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And the Winner Is… Raising the Bar for Award-Worthy Work Post-Covid


INFLUENCER: Red Havas' Lesley Sillaman on how Covid-19 has altered the why and the how of the awards show landscape permanently

And the Winner Is… Raising the Bar for Award-Worthy Work Post-Covid

Along with nearly every other aspect of our lives, this year’s communications awards season has been dramatically altered because of Covid-19. Event organisers across the globe have worked tirelessly to adapt to a constantly changing situation, attempting to honour the work that had been concluded and submitted prior to the pandemic while recognising that the landscape has been altered. Media organisations and awards show and festival organisers have had to walk a tightrope of trying to maintain the many benefits that physical events provide—including networking, learning, collaboration, and of course recognition for the best work—while operating within the reality of shelter-in-place orders and disappearing award budgets. There have been cancellations (Cannes, The One Show, London International Awards), postponements (UK’s PRmoment Awards), and virtual events (the North America and EMEA Sabre Awards, PRWeek U.S. Awards, Ad Age A-List). But that’s not news at this point. What is more significant is the way Covid-19 has altered the why and the how of the awards show landscape permanently - changing the way we look at communications and campaigns for the long term.

Are Awards Still Relevant?

Yes, of course (who doesn’t love a winner?), but with nuances. Awards shows have always included more-than-healthy doses of ego, and those will appropriately be shelved for quite some time. As the organisers of the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity said in a statement when cancelling: “… it has become clear to us our customers’ priorities have shifted to the need to protect people, to serve consumers with essential items and to focus on preserving companies, society and economies.” Event organisers have smartly read the room when it comes to priorities and have provided options to their customers to focus on the immediate pressures they are facing.

But awards shows and festivals are more than just vanity. They are an opportunity for the industry to listen and learn from one another and to celebrate the best work from around the world. They spark creativity and collaboration. Some of the best campaigns and programmes are built from a seed planted at an awards show, and many attendees have benefited professionally from the contacts and relationships forged during these events. Cannes leaned into this by rebranding the week that would have been the in-person festival as “LIONS Live” and hosted a week of digital content free to the public. Participants could join various sessions and learning modules from some of the best creative minds in the world, preserving the spirit of the festival. In the future, look for a hybrid model that continues to offer pumped-up digital content free and accessible to all—while still recognising the great work of the nominees and winners.

What Will Jurors Be Looking For?

Nominees for the majority of the work being viewed at the 2020 shows took place last year, but we can’t ignore that the judging is taking place post-Covid. Even the most neutral juror can’t ignore the situation the world is facing when critiquing work. We have all inevitably changed, and the way we view communications has, too. This isn’t to say that work needs to have some connection to the pandemic to be recognised, but rather that the communications principles that have shone through as best practices during this time have emerged as north stars for the modern, fresh thinking that will carry us into the future. A few key principles that stand out are:

Creativity: Creativity has always been heralded as the “first among equals” when reviewing award-worthy work. What has changed is the meaning of creativity. Truly creative work has always been driven by the insights and the idea but—now more than ever—needs to be set within the context of society. Throughout Covid, we have seen examples of companies quickly changing strategy to produce new products, services and communications tools to help audiences cope. Look for this strategic creativity to win big in 2021.

Empathy: Audiences have always wanted to feel like a brand truly understands them, and this is critical in the post-Covidlandscape. People want to be sure that brands are speaking to them where they are—and with an understanding of the lives they are living—versus simply providing products and services they need. Brands that will win need to understand the journey, the physical and emotional spaces their audience is in, and internalise that in the way they communicate with their customers. Look for CEO brands and work that demonstrates strong leadership communications to rise in importance.

Connectedness: Despite the difficulty of the past six months, there is a feeling of togetherness—of connectedness and commonality for the struggle we’ve all undertaken. Brands that provide platforms for customers to engage directly with the brand and with one another will have the strongest campaigns with staying power. During Covid, we have seen a return to more simplistic social tactics, and to brands using their platforms for good, to share health and safety messages and to ease consumer and community concerns by sharing credible tips. Smart brands will continue to use their platforms to talk with audiences, rather than at them, for maximum impact and success.

Much has been written about 'the new normal', although no one is certain about what that means right now. One thing that is clear: The communications profession has a tremendous responsibility to lead, demonstrating value through providing sober and critical information dissemination, as well as through showcasing moments of levity and humanity.

A Broader Perspective for a Post-Covid World

The global pandemic and the racial injustice crisis in the United States have both created new opportunities for brands to communicate through action and increased engagement with customers and the public. People are no longer content to hear from brands about products and services alone, but rather are demanding to know more about a brand’s purpose and leadership. Brands have been forced to rethink who their target audiences really are in a borderless digital world that allows for and necessitates communication to everyone at once, versus in siloed, targeted channels. In the future, brands and agencies will need to showcase campaigns and work that engaged their target audience authentically and differently, with results that not only impact the brand but also demonstrate lasting change at the industry or even society level.

Lesley Sillaman is SVP global at Red Havas

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Havas North America, Fri, 24 Jul 2020 10:06:59 GMT