A mission statement for the future: Results over everything

—Awards shows are a fleeting dopamine hit that, at best, take agency eyes off the real prize of selling client products, say Pound & Grain’s Sandy Fleischer and Jackson Murphy—

Lions, Webby’s, Clios, One Show Awards… if you work in advertising and marketing, these names are super-charged with context and importance.

But here’s the unspoken truth that many don’t want to talk about: Industry awards are a lot like the Oscars, where the big winners aren’t always the most bankable. In our humble view, moving the needle for clients should always be our main area of focus. We need to think more Avengers, less art house.

Don’t get us wrong, there is a time and place for submitting great work to awards shows—it can make the difference when it comes to attracting new clients.

Awards are a mark of recognition from your peers, and they feel damned good to the team that worked so hard. They can make careers. They can make agencies.

We enter them sporadically, and have sometimes (but not often) won for some really great work. It felt pretty great when we won, and we celebrated our success—we even tweeted about it and shared some champagne, too.

So we aren’t some award show truthers, spilling sour grapes. We have a lot of respect for great ideas and the people that make them. But they need to be the cherry, not the sundae.

To use a hockey metaphor, lots of the hard-fought brand battles today are happening along the boards—with obsessive attention on everything from the search strategy to the conversion rate on the landing page. If the work’s only KPI is some awards show hardware, what are we really doing?

Oh no, is this starting to sound like Jerry Maguire’s late-night crisis of conscience memo to his colleagues?

This is not a memo. But maybe, just maybe, it is a “mission statement.” A suggestion for the future. To be fair, we are too old to wake up in the middle of the night, blast out 25 pages and rush over to the Kinko’s (does Kinko’s even exist anymore?) to print out a bunch of copies (do people still even print things?) and then marvel at the genius title we slapped on it: “The things we think and do not say. The Future of our Business.”

Yes, if it played out like that we’d get laughed out of the industry for having the temerity to question the sacred texts and the marketing awards industrial complex.

Maybe we should have. And maybe we’ll get laughed out anyway.

But we are more positive than ever that award hardware really doesn’t prove anything. In fact, awards are a distraction—bread and circuses for us poor agency folk. They are a distraction that, at best, can take our eyes off the ball, and at worst, can negatively impact the creation of the work that drives actual client results.

Their existence can almost certainly drive up an agency’s cost. Some agencies commit a significant percentage of their revenue towards those award entries. It’s been reported that large agency holding companies can spend up to $1 million on Cannes alone. Even those scrappy independent agencies can spend anywhere from $200,000 to $500,000 a year on awards shows and award show videos.

We’ve all been there, when the award show video actually costs more in agency time than the featured campaign, and the results are about reach not business.

But once you get started, it’s increasingly difficult to jump off the awards show hamster wheel. If you don’t have the buzz of awards, can you even call yourself an agency? It’s a quick but fleeting dopamine hit, like the likes on an influencers’ social media post.

Once the dust has settled and that awards show glow has dimmed, all that really is left is the campaign data. Did it work? Did it improve the business? An analysis of 600 case studies by marketing consultant Peter Field found that “the effectiveness of creatively-awarded campaigns has fallen to its lowest level in 24 years as the marketing industry increasingly shifts to more short-term campaigns.”

The job is to move product. So if award-winning ad work doesn’t actually move the needle, what is it doing?

During the early stages of quarantine, there were even calls for a halt on awards show submissions for the rest of the year. This made so much sense. In a crisis of both global health and economy, we should focus exclusively on the well-being of our people and clients.

But shouldn’t we always focus on these things? Isn’t this an admission that we can’t do this and awards?

And now we’re back to sounding like Jerry Maguire, and that’s okay with us: “Just shut up and play the game. Play it from your heart, and you know what? I will show you the quan. And that’s the truth, man! That’s the truth. Can you handle it?”

Sandy Fleischer is the managing partner and Jackson Murphy the creative director of Pound & Grain

David Brown