Awards don't always mean you're winning

Kanye West has a point that artistic integrity means more than any award, says Instrument's partner and CEO

Kanye said a whole lot of things on Sunday night, but somewhere during his "epic rant" between announcing his presidential run and throwing Justin Timberlake under the bus, he made a point about how artistic integrity matters more than any award ever can. And he was right.

The lure of awards can corrupt the creative process in the advertising industry just as much as it can in the entertainment industry. If you focus your creativity solely on the campaigns you deem "award-worthy," rather than on solving a problem, you’re already skirting the lines of failure. You’re supposed to be working toward creating the best possible results for your client, not aiming to impress a panel of executives.

Over the years, I’ve worked with people who were award-obsessed. They would conceive and execute ideas based on the parameters of an award category, driving that idea into the ground until the client bought in. What I learned is that creatives with this mentality usually aren’t loyal to the agency, client and ultimately, the integrity of the idea.

The problem of submitting for awards goes beyond just the time, effort and financial resources it takes to stay competitive. It shifts your focus and your creative energy towards the wrong audience. Awards don’t just cloud the creative process — they block it. However, it’s easy to redirect. By refocusing your efforts on the quality of work and delivering a great end product, your people will stop throwing away ideas just because they don't fit into that box of what's considered award-worthy. It’s then that some of your most brilliant solutions will come and your work will speak for itself.

From time to time, we’ve had prospective clients ask about the awards we’ve won. It makes us wonder why awards should speak louder than someone's work. The clients who see something in our values that lets them know we’re the right fit for collaboration are the ones we want to partner with. Let me be clear: we don’t have anything against awards. The work that wins is usually great on many levels. But our focus, first and foremost, is on a happy client and a job well done.

At the core of what Kanye was saying, I think, is that creatives need to produce work that meets their own standards, to create the kind of work that they think is exceptional and not try to chase someone else’s value proposition. That will always be a losing game, no matter how many awards it gets you.

Justin Lewis is partner and CEO of Instrument.

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