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We Need to Talk About Awards

Trends and Insight 0 Add to collection

Global creative director Cass Zawadowski compares the ad industry's approach to awards to that of the film industry - and there's a stark difference

We Need to Talk About Awards

Have you ever thought about how short Leonardo DiCaprio’s career would have been as an art director or writer in the advertising industry? He probably (read: definitely) wouldn’t be in the business anymore. After all, he only just won his first Oscar (i.e. Lion) this year, a mere 31-years after his acting career began. 

Despite this lack of recognition, Leo remained one of the top, most sought-after, and best actors in all of Hollywood. In fact, it never reflected his true abilities or potential. 

A lack of awards doesn’t equate to lack of talent anywhere outside the ad industry. So why does ours, one that’s supposed to house some of the most forward-thinking people in the world, still allow this dusty philosophy to hold true? 

It’s a subjective business we work in. And yes, (I believe) opinions are always a good thing. But one, or 15 of them for that matter, shouldn’t ‘make or break’ careers. 

You may be thinking this is an interesting topic of choice, coming from someone who’s never won a Titanium or Grand-Prix or Pencil herself (don’t worry, I’m prepared for the name-calling and hate mail that will trickle my way as a result of this opinion piece). I’ve nothing to hide. My trophy shelf isn’t bustling. Sure I’ve been granted a few pretty awesome recognitions throughout the years. But while they have both excited and humbled me, I’ve never allowed them to define me. And I think that’s made all the difference. 

I always tackle every brief with the mindset of doing great work. For me, this includes: getting the brand talked about, achieving sales results, pushing the work to the top of the pop culture map. And if that happens to translate to industry recognition, fabulous. If not, hey ho, that’s fabulous, too. 

I think we miss out on great potential, great talent, great thinkers when we impose such barriers. Awards don’t automatically translate to being an inspiring leader, or a great team player, or someone capable of maintaining a client relationship. And just because someone’s won one (or two, or ten), doesn’t necessarily make them a ‘superior’ talent to any other creative. 

At the heart of it, our job as art directors and writers is to solve business problems, through one lens: creativity. Full stop. When the work translates to things like brand building or sales, that’s a true measure of success. And it’s exactly the type of thinking we need to be flooding our agencies with; or else the Googles, the Facebooks, the Instagrams of the world are going to make us obsolete. Because success to them does not equate to what’s on their award shelf. In fact, I’m pretty sure they don’t even have a damn shelf. 

I’m scared that the hiring and screening selection process in this industry is not only outdated, but it’s superficial. And that’s dangerous. 

Sometimes, awards don’t say everything we need them to say. Sometimes, they’re actually just one part of a candidate’s offering. And a lack of them doesn’t mean someone’s any less qualified to channel kickass thinking on a brand. Awards definitely mean something awesome. But they don’t mean everything. 

Let’s challenge ourselves to be more open to meeting, talking to, exploring, and working with creatives of all ‘success’ levels. 

Hey, what harm can it bring? Except some multi-faceted, well-rounded thinking. 

I don’t know, sounds like a win to me.

Cass Zawadowski is a freelance global creative director based in Hamburg

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