This year’s D&AD festival and award show is sure to take on a bittersweet tone for outgoing CEO Tim Lindsay. He’s been in the role for eight years and has recently announced that he will be moving to a chairman role.
For Tim, who is in his 60s, he felt the time was right to step aside. “I think we have done quite well over the past eight years, we have done some really good things and we have raised D&AD’s profile, perhaps by making it more relevant to the industry,” he says. “I think it genuinely will benefit from some new ideas and impetus and someone new coming in to bring it to the next level or the next stage. It’s not that I’ve got tired of it, far from it, I love D&AD. But I genuinely think now, from, relatively speaking a good position, it’s a good time to make a change. I’d rather exit on a high.”
Looking back on his proudest achievements, Tim believes that under his tenure the team has ‘retained and perhaps even enhanced’ the D&AD Award’s prestige and integrity. “I know that sounds like a very pompous thing to say – because it probably is – but these things are by far our most valuable assets and once you give them away you can never get them back.”
Aside from shepherding the reputation of the awards, Tim says the launch of the festival and the introduction of the D&AD Impact award, which celebrates work that creates positive change, are initiatives that have brought the brand forward. But, speaking personally, he says that the introduction of D&AD Shift, a 12 week night school programme designed for people with talent but without qualifications and connections to the ad industry is the thing he’s proudest of. With five cohorts having passed through Shift, 140 students have been through the scheme and 70% have found gainful employment in the creative industries. He says that the scope and scale of Shift is still relatively small but he hopes to see it grow in the future.
The past few years have been indubitably challenging for ad industry awards with shrinking budgets and stunts like the Publicis award strike. Tim believe vehemently in the role a show like D&AD plays in the industry – an argument one suspect he’s had to put forth many times recently.
“I think they’re a spur to innovation and risk taking; I think that’s a good thing. I think they’re a very, very powerful tool for recruitment and retention. They’re a useful tool for keeping score for agencies and clients and they’re a way of getting attention if you’re an individual in the industry or a new company trying to make a name, I think all these things and many more are important services that the awards industry provides for the advertising and design industries. And on top of that, the not for profit ones put the money back in in terms of educating and giving people the skills they need to prosper – in our case we’ve got New Blood which brings talent into the industry and things like Shift which help positively impact what is a very white and middle class industry.”
Nonetheless, Tim is not blind to the challenges and criticisms that the awards industry faces. Inevitably the ‘s’ word pops up – scam – and as well as the murkier, scam-ish work that has proliferated in the age of PR when lack of media spend alone is no longer enough to disqualify certain pieces of work.
“There are some things that are wrong with the awards industry and one of them is clearly that scam. It has been, and probably still, is an issue. I think it’s much less of an issue than it used to be because we require that people sign an affidavit that it conforms to four basic . Pretty much all work now conforms to the letter of the law but some of it still breaks the spirit of it,” he says.
As a spin off, there’s also the question of charity work. While it can be an opportunity for agencies to make a difference in society, pro bono work in particular can be difficult to parse. Selfless creativity in service of a bigger cause, or awards season fodder with the freedom that comes from a not-entirely-paying client. “That that’s kind of not what awards are really for,” says Tim of the jury-friendly charity work purpose built for award shows. “What they [award shows] are for is to reward good work that people have seen and is commercially available in a real way. It’s why it’s always a joy when something as big, bad, and beautiful as Tide wins a Black Pencil. It’s an ad for a detergent, albeit a brilliant one. Award shows should and do award work that has actually had an effect on people’s lives.”
Another challenge an awards show like D&AD faces is the balancing act that comes around the question of categories. As the work – and the way we think about work – evolves, there’s no doubt that the award categories need to keep up with the times. However, thoughtless proliferation can create confusion and introduce unnecessary complexity.
“We obviously want to reflect the reality of the landscape and we want to stimulate as well as celebrate creative thinking in a very broad range of places,” says Tim, pointing to categories like Media and PR, which D&AD introduced three years ago. “There are things that are right because they reflect the realities of the landscape and there are things that are just greedy.”
Such as? Well, healthcare and pharma. Tim says he understands why some shows, like Cannes, have entered into this lucrative area, but he’s confident that D&AD will not. “I can say confidently that we wouldn’t have healthcare categories because we would need to compromise our judging criteria to accommodate that.”
Looking forward to the coming week, Tim is ready to make the most of his final year at the helm and he’s keenly aware of the aspects of the job that he’s going to miss – though as the chairman he won’t be stepping away completely.
“I love it. I love presenting the awards at the ceremony. My job is having interesting conversations with nice people about interesting stuff,” he says. “And I think our community has got a lot of good will and camaraderie. It competes fiercely but I think it’s a very, very enjoyable industry to be part of - and at something like the festival all the good stuff comes bubbling to the surface.
“I’ll be sad that it will be my last one as CEO… but I’ll be around.”
The D&AD Festival returns to the Truman Brewery 21 - 23 May 2019 and tickets are still available via the D&AD website www.dandad.org