Gunning for glory (at the expense of your client)

May 22, 2016

Gunning for glory (at the expense of your client)

“The commoditisation these days of the agency business has led agencies to try and differentiate along the lines of accolades, and creative awards are the proxy for this. That is why agencies spend literally million of dollars during this time of great austerity chasing these awards…The irony to the whole approach of basing an agency’s positioning on winning awards is that when an agency measures the quality of its work by how many awards it wins – and not through the lens of business results – it misses the point.”

Avi Dan, Forbes Magazine, 2 July 2012


Winning an award is great, right? Remember the time when you were 10 years old and crossed the line first at your school's yearly track and field competition? You kept that winner's certificate on your wall for years. You had proof you were a winner, your classmates knew you were a winner, your parents were super-proud and you built the confidence to run like a winner in your next race.

Fast-forward 20 years and you are standing on the stage at a prestigious advertising industry award ceremony. You are feeling much the same as you did at 10 years old. The trophy you hold says are a winner, your industry peers can see you are winner, your management is super-proud, and you'll have the confidence to think like a winner for your next campaign; but before you can say "look Mum, I've won another award", a cloud may have started to develop in the in the mind of your client.

If you work for the type of agency that intentionally pursues awards, you run the very real risk of your client questioning your priorities. This can, in turn, undermine both your personal and agency credibility and integrity.

True story: An agency was commissioned by their long-standing corporate client to design and print their annual report. This particular year, the Art Director decided to focus on creating a report with award-winning potential.

Previously the report had been printed in a stock-standard way: 4-colour process on white satin stock and perfect-bound cover. The total cost for design and printing was around $50,000.

The Art Director convinced his client that this year was their year to shine at the awards; that a new design would impress the shareholders; and that the report would be a standout amongst other industry communication. The client bought into the dream and so the report was radically re-designed.

The finished document was a 7-colour print run (4-colour process + 3 spot colours); two different specialty paper stocks; diecut, foiled and fold-out perfect-bound cover. The total cost was around $100,000. The result? Gold at the Annual Report Awards and personal bragging rights for the Art Director; zero spin-offs for the client; and a huge pile of unjustifiable expenditure.


Winning is addictive (just ask any sportsperson at the top of their game), and the danger comes when your agency adopts a singular award-focused mentality. This type of mind-set could manifest in any department within the agency (creatives, strategists, management, and - yes - even client service).

It's your job, as Account Manager, to look out for your client's best interests. You must present work to your client that meets their brief, their budget and their business objectives. If your team wishes to present an idea that is outside of the remit, then it's your duty to be the balance between your client and your agency. Remember that you are the one who holds the budget-strings and it is you who has to be accountable to your client once the campaign is over.

Creatives wouldn't be creative if they didn't come up with unusual, ground-breaking, wacky, out-of-the-box ideas; and often those ideas come with a higher-than-budget price tag. You know your client best - if the idea is right for their business, and if you can stand unashamed before them when the campaign is all over, then by all means, hop on board the party bus bound for award ceremony stardom!

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