FiveFifty is an award-winning media agency. Now, we won’t lie: it feels really good to win recognition. Awards also create some time and space for us to validate our work. They’re a chance to compare ourselves to other agencies and compete head-to-head to see which campaigns/companies are the best in their category. Even though we don’t do a ton of submissions, we have won top awards from a bunch of incredible organizations, including Digiday, the Business Marketing Association, the American Marketing Association, Colorado Companies to Watch, etc. etc. We are grateful for these awards and proud to be associated with the organizations that granted them to us.
That said, how awards should impact your agency selection process is a pretty nuanced issue. The first thing you need to understand about awards is that “industry recognition” is an industry itself. For example, one of the major advertising holding companies pulled out of the prestigious Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in a recent year. Although they made a big deal about cutting back their involvement in the event, the same organization still sent nearly 90 staff and submitted 400 campaigns for prize consideration that year. A festival pass for the 5-day event costs more than $3000 per person. Each campaign submission costs between $500-$1500. That means the total cost of attendance for the agency – one that publicly claimed to be severely limiting their participation during this time – was still in excess of $600k.
Why would a holding company or agency invest so significantly in winning an award? There are two main reasons. First, it feels great to win. Second, clients love to work with award-winning agencies. That’s an extreme example, but some companies really do chase after awards as their primary way to build a reputation. Does it mean that their work was really better than other agencies that invested less in submitting to the competition? That is the right question.
The second thing to think about when it comes to awards is perhaps best summarized by Oprah Winfrey, who once declared, “I can honestly say that I’m not a person who thinks about awards, as much as I think about the work itself.” This is the right mentality. An agency should be focused on doing high-impact work for their clients, not just about work that might beef up their resume or position them well for another award. It should be about solving your problems, specifically. If an agency happens to get something else nice out of it, then great. If not, the campaign goals were still achieved and that should be celebrated with an unwavering level of enthusiasm.
Don’t just rely on an agency’s glitzy awards to determine how successful they have been. Ask a past client or two what their experience has been. That’s the real measure of excellence.