Judging the ADC Awards: A suit's perspective

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The president of Ming Utility and Entertainment on what it was like to judge her first creative awards competition

When I received an invitation to serve on the ADC Awards Digital Jury, I was honored and surprised. That may sound silly coming from someone who has spent more than 20 years in this business both as an account person and client, but I had never been asked to judge a creative award show before. Why? I have no idea. I’ve led projects that have won over 200 creative awards, including 11 ADC Cubes and 13 Cannes Lions. Surely I must know something about judging work besides how not to get it killed. However, it seemed to me that account people only get asked to judge the Effies, which is an honor, but let’s just say the ADC invitation was not just an honor; it was a bit of a shock. I had no idea what to expect. 

Now, after countless hours of online voting and a week in Beaver Creek, Colo., with my jury peers, the shock has worn off. I have returned and am filled with insights, observations and recommendations I feel compelled to share for those judging and submitting in the future.

Less about me, more about we. Before I started, I asked veteran creatives about their judging experiences. A consistent refrain was, "Go with your gut. If it moves you, it’s good." But on the digital jury, there was a growing consideration for whether or not a project caught fire within culture. Work is often lauded even if it receives fewer eyeballs than a Kylie Jenner Instagram post gets in 28 seconds. Finding creatively inspiring work that also taps into the zeitgeist is now the Holy Grail. Cube winners Loterias y Apuestas del Astado "Justino," REI "#OptOutside" and Beats By Dre "Straight Outta Compton" accomplished this and were awarded for their efforts.

There ARE new ideas. Originality still means something. The belief that there are no new ideas was firmly rejected in our Digital Jury bubble. The ADC Awards campaign theme, "Rare for Reason," rang true in my experience. Brands re-skinning existing tech with their identity should save their entry fee. When competing against projects like Owelet "Baby Care" and "Focus Motion" (Gold and Silver winners respectively), it’s a blowout.

Rappers CAN be role models. For as long as I can remember, even when hip-hop was just music and not "hip-hop culture," controversy has raged around the genre. I can’t say whether hip-hop is growing up, but certainly some of its artists are. Usher, Common, even Chicago rappers Lil Herb and King Louie are using their platforms to speak out about important issues with projects like "Don’t Look Away" and "Music vs. Gun Violence."  As an account person, one of our roles in developing creative presentations is to write the front half of the deck—to set the context for the work. Both of these projects stood out for their context. They were perfectly timed with current events. Using technology to further the message earned them both Cubes. ("Music Vs Gun Violence" received a Silver and "Don’t Look Away," a Bronze).  Let’s hope many more artists follow suit.

Adding a hashtag doesn’t make it digital. #EnoughSaid

Be judicious. Do not approach award submissions the way you pick someone up at a bar. Submitting for everything does not increase your chances of winning. I have had this discussion with my creative teams on many occasions. I understand their position. Often they are judged on how much metal they can collect. But as an account person, the decision is a pragmatic one. Let’s focus on where we have the best chances of winning. Now as a judge, I am even more convinced submitting broadly is an old school approach. After going through more than 400 online entries, the last thing I want is to see your work pop up in what would be considered a "stretch" category. You’ve just wasted my time. Even my neophyte rose colored glasses started to fog as I saw submission after submission that was just wrong. One of the worst offenders was a campaign for an electronics brand that detected when you were watching their commercial on an inferior screen. It had a smart insight, was an innovative use of media and was entertaining, but an entry in the Public Service/Non-Profit category was clearly misguided.

Never stop being creative. If you don’t have time to creatively showcase your submission, I don’t have time to decipher it. This is particularly true in the website category. Sending a link to the site as your entry is a curious behavior. So many hours have gone into the creation of this thing; you paid the entry fee, you must be proud of it. Now is not the time to be humble. Show it off.

Bottom line, the judging process was humbling and made me very aware that it’s extremely hard to create great work and a lot easier to critique it. Account people (and clients) sometimes forget that.

And so it’s no surprise that my final recommendation is to include a few more account people and clients on creative juries. It will enrich the judging process with new insights and perspectives but also spark different and I believe, more fruitful, conversations around the table during creative presentations.

Tara DeVeaux is President of Ming Utility and Entertainment. Follow her on Twitter at @singlma.


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