Jul 07

If not us, who? If not now, when?

Two recent blogs on the subject of the ad industry awards event at Cannes both missed the
2010 Cannes Logo mark for different reasons.

The first, authored by Paul Taaffe, chairman and CEO of Hill and Knowlton (my alma mater) is a cautionary tale. In it, he laments the PR industry's poor showing in the recent competition. Taaffe worries that, if PR doesn't do a better job of putting our collective best foot forward, we'll lose future opportunities to the more creative and dramatic advertising types.
That's a flawed POV for a number of reasons. First, Paul forgets that ALL ad agency creative directors are frustrated Steven Spielberg wannabes. They create campaigns to win awards, not to sell products (which is one of the reasons why advertising finds itself in such a sorry state, BTW). Second, advertising has been operating in a 'video' medium for years so, naturally, their submissions would run rings around the typical three-ring binder we enter in a Silver Anvil competition. Third, who cares who wins the most awards? Clients want firms who can solve business problems, not win awards.

Paul Holmes weighed in on the Cannes competition as well but, predictably, had a different suggestion. Rather than sweat how many awards we don't win, Holmes suggests the PR industry needs yet another awards program (one that, presumably, would match the glitz and rock star quality of Cannes).

What we don't need right now is yet another awards program, especially when a double dip might be in the offing. Nor does PR need to prove itself the equal of advertising. We've already won that battle.

Instead, organizers of awards programs should focus on making them more equitable. Right now, every competition charges a fixed entry fee. That's wrong. It immediately skews the competition. It enables large agencies with big marketing budgets to submit scores and scores of entries. I recently judged a single category that contained 70 entries. No fewer than 20 were from Weber Shandwick. When I complained, I was asked to excuse myself from the judging.

Instead of fretting about besting our advertising brethren or convening yet another high-profile, high cost awards shindig we should, instead, be leveling the playing field. I'd like to see the two Pauls and their peers at the largest agencies and PR media properties put their heads together and figure out a tiered pricing solution for awards programs. Sure, Ketchum may not win another 117 Silver Anvils (which it proudly proclaims is more than any other PR firm in an ad), but wouldn't it be great to see lots more entries from small, emerging contenders?

It's high time our industry's power brokers paid attention to a real inequity. As Paul Holmes asks at the end of his blog, "If not us, who? If not now, when?”

Nov 23

To dream the impossible dream

November 23 - wallpaper_football10 I applaud my alma mater’s decision to end its college football program. Northeastern University’s decision was reached after an exhaustive, two-year study and follows on the heels of cross-town rival, Boston University’s, decision to follow a similar course.

Northeastern is a serious contender in sports such as ice hockey, crew and, every now and then, basketball. But, the football program has always been an also ran. Like many other wannabe’s, N.U. aspired to greater things and actually scheduled an opening match against perennial football powerhouse Boston College. The result was both laughable and predictable.

Now freed from the shackles of climbing a mountain too high (or a bridge too far, if you prefer WWII analogy), Northeastern is free to concentrate on its core athletic competencies while also diverting funding to academic pursuits (an area in which the school is rapidly rising through the ranks).

Northeastern’s David v. Goliath run against BC is akin to a two-person PR start-up competing against Weber-Shandwick in the public relations industry annual awards’ programs. While N.U. may boast the single, most creative tailback or safety on the gridiron, BC’s sheer size and numbers guarantee a lopsided result. Ditto with the industry awards’ programs. Like the NCAA, our industry should create three distinct categories based on size and allow the big guys to compete against one another, midsized firms to engage with their peers and the boutiques to do the same.

What chance did Northeastern ever really have against a major football powerhouse like BC? None. And, what real chance does an unknown start-up have when competing against 11, count ‘em 11, separate submissions from one Top 10 agency in a single category? The fledgling boutique can only afford one submission while the behemoth can lob in one after another.

The awards’ system is broke. And, the PR powers that be see it as nothing more than ‘an old argument,’ that merits no discussion. That leaves little guys with one of two choices: follow Northeastern’s lead and divert whatever disposable marketing dollars you have on something with a higher return on investment or, like the Man of La Mancha, continue to dream the impossible dream.

Nov 16

Dirty Pool

November 16 - awards I've had the opportunity to judge everything from the Silver Anvils and CIPRAs to the PR Week and Big Apple industry awards. And, while I'm honored to be asked, I have to tell you something: the industry awards programs are badly broken.

They're broken in one, fundamental way: big agencies are allowed to submit as many entries per category as they choose. They pay the same amount per entry as does a small, two-person start-up. And, that's unfair.

Let me cite specifics. I'm currently judging the 'digital/social media' category for one of these awards' programs. If you can believe it, there are no fewer than 75 separate entries for one award! To begin with, that's absurd. Who wants to pay serious money for a one-in-75 chance?

But, here's the real issue. Right alongside 11 (yes, 11!) entries from the world's largest public relations firm is one from a start-up I've never heard of. And, a panel that includes me, and probably four or five other time-pressured judges, has to choose the best. What are the odds the start-up will win?

I've actually tallied up the entries. Of the 75 in total, no fewer than 37 come from the top 10 agencies. Talk about unfair competition! Nearly 50 percent of the digital/social media category entries come from four or five PR firms.

So, here's a question to the powers that be at these awards' shows: why don't you price the entry fees by the size of the agency? Instead of charging every agency $375 per submission, why not charge the Webers, Fleishmans and Ketchums double or triple the fee? They're probably a hundred times larger than some of the other competitors.

If the media properties did so, it would lessen the deluge from the largest firms, level the playing field and, probably, raise even more money for their cash-starved coffers.

I'm amazed more small and midsized agencies don't complain about this obvious inequity. It's dirty pool.

Mar 10

And the finalists for best corporate campaign of the year are Golin Harris, Golin Harris and Golin Harris. And, the winner is…

PR industry awards programs are a total joke. Aside from awards-submission savvy midsized firms likeAward
CLS and Cone, a few large firms totally dominate every awards category of every awards competition every year.

It’s embarrassing and absurd at the same time. Big firms have the resources, time and wherewithal to submit 70, 80 or more programs to every competition. How difficult is it to be a finalist in a given category when 60 percent of the submissions come from the same agency?

One would think the cash-strapped publications sponsoring these industry love-ins would figure out how innately unfair they are and, dare I suggest it, hold two awards competitions: one for the T Rex’s of the industry, and another for the rest of us.

The big guys would still rake in their usual quota of 15 or more trophies per show. The independent firms would finally be competing on a level playing field. And, the media properties would pocket more cash. So, what’s the delay? Oh, and the winner of that particular award was, believe it or not, Golin Harris.