Rightly or wrongly, awards copped a beating last year. Advertising has been having a love-hate affair with awards since the first awards program dared to judge its work. Most of the major awards programs have made changes this year to win back hearts. But what about the actual judging process? Could jury rooms do it better? Should they? The Stable asked some of the top tier people who have been there.

  • Ben Coulson, chief creative officer, Clemenger BBDO Sydney

Award shows are like democracy – not perfect, but they’re the best system we’ve got.

At their worst, they are naval gazing, and there are way too many of them. At their best, they remind me why we do this gig and inspire me to do it better.

It comes down to how you choose to see them. I prefer to see the best and I like being positive about awards. Bagging them seems like the easy way out. Also, it’s often people who can’t win them who like to bag them.

But how to make them better? How to make them less fallible to criticism? Here’s my top five.

  1. Make them hard to win. That’s why D&AD is so coveted, they really filter the shit.
  2. Make them less commercial. Awards shows shouldn’t be broke, but too many are set up for profit.
  3. Make sure the judges are really the best in the business..
  4. Make the judges stay in the room long enough to get past the politics and preconceptions. Let them debate and interrogate until the very best work is all that’s left.
  5. Make sure the coffee in the judging room isn’t crap.
  • Derek Green, executive creative director, Ogilvy Australia

Award shows deserve to cop a beating and so do agencies. There are way too many award shows that no one should give a f#@k about. Who cares if you won a Grand Prix at the Malawi Art Directors Club? Your clients don’t. So, let’s get rid of most of them.

From my experience as an award show judge, there’s a lot of things wrong. We’re seduced by beautifully crafted case study films that make very small ideas look far bigger than they actually are.

We debate whether they are world-class, but do we question the entry and interrogate the results even though it’s 30% of the overall score? Hardly ever. Is this piece effective? What was the ROI? Because as David Ogilvy famously said, “We sell or else.”

I recently judged at a show where an online content film claimed to increase sales for a multi-national client by 22%. I did a simple search online and the film had only 2987 views. I shut it down quickly, but other jurors took it as gospel because it was a good creative idea.

To stop this, I believe a good portion of the entry money should be spent on getting the work independently audited. The auditors should speak to the CMOs of the companies and quiz their results. If they’re not accurate, the agencies are banned from entering again. Simple.

We should also increase the significance of results to 50% of the overall score so that juries – made up of half-clients and half agency heavyweights – could then accurately judge if the work is both creatively and effectively world-class.

If we get this right, the sparkle will return to the trophies we award-magnets long for.

  • Karen Ferry, senior copywriter, Leo Burnett Sydney 

To be upfront, I’m one of those creatives that like awards. When right, they’re a nice piece of recognition that rewards how hard you’ve worked, and that, yep, you can come up with a good idea, plus, make it happen.

Award shows though, they’re another thing altogether. Suddenly, some major shows became about generating money, not celebrating creativity. It’s great that a few of these shows have reined it in. But it’s not just about reducing the number of awards handed out – we need to bring creative awards back to heroing creativity.

And a lot of this has to do with the focus of the judging panel. The process of judging is great because it allows you to get in a room with the cream of advertising’s crop to spar about what makes a good idea. Although this kind of forum is rare, it’s invigorating, and pushes you as a creative to achieve more.

  • Michael Ritchie, managing director & executive producer, Revolver/Will O’Rourke

As an industry, our collective wisdom and desire to be accepted, congratulated and vindicated, means we are all responsible for perpetuating the enormous amount of award shows that now exist in the internationally. So, recently, to see Cannes stop the expansion of categories and place restrictions on who can enter what and limit the number of cross-category entries is a step in the right direction to restore faith in how we measure ourselves.

Beyond the number of shows, there is no doubt, the increased expenditure (and that is hurting us all) has been about holding companies, advertising agencies, media agencies, and production companies, vying for the more celebrated accolades of winning “Best Company”, based on accumulated awards in any given show. This is something that makes email signatures longer and gives some justification to spending up big. Again we as a company are, perhaps, just as caught up in this, but it’s now so saturated that the signatures feel just the norm, not the exception.

All that said, award shows are the greatest aggregators of our enterprises. They enable our businesses to progress fast, as good work becomes super visible to everyone consistently. But if there were, say, just two major internationals and one local show in each country, I feel we would all breathe a genuine sigh of relief. But that would never happen.

