Is Adland’s Obsession With Awards Unhealthy?

Is Adland’s Obsession With Awards Unhealthy?
B&T Magazine
Edited by B&T Magazine

The industry’s obsession with awards is understandable, but can also be dangerous and unhealthy, argues Ogilvy head of strategy Ryan O’Connell (pictured)…

Fear not, this is not another opinion piece denying the importance of awards, or bemoaning the fact there are too many award shows. 

Well, actually . . . there are way, way too many award shows. Though always extremely humbled to take home some metal, Ogilvy won Grand Prixs this year at shows I’d honestly never even heard of. (That, my friends, was a textbook humblebrag. Warning: it won’t be my last!) This probably suggests that our industry creates just a few too many opportunities to slap ourselves on the back.

However, winning the right type of award is definitely important. They help agencies establish themselves as successful, and sustained success conveys a sense of legitimate momentum. This in turn helps agencies recruit the best talent, which only benefits the clients of said agency. 

Additionally, awards are a valuable tool in attracting prospective new clients to agencies, whilst also being used by the winners as proof of their talent/ability when interviewing for new jobs, or seeking a promotion.

So whilst chasing awards can certainly seem superficial and egotistical – because it is – awards are also the currency of the industry we’ve chosen to work in, and the industry that many of us (hopefully!) love. Once you come to accept that reality, it’s easier to accept our somewhat unhealthy obsession with them. 

That obsession can most definitely be unhealthy though. 

Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, obsessing about awards is misguided. Agencies need to be obsessed on creating great, effective work. Do that, and the awards will follow. Focussing on awards above the work is the marketing version of putting the “cart before the horse”, and that’s an unhealthy way to run a business.

Secondly, sadly it can be somewhat of an unobtainable obsession. Those shiny little metal things are very hard to win, require a decent amount of luck, and in some cases, even need back-channel political manoeuvring to put you in with a chance of winning them. Considering all that, it’s a questionable strategy to use awards as your only source of validation. If you do, the odds suggest you’re going to be disappointed, which, again, is far from healthy. That’s really important to remember when it comes to how you provide recognition for your staff’s efforts.

The third issue? Well, if you’re fortunate enough to win an award, I have some (relatively) bad news: you quickly get addicted to that feeling. I imagine, from a physiological perspective, it’s much like the dopamine hit of getting likes on your social media posts. Seeming as addiction affects your judgement and the way you behave, I might just go out on a limb and proclaim it as not a particularly healthy thing. 

The last point is centred around ‘rest’; a vital component of staying healthy. Unfortunately, there’s no real “off-season” for awards anymore – it’s a 12-month cycle. From a personal perspective, it was a little deflating to kick off the process for next year’s APAC Effies, before we had even received the trophies for this year’s APAC Effies wins. (Humblebrag #2.) Having a break is important for a whole host of reasons, both physical and mental, but it’s very easy to become a slave to the time pressures of year-round award entries.

So as you can see, there’s plenty of reasons why the pursuit of awards is fraught with danger.

Yet this is not an anti-awards stance, by any stretch of the imagination. Quite the opposite, in fact. By all means, chase awards. Aspire to win them. We should – they’re important. 

However, given the aforementioned points about the un-healthiness of awards, it’s wise to consider these four subsequent lessons:

  1. Be aware not to lose focus on the work first and foremost. After all, awards are the nice cherry on top, not the more filling, substantial and important cake they sit on. Which also happens to be what clients pay us for.
  1. Appreciate that awards can be extremely hard to win and therefore shouldn’t be the only measure of success, recognition, or validation. 
  1. Understand that winning them can become a little addictive, which makes you act irrationally. (Did someone say “scam work”?)
  1. And be cognisant that they take a herculean effort and a 12-month focus, so beware of burning people out.

Above all, always be conscious of the impact that entering, winning, losing – or not even having anything to enter – might have on your colleagues’ mental well-being. We can put an unhealthy amount of importance on those shiny metal things, so it’s vital we all stay sane, measured and firmly on the ‘healthy’ side of the of award obsession spectrum.


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