Well, it’s been a quiet week here at the Always Be Content homestead.
We picked up a gong for 'most innovative communication' for a film we made for a major Scottish client. We were also nominated at the UK Content Awards in London for the same business. Over in New York, we're finalists in the content category of the global B2B Awards for a household name UK brand.
Would I like to win these awards? Absolutely.
Would I be gutted not to win? Not really.
I may be mildly disappointed, more for the clients than me, as I have lost at plenty of better award schemes in the past.
I wasn't always this ambivalent, though.
Early in my career, I saw creative awards shows as exciting, glittering, glamorous affairs. It was an illusion perhaps fostered by the level of alcohol we used to ingest as much as by starry-eyed naiveté.
The award for misplaced optimism goes to…
Back then, the whole idea of awards seemed important too – to the industry and to individual careers.
At least we thought so in the early 90s when my original business partners and I set up Smarts, one of the UK’s first integrated agencies.
After our first year in business, we were pretty pleased to gain eight nominations in The Roses Awards. This is a long-running UK creative awards scheme based in Manchester for the best work from outside London.
It may seem small potatoes to you. But, at the time, it felt like a lorry-load of McCain Oven Chips to our fledgling business.
"Imagine," we said to ourselves, "winning 8 awards."
"That would be amazing."
"Yeah… or seven."
"Seven awards would be magic."
"Six. Six would be great."
"Yeah. Five. Five would be good."
"Even four. That would be OK."
So, we headed to the awards night in black tie, making the tactical error of ordering champagne for our table at the start of the evening.
In the event, we won no awards.
Zero. Zip. None. Nada.
And, in five of our categories, no awards were given. The high and mighty judges deemed that no work in those categories cleared the imaginary bar of creative quality which only they could calibrate.
To rub salt (and perhaps spice) into the wound, our sexy creative work for the launch of a European condom brand was beaten by… packaging for the Co-op's own-brand Tandoori Chicken Ready Meal.
Fate did not smile upon us. But the gods of creativity must have pissed themselves laughing.
The award for alcoholic poisoning goes to…
Anyway, we drowned our sorrows with champagne and beer. Lots of.
Later that night, tired and emotional in the lounge bar, one of my business partners lay down to rest on a sofa. Being a tidy type, he had taken off his shoes and placed them neatly on the floor by the couch.
When we came to rouse him, some scallywags had made off with his footwear. We retrieved one of his shoes from a bunch of young Mancunian creative scamps. But, short of a punch-up, we couldn't get anyone else to own up to the great shoe robbery.
The next day dawned blearily, of course.
One of our team offered to drive us home over the Pennines in his sports car. So, we went home from the awards, sadly empty-handed. On the rollercoaster road through Wordsworth country, we felt our digestive systems would soon be empty too. Turning green as the hillsides, we had to stop for a hair-of-the-dog. That’s how we found ourselves in a rowing boat on Lake Windermere – letting the beauty of the landscape and the gentle rocking of the boat soothe our bruised egos and sensitive stomachs.
I've never really felt the same about awards since. Funny that.
The award for form-filling goes to…
Even so, we're living in an age where the marketing landscape is wildly over-supplied with creative and martech – and still seriously short of common-sense and talent. And, as long as procurement remains the faux-rational way to choose an agency, awards can be a simple way to tick a few boxes.
So, awards, yay.
Not counting my primary school swimming certificates, I reckon I've picked up over 100 professional awards of all sorts. So it's possible I'm a bit blasé.
But I'm not the only one who blows hot and cold on awards.
The legendary New York adman George Lois was also famously acerbic on the subject of ad awards.
The award for taking things too seriously goes to…
A handsome devil in his day, George Lois is said to be the model for 'Madmen' hero, Don Draper – though Lois was an art director and Draper does spelling and grammar.
Lois started his career in the glory days at Doyle Dane Bernbach when advertising’s greatest art director Helmut Krone and writer Julian Koenig were building the breakthrough Volkswagen campaign. Lois then joined Krone and Koenig at their 60s start-up where he created 'When you got it, flaunt it' for Braniff Airlines – as well as later heralding the age of the music video with 'I want my MTV'.
(Lois is perhaps even more famous for his magazine covers. For Esquire, Lois designed enduring images such as Muhammad Ali as Saint Stephen and Andy Warhol drowning in a can of Campbell's Tomato Soup.)
Unflinching in his commitment to an advertising idea, he once climbed out of a client's high-rise office window and threatened to jump if the client didn't approve his campaign.
Lois’ advice for creatives is similarly bold or barmy, take your pick.
"Ads should be poison gas," he asserts. Eye-watering and entertaining in equal measure, it's a mindset which makes account folk and clients head for the window ledge too.
But if you like your marketing with a bit of maverick flair, check out his writing. Lois' book "$ellebrity" on wrangling ad endorsements from the famous and the recent Phaidon pocket edition of "Damn Good Advice – for people with talent" are fascinating and funny.
On the topic of awards, he was equally forthright.
At a college talk, a student once asked him:
"Mr Lois, are awards important? Or are they just a wank?"
"No," replied Lois. "They’re an important wank."
The award for winning with dignity and courtesy goes to…
So, as the awards season rolls on, here's some damn good advice, especially for young people and anyone who feels awards are still important.
Enjoy winning, but not too much. If you’re high-fiving yourselves like you just brought peace to the Middle East, people may suspect your sense of perspective.
If you lose, it doesn't matter, much.
Be gracious in victory and generous in defeat, if you can.
(Try not to blather over the speeches either. Without exception, among all the most genuinely talented creative people I've known, courtesy seems a common trait.)
Above all, win or lose, always be content.
And as long as you can keep your shoes on, you can count the night well spent.
Pete Martin is responsible for content strategy at Always Be Content