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Opinion and Insight

Loopholes and Insubordination: Award Shows Ain’t Dead, They Just Need to Evolve

Despite crackdowns from Publicis and WPP, agencies are showing some impressive creativity to make sure their work is still entered

Loopholes and Insubordination: Award Shows Ain’t Dead, They Just Need to Evolve

To enter or not to enter? That’s the question pestering agencies and holding companies – and troubling awards organisers. Ever since Publicis Groupe decreed a year-long award moratorium during Cannes this summer, advertising awards have been under increasing scrutiny. And the latest twist in the saga comes from WPP – last week Ad Week reported that leaked emails from senior WPP-ers showed that the holding company was keen to reduce its spend at Cannes and avoid the upcoming Eurobest altogether. But does this mean the end of award shows… or maybe just a radically different approach?

It’s interesting that this played out just a few days after the Kinsale Sharks Award. It was curious to note that, despite the Publicis crackdown on awards which kicked off the whole thing… the Grand Prix went to Publicis London for it’s (admittedly beautiful) Game of Thrones project. Someone, somewhere is managing to find a loophole somewhere.

The thing is that – whatever Arthur Sadoun or Sir Martin Sorrell might wish – top down directives across holding companies are easier issued than enforced. And that’s doubly the case for those small, partially-owned local agencies that have a big brand agency name above the door and the original founder sitting in the office.

Indeed, if you read the content of John O’Keefe’s emails, what you see isn’t so much an order not to enter Eurobest but frustration that he’s discovered that there have been 117 entries from WPP agencies submitted already. The ‘order’ had already been issued – it had just been ignored. 

And we also know that agencies are ‘forcing’ their production companies to enter award shows on their behalf. (I don’t know how that will work with in-house production… perhaps another, kinda twisted, argument for agencies working with independent production?) Already we’ve spoken to several prod cos here in London who are being heavily leaned on to enter particular pieces – which puts the prod cos in a difficult position. You see, not only do they have to keep agency clients happy by entering awards, they’re also having to keep their directors (and directors’ egos) happy by entering work that’s barely got an outside chance of a Bronze. And all that adds up.

So is this the end of award shows? I really don’t think so. Despite clampdowns and moratoria, the agencies are showing quite impressive determination, resourcefulness and grit when it comes to finding loopholes and getting their work in front of juries. It’s bloody minded. And yes, one could argue that said bloody-mindedness might be more effectively applied to creating great work… but it’s obvious these awards are considered damned important.

But that’s not to say that the current system is perfect. It can be convoluted. Confusing. Complicated. Categories breed and grow like mould, as the traditional business model relies on trying to persuade agencies to enter the same piece of work as many times as possible. Maybe, though, there’s a better way of doing things. A cleaner, more straightforward way, that creates an even playing field and doesn’t simply favour those with the deepest pockets. Well, that’s what we’re starting to think here at LBB HQ…