The One Club's Kevin Swanepoel responds to Publicis's decision

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Not all awards shows are created equal, says the CEO of The One Club for Creativity.

Arthur Sadoun’s moratorium on awards shows drew responses from a cohort of industry notables, including FCB’s Worldwide CEO Carter Murray, who maintained that creativity, not technology, is what sets ad agencies apart, and Wieden+Kennedy’s CCO Colleen DeCourcy, who pointed out that awards provide a professional ladder for young creative talent. While I agree with both points, I’d rather focus on the elephant in the room, one that might’ve had a hand in Mr. Sadoun’s decision: the excessive commercialization of the festivals surrounding awards shows. 

Awarding creative excellence has always demanded a certain level of pomp to the proceedings—after all, awards should feel important and celebratory—but things have gotten out of hand. When an exorbitant port tax levied on agencies holding meetings off site costs more than the sponsorship of a diversity program that results in the hiring of several talented people of color, something is amiss. When creative agencies are forced to compete with tech titans for exposure because of unfair practices and pressure tactics, the mission has strayed quite a bit from celebrating creativity. As such, a large contingent in our industry has grown cynical of awards show culture, understandably so.

I believe Mr. Sadoun was reacting to this excess, at least partly, cutting what he felt necessary from his operating costs and giving his network an opportunity to refocus. He made a business decision, and, I’m convinced, one with a temporary result.

I have no doubt that Publicis, which has always shown a steadfast commitment to rewarding and recognizing creativity at the highest levels, will continue to seek recognition for its creative standouts moving forward. However, this move could be misinterpreted by the wider industry, so I’d like to preempt that potential misunderstanding by clarifying something: Not all awards shows are created equal.

Some awards are for-profit entities whose drive is to grow ever larger, stock prices rising ever higher and stockholders becoming ever richer. Other awards shows don’t have the same motivation, and instead focus on refining and improving their programs, hewing to the ethos that made them what they were in the first place. Some awards shows are run by nonprofit organizations that also produce diversity, education and professional development programs and initiatives. 

In these cases, awards shows are the engines that drive those programs—programs that are core to those organizations’ missions, so much so that they could not maintain their nonprofit status without them. Put another way, when agencies enter The One Show, ADC Annual Awards, D&AD or the ANDYs, for example, they are also supporting programs that promote diversity, gender equality, professional development and education.

Awards shows accomplish a lot for our industry: they jumpstart careers; they spur business development; they serve as inspiration for creatives striving to be the best versions of themselves; and sometimes they shine a light on important issues. But awards shows are at their best when they’re supported by programs that ensure the industry that fuels them is fair and inclusive, instead of being corrupted by festivals whose main objective is to create additional revenue streams. 

We live in an age in which consumers demand more from brands. It’s not enough to have a good product or service. How that brand comports itself is crucial to surviving in the current marketplace. Uber and United Airlines learned that the hard way this past year, but examples are legion. As marketers, we should demand the same of ourselves.

Agencies and networks shouldn’t enter awards shows indiscriminately, nor should they abstain from them indiscriminately. They should strive to be as discerning as the consumers their clients serve.

Kevin Swanepoel is the CEO of The One Club for Creativity.