And what of jury rooms?  I do feel pre-judging the shortlist online is fine as long as the chair of your jury communicates the intentions of the jury and calls on the genuine responsibility that every juror has. Anything further than a shortlist needs to be voted for and have the option to be discussed in a room where you have to wear, and be accountable for, your point of view.  Regarding the general vibe of a jury, I do feel that things have moved on in a good way. I think it’s now even more frowned upon to be leveraging your own cause in a back-handed way, where, perhaps, in the years past, it used to be a part of the “sport” to do so.

Ultimately, a good chairperson is essential in that room to make sure the rules of engagement are clear and that hard work is demanded – then we have some security that the playing field, albeit subjective, is a robust one…and nearly fair. The honour of being asked to judge in our industry is a massive one. So if you are asked and you do it properly, you are contributing to both the moral backbone and forward movement of this business at the same time.

  • Wilf Sweetland, managing partner, The Sweet Shop

It feels as though award shows have never been under more scrutiny, nor felt more vulnerable. Murky episodes of scam going unrectified and an ever-increasing number of shows, combined with fierce competition between the big three, have forced the global award shows to try and become more transparent to demonstrate their truthfulness and accountability to laying claim to the mantle of being the best creative show in the world.

The Andys are introducing live streaming of their judging this year. LIA started allowing press into their jury rooms a couple of years back and Cannes introduced an algorithm to try and determine if there was evidence of ‘block voting’. All are measures to prove to entrants that their work is being judged fairly and evenly.

At the very outset, the best way to improve the judging process and outcomes is through the jury selection. Having suitably qualified (award-winning) practitioners on juries is the most fundamental step. Get this wrong and the show quickly loses integrity that can take years to get back.

At the risk of sounding clichéd, creating an environment where people feel safe to share their feelings and emotions about a piece of work is also so important. When people who haven’t judged before start on a jury, they are often far more shy than at the end of the process – so trying to get them out of their shell early gets better results.

Just as each show has different judging processes, so too are the experiences within the juries different. I have had both good and bad. A couple of lines that have stuck in my memory over the years, said by different judges are:

“We have to give this metal as it’s the only spot directed by a woman.”


“I’m begging you please please, please give this spot some metal – it would mean a lot to me.”

I am not sure that people being able to see into a jury room is the answer, but I guess that depends upon the jurors themselves and how confident they are to speak their mind. One thing we can’t escape from is human nature.

  • Corey Esse, managing director and executive producer, Finch

I was fortunate enough to chair the craft jury at Adfest last year. I spent three days with an eclectic mix of directors, producers and post people from all different countries around Asia. It was a fantastic experience. Everyone was very calm and respectful, and we debated lots of pieces of work. With a show like Adfest, you really rely on each other to have input about the cultural significance of certain pieces of the work from the different regions. Work that appeals to one market can sometimes be confusing to another and gets voted down without having the significance of it explained by a jury member or the accompanying notes with your entry.

Luckily Adfest provided our jury with people from all of the major markets. On the final day of judging, all of the jury heads from the different disciplines came together to judge the top metal for the show. I found myself in the room with some of the best creative heads from the region. We talked about every gold or major award until we had unanimously agreed each piece of work was worthy. I think the key to a good jury room is not to let one person be the dominate voice on what is worthy. It is the job of the jury chairman or the representative from the festival in each room to police this. Judging an award show is an incredibly enjoyable experience. You get to interact and become friends with some of the best people in the industry and share your thoughts on a year’s worth of work. The best thing about judging is at the end of a show you end up feeling reinvigorated to go home and do great work yourself.

So it’s important that these rooms are filled with people from a diverse breadth of creative inputs who will fight for good creative work, and not bow to a stronger opinion. Every entry should be seen by all judges, so they can get a complete view of the work. Discussion should be open to all judges as it helps educate everyone on different viewpoints. It should be strenuous, challenging, and ultimately rewarding.

Because judging shouldn’t be about the jaunt or the post-judging swims, but the honour to champion creativity against the constant chipping away of research groups, falsified statistics, new media “specialists” and lazy ideas sold by charlatans of scam and spam. It’s an opportunity to hero those who have chaperoned a brilliant idea from creation to existence, with the potency to cut into the hearts of human beings across the world. This is the north star. All other factors should be obliterated into darkness.

Originally appeared on The Stable.