Three Things I Learned Judging the Digital AWARD Awards

A couple of months ago, I asked to sit on the Digital Panel for the Australasian Writers and Art Directors Association (AWARD) Awards. I met with with Co-Chairman of Publicis Mojo and Chairman of AWARD, Craig Davis and was fascinated to hear first-hand about where AWARDs were heading and why. As he explained to Campaign Brief:

Our mission is to champion commercial creativity and we're very ambitious about it.  We want to build far greater value into being an AWARD member.

But I was interested to see how this vision would play out in reality. What would it mean to participate on a judging panel? Would there be conflicts? How would we all deal with uneven perspectives and our own expectations? Would there be any hissy fits and who would be the first to throw down the tiara and head home? I just hoped it wouldn’t be me.

1. Great work is clearly, great work

Over two days (including a weekend) in February we all met to review and assess the short list containing around 200 pieces of content. Iain McDonald was the gracious and proactive jury chairman encouraged us all to focus on the work submitted and to fearlessly champion what we loved.

Over the course of two intense days, I came to greatly admire my fellow judges: Iain McDonald from Amnesia Razorfish, Andy DiLallo from Leo Burnett, Dave Whittle from M&C Saatchi, Tiphereth Gloria from GPY&R, Chris Gillespie from  Future Buro, Bob Mackintosh from The Jamboree, Paul Bruty from the Glue Society and Ashley Ringrose from Soap.

Everyone was able to recall the campaigns, what happened when, and what their initial reactions were. It was very clear that everyone lived and breathed this work – but perhaps, most importantly, they all took their responsibilities personally – standing up for the great work that they saw and arguing the case as appropriate.

Each of the pieces that were to be included in the AWARDS book for 2011 deserved to be there. And those that received silver or bronze awards went that step beyond. The great work stood out – and that made our job easier.

2. Be an advocate for great work

While the judges pretty-much agreed on the works which would be included in the AWARDS book, the panel is small. With nine judges in all, one vote can swing the outcome. And when one of the judges would abstain from voting on work that they were connected to, it became even more intense.

When we reviewed and re-reviewed each category and discussed the merits of the work and awarding of the “gongs”, we could often be swayed by the arguments of the other judges. Those judges who were passionate about a particular entry would put forward their views. They’d advocate their position and explain their thinking. Sometimes that meant a piece would be voted up, and sometimes it meant that a piece was voted down.

But the process was fascinating. The insights of the judges were brilliant. And sometimes that advocacy changed the way we looked at everything else.

3. Be critical but not mean

One of the mantras we followed was to “be critical but not mean”. I liked the intelligence behind this. And, particularly for an industry which lives and dies by its “creativity”, focusing on critique, analysis and advocacy meant that the works being judged were given a fair hearing.

What about you?

After spending many, many hours reviewing entries, reading submissions and watching videos, I have a new respect for those who judge awards. A lot of time, energy, focus and even creativity goes into the process. In a way, I would have loved to make this more open – where those who were involved in the creating the work were able to receive the feedback from the panel. Of course, that would bring a new level of intensity to the judging process, but quality feedback is an essential ingredient for creative growth. Getting this sort of unbiased and unvarnished feedback would be immensely valuable (even if it was confronting).

But what about you? Do these lessons resonate with you? Did you see the digital AWARDS finalists? What did you love?

I can see easily how to apply these three lessons in my everyday work:

  1. Great work: you know it when you see it. If you work on the client side, hold out for great work from your agency. Push for it. If you are on the agency side, drive your teams to deliver. Grasp the idea and drag it kicking and screaming to life.
  2. Advocate: if you have a great idea, tell the world. Tell your clients. Tell your boss. If you believe in it, don’t let others dissuade you. For agencies: don’t let your client chip away at its integrity. For client-side: articulate, cajole and win support. Sell it in.
  3. Critical, not mean: you’re in the business of communication. Use those finely honed skills to articulate what you don’t like. Or better yet, explain how you can make an idea better. When you’re mean, no one wins. You look petty and everyone else thinks your a dirtbag.

Now, it’s your turn.