Have you noticed? Companies seem to be switching to rely more on smaller, boutique agencies that focus on client needs rather than on building an additional bookshelf for their next marketing award. Now, before you jump through your computer screen or send me hate mail, I’m not for a moment suggesting that larger, multi-award-winning agencies are no longer relevant. Rather, I suggest that your attention shift from the creation of award-winning campaigns to those that solve problems or generate positive business outcomes.
Gone are the days when large accounts would only grant business to huge advertising and creative agencies. Today, smaller, niche agencies are winning big-name accounts and cool projects far more often. And from where I sit, I foresee this trend continuing.
Recent research reveals that clients are growing increasingly dissatisfied with the value they get from their advertising agencies. The study concludes that agencies are missing the mark because of poor account management, understaffing, inexperienced teams and misaligned goals.
This 2016 SoDA survey of 629 senior decision makers in the advertising and agency space found that the single biggest reason for dissatisfaction from clients was value (37%). However, according to the report, other areas of client dissatisfaction included:
1. Unhappy with creative (24%)
2. Mismatched agency size/ability (24%)
3. Unhappy with project management/account management (22%)
4. Unhappy with strategy (21%)
5. Understaffed/under-experienced (21%)
As the results of this survey suggest, there appears to be a gap between client expectations and agency deliverables.
Creativity For The Sake Of Creativity
There is a stark difference between practical, purposeful creative and graphical masterpieces. Working primarily in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) arena, too often I see incredibly imaginative designs that look wonderful in the boardroom (and may even be award-worthy) that would never work outside those four walls. This might include packaging that is too large for the shelf, images that are confusing or distracting, type that is too difficult to read, and messages lost in the design.
I call this being creative for the sake of creativity. In other words, it’s not grounded in realities of the market. Make no mistake, imagination is a necessity in design. However, goals of the campaign must be clearly understood from the account executive to the copywriter to the art director and everyone in-between. Once the objectives are understood and the copy is written, the design should help convey the story, increasing the effectiveness of the message.
Award-Winning Ulterior Motives
Perhaps with the exception of the music industry, I can think of few other industries that award themselves quite as much as the advertising industry. Agencies rely on their walls of statuettes and plaques to attract new clients. Award-winning work must equal effective work, right? No.
Agencies put themselves at great risk if talent and skill are committed to winning awards rather than supporting their clients’ marketing and sales objectives. If awards become the sole focus of a creative department, the client’s goals will not be achieved, and soon that agency will have one less client.
Strong and focused creative execution is necessary for brands to stay ahead of the competition. Certainly, in the CPG industry (and likely all industries), the way people perceive a brand through its visuals, words and related content matters greatly. That’s why some brands have found success working with small, niche firms to ensure the right creative is combined with a great strategy to compel action.
So, do awards really matter?
Believe it or not, I am a fan of awards — as long as they are achieved for the right reason.
When we’ve completed a project that meets the client’s objectives and achieves their goals, their success is the best payoff for all of the hard work that went into it. Many elements go into a campaign, and factors beyond our control can have a positive or negative impact on outcomes, so when all goes as planned, it’s reason to celebrate.
For our organization, moving a branding project or promotional initiative from concept through commercialization is greatly rewarding. It starts with the client’s trust in our process and team members and works best when we’ve built a solid relationship where we are considered an extension of the client’s own group. It’s especially fulfilling to be viewed as a “business advisor” rather than an outside vendor.
Of course, the benefits of displaying awards that acknowledge our team’s hard work and close collaboration with clients are also positive. There is tremendous pride that goes into the application process and the discipline to communicate the purpose, process and payoff of various projects. The pure sense of accomplishment and the culmination of tight deadlines, late nights and out-of-the-box brainstorming put a spotlight on a completed project. And if awarded, the recognition for a job well done and client objectives achieved is priceless.
Externally, awards can be badges of honor that some clients will use to tip the scales in favor of one agency versus another. Associated public relations efforts announcing the award or highlighting its success can also boost client visibility and put a feather in their caps. Furthermore, it’s a wonderful opportunity for an agency to emphasize the team effort that went into the project. Simply put, clients want to work with problem-solvers and business-builders that also happen to win awards for these efforts.
The Bottom Line
The actions of the agency, the overall process and the results of any campaign should always be rewarding. You and your team should be proud of your work and well-expended efforts on every project. It is recommended that you approach each opportunity as if you were going to award yourself for surpassing a client’s expectations, delivering on the key brand objectives, outstanding teamwork and for strengthening the client relationship. This sense of accomplishment is far better than any shiny object on a shelf.