Awards, WTF?

It's not a race. Photo by  Boris Stefanik

It's not a race. Photo by Boris Stefanik

When I was in my late teens I would buy a heap of issues of Communication Arts and other Design/Advertising Award annuals.

Each issue would feature the best advertising, design and illustration the industry had to offer.

Back then the best the web had to offer was Netscape Navigator so there wasn’t much to celebrate.

I’d treasure the annuals, knowing that surely simply owning them would push me one step closer to the career I so desperately yearned for.

I still have many of these issues—they’re practically staring at me from across the room as I write this post.

They’d inspire me to develop ideas and showed me the potential and possibility of what could be achieved.

They also made me feel like shit.

The more I looked through them and poured over the names and agencies that would feature as regulars in each issue — the more I felt an overwhelming lack of self-confidence and a vast emotional distance from it all.

For me, back then, awards were for a special kind of Creative that moved in different circles than the ones I did. 

Did I even move in circles at all?

These winners, I assumed, had connections, worked in a specific type of agency—a Creative not like the Creatives I knew.

Then I won a few and realised that it feels good be a winner.

I felt conflicted.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed the awards I’ve played a part in winning. 

We dressed up, we went out. We ate, we drank and we shared stories with other people we knew and avoided those we didn’t want to know. Our names were called up, we blushed, shook some strangers hand turned and a flash went off. 

We even sat through awkward speeches by sponsors.

And yet in my experience, the only awards that have ever appeared in conversation with a client are the few effectiveness awards that I’ve played a part in winning. 
These awards, to a client, mean that the work worked. 

And when judged independently (ie. your own industry body isn’t judging it, but rather a neutral body) the award carried more weight within that clients’ perspective.

Now, 20+ years later, I’ve realised that awards aren’t that important in the grand scheme of things.

I’m sure there are alternative opinions on this — this one is simply my own.

I’ve never secured a client because of an award I’ve won. 

When I was looking for work, I had never secured a job because of an award I had won either. 

I’ve also never hired anyone because they’ve won awards — to be honest with you (don’t tell anyone) I’ve never really read through that part of anyone’s CV — to me it’s irrelevant.

Awards are like vanity metrics in digital strategy.
Pause. Let's talk digital strategy for a moment.

As you may know, my background is in digital and brand strategy — the bulk of my career has been dedicated to designing strategy for brands in the digital context. Sometimes building brands for organisations that are facing huge amounts of pressure in keeping up with technological change; sometimes developing digital brands through campaigns and content marketing approaches. This, I guess, puts me in an OK position to define the term ‘vanity metrics’ for you.

Examples of vanity metrics are the number of people on your email list, the number of page views your website gets each week/month/year and the total number of downloads. They’re metrics that you can easily push up if you really needed to. They’re also really difficult to link to the number one goal of a strategy project. 

More on that in a few weeks. 

Example? Run a Facebook campaign to push people towards a page on your website. The more money you put into it, the more signups you will get. 

Here’s another example that might be more relatable.

Let’s say you are running a small design studio business and you’ve created a campaign to lead prospective clients to your website, with the goal of getting them to contact you for a meeting. (simple, I know, but let’s just go with it).

The single most important number you need to track to measure the success of the campaign is the number of meetings you’ve secured. 

The second most important number you need to track, to measure the success of the campaign is the number of people who have filled out the contact form on your website or called you to discuss a meeting.

That’s it. They’re the metrics that count. All the other numbers are incidental in this case. 

The number of visits to your website (page views, unique visits) in this context is a vanity metric. It looks good, it sounds good and could possibly have been manipulated to look great; but in the context of your campaign to secure meetings is irrelevant. 

Many people focus on vanity metrics (followers on Twitter, number of awards they’ve won) and don’t think about the context of that metric.

Awards — to me — are like vanity metrics.
There is always a need to celebrate an industry’s work — and an industry’s work should be celebrated. The craft, the mechanics, the fundamentals — they all deserve accolades as key contributions to great work.

The best type of celebration for industry work is that of independent parties. This is when you can prove that the work was relevant to someone. 

More focus needs to be put on work that has positive impact and is ultimately, effective.  

When it comes to the awards I’ve personally played a part in winning, I’ve felt more proud of my team than the accolade of the award itself.

They’ve never been ‘my’ awards. It’s what we did together mattered.

And when I look back at that team and consider the memories, the ups and the downs, the laughter and the tears we shared, and I recall the good people they were — the award isn’t really in the frame.


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My StoryJim Antonopoulos