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How To Be Considered For Advertising Award Show Judging Panels

London, UK
Little Black Book’s Immortal Awards coordinators, Paul Monan and Emma Wilkie, on practices they consider when assembling advertising award show juries, and key takeaways to note when applying for similar opportunities, writes LBB’s Jordan Won Neufeldt
Undoubtedly, award shows are a cornerstone upon which the advertising industry is built. Sure, there’s a lot to be said for creating good work to solve unique problems, achieving great visuals and stunning filmography, and pushing all new levels of marketing effectiveness, but it seems like these days, half the joy is in the celebration. After all, what better accolade is there than having other professionals who compete against you on the daily recognise your work as worthy?

To this end, jury selection processes are hotly contested every year. It’s a great honour to be invited to partake in any panel – an indicator that your opinion, knowledge and know-how is considered up there with the best in your country, or, sometimes even the world. 

But, not everyone – no matter how qualified – can always be picked. Sure, there are some consistent names you’ll see returning to Cannes Lions’ lists yearly, but is there really a best practice to ensure you get a fair shot should you throw your name in the ring? According to Little Black Book’s duo of Paul Monan and Emma Wilkie, who run the Immortal Awards, there are certainly things to be taken into account which people might not know about. 

For a start, it’s always good to know exactly what the people making the selections consider to be a ‘strong’ panel. Sure, as Paul notes, every advertising awards body and competition will evaluate differently, but there are commonalities to be had across the board.

“For me, a strong panel should quite simply feature the best people available to judge what’s being put in front of them,” he explains. “There are lots of caveats to that with regards to diversity, seniority and experience, and making sure there is as much varied representation as possible. But ultimately, it’s about making sure the very best people are in place to judge the very best work.”

So, how does one come off as the ‘best’ option? On a regional level – which is crucial for a show like the Immortals – the stated goal is making sure the lineup blends spheres, integrating experts in production, agency, strategy, post, and even brands themselves. As such, if you’ve got a history of award-winning work, or have been lucky enough to judge at other advertising competitions, that’s an automatic bonus. 

But, as Emma continues, reputation is king. “We’re always monitoring who is doing the best work in each and every market and across every area of the industry,” she says. “Creative reputation through awards and industry recognition, whether that be local, regional or global, is always a priority.”

Of course, on paper, this might sound like a rich get richer format. ‘Just do something great and then you too can decide what’s great!’. Fortunately, at least with the Immortals, there are also fail-safes in place to ensure this sort of thing doesn’t happen. 

Specifically, of utmost importance each year is integrating a certain quantity of new jurors. While yes, it will always be important to get the people capable of producing the best work into the judging room, there will always be a priority to ensure that some of the 11-13 people selected (per region) are first-timers – albeit award-winning ones. Not only does this create fairer competition within the pool of over 2,200 Little Black Book member companies who are vying for a position, but it serves to provide healthy contrast and fresh opinions – balancing effectively with those of the longtime invitees.

“There’s no doubt that a large portion of a jury must be senior, experienced leaders who have a detailed knowledge and understanding of the advertising industry or subject matter at hand,” Paul observes. “However, there are some truly brilliant young creatives who will go on to be the next generation of superstar leaders, so getting them involved in discussions is hugely enriching for our awarding process. We look at the creatives credited on work that wins at our shows, and those actually in the trenches making the work, as they know the blood, sweat, and tears that goes into making brilliant stuff.”

Adding to this, Emma points out that truly, it’s a great privilege to work with Little Black Book members to identify their best people and next generation superstars. “We take great pride when someone who judges at the Immortals first then goes on to sit on juries at other global shows,” she remarks.

Notably, across the event’s recent years, this has only happened more and more frequently. Sure, there’s something to be said for the show’s evolution marking the ability to up the strength of the juries, but this selection process itself is proving to be much admired, as evidenced by just how many leaders across all areas of the advertising industry express a desire to get involved on an annual basis – something which both Paul and Emma actively encourage.

“We’re always happy to consider anyone who would like to be on a jury,” says Emma. Of course, while this isn’t a guarantee of selection or suitability, what it does mean is that anyone who is an LBB member and feels they have the right credentials should feel worthy of shooting their shot. 

And, the same goes for pitches as well. A longtime advocate that companies put their best people up for consideration, Paul notes that it’s simply not possible to know everyone, no matter how worthy, which means bringing people into the selection peoples’ radar is never a bad thing… provided it isn’t done in a pushy fashion.  

“Showing enthusiasm and appetite to be involved is appreciated on our end, so feel free to send us a note with some recommendations,” he continues. “A good starting point is a name, job title and some form of bio (which can even be a well populated LinkedIn profile). Ultimately, we invite people we know will be a good fit for our juries, so the more we get to know you the more likely we are to invite you.”

So, with all that established, it begs the question of when the right time to apply actually is. While this, of course, varies per competition (and should be monitored by interested individuals), at least for the Immortals, invites start going out around March of each year. However, seeing how busy people in the advertising industry can get, and how hard it can be to coordinate 17 different sessions across multiple countries, changes can be made right up until the judging actually starts!

“Anybody who wants to be considered can contact us at any time of the year,” Emma affirms. “While we’re already a long way into the process of putting our juries together for this year, anyone who’d like to be considered should make sure their bio is up-to-date and includes any awards they’ve won, which is a minimum requirement in order to be invited to judge the Immortals.”

With all that said, there’s one final point of consideration that prospective applicants ought to be aware of – across any award show – and that is the rising necessity of diversity and representation on panels. Sure, some countries have varying levels of inherent diversity within their advertising industries, which can impact selection on more locally judged shows, but it’s worth considering that where possible, juries will want to provide fair, balanced and representative adjudication… which literally requires a diverse panel selection.

“Ensuring our juries are as diverse as possible is always at the forefront of our minds when putting them together,” Paul adds, building on the topic. “There is a lot of talk about DE&I within advertising globally, and we do our best to ensure that we are taking action to progress the issues. I would say that is the same for all major awards bodies too – many of which have taken noticeably great strides in opening up the juror pool to as many people from as many backgrounds and places as possible.”

So, considering it seems like this is going to be best practice going forward for a long, long time, really, it can be argued that being on a jury just boils down to a few simple points. If you want to be considered for advertising award show judging panels, no matter who you are, you either need to be willing to advocate for yourself or have people willing to advocate for you, and, crucially, be someone who has proven their ability to judge by proving their worth creatively speaking. 

“To me, all juries are merely a reflection of the industry that we work in,” Paul finishes. “We want to make sure we have the most knowledgeable, experienced people judging the best work. So, while we’ll always do our best to ensure we have a diverse jury, we also need brands, agencies and craft companies to be making sure they’re hiring, promoting and platforming people from all walks of life into leadership or senior roles to keep increasing the size of the best-in-class juror pool.”

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