the marketing objectives of a business, and marketers are becoming more hardnosed about who they work with.

 

There is nothing new in this statement. In 2010, Maria Popova was already arguing in Design Observer that “the output of this flawed and incomplete system of evaluation [that would be at award shows] becomes the currency designers flash at prospective clients and use to bargain their billing rates. It makes clients lazy and designers complacent. Lazy because it creates a cheat sheet for judging the merit of a designer or studio, making the client uninterested in actual inquiry into the process, work and product of smaller studios and emerging designers who may actually have a better, fresher solution to the client’s problem than the award-encrusted top-biller. Complacent because it’s easy to buy into your own brilliance when you spend your days sitting across a shelfful of awards in your posh office. And between laziness and complacency, the whole marketplace for design becomes a self-contained universe isolated from the bigger cultural context in which it lives and from the human lives it touches.”

 

Agencies are still pushing more money into entering into awards, jetting ECDs to Cannes, London and New York, and holding them up as a path to career success in the ad industry, than they do on setting in place strategies to up skill and broaden the general skills base of the majority of their staff.

 

Too many agencies still reward awards rather than incentivise education. How many agencies are linking salaries and promotions to completing relevant accredited courses, now widely available through distance internet education? Who rewards employees spending nights and weekends toiling to come to grips with the nuances of copywriting for digital and social platforms?

 

Even if an agency decides to continue ranking awards as a way of identifying and promoting talent, why don’t they set alternative routes to career success, so that awards don’t seem like the only ladder to the top of the pile.

 

Look there are exceptions to the rule. I admire Ogilvy’s efforts with its internal Ogilvy Digital Marketing Academy (ODMA) initiative. Then there is OFyt who takes in a good many interns, not to make tea, but to learn from the old farts (I mean friends) who run the agency (of the eight they took on last year five stayed with the business as staffers).

 

But broadly speaking you plop down a Loerie or proof that you just upskilled (on your own time and dime), the Loerie will speak much louder, for the moment at least. It undermines the advertising business over the longer term, and at a crucial point in time, with the industry battling to redefine how it will look and operate down the line. And it discourages what ad agencies sorely need – the multi-skilled employees need for real through the line thinking.

 

The opinions expressed in this column are by the author and do not necessarily represent those of 10and5. 

 

One Comment

  1. hi Herman
    I have in the past few years done courses with King James, Jupiter Drawing Room (Jhb), Native, TBWA, Net#work, Y&R, and a few others.
    My take on it is that the good ones want to get better and will invest in training, as they will also invest in awards, which I still see as part of the marketing spend for an agency.