PRWeek's awards show that it's impossible to measure creativity without effectiveness
How many people missed last year's tragic demise of the relationship between Barbie and her plastic paramour, Ken?
Not too many would be my guess, and the campaign's Product Brand Development category win at last Thursday's PRWeek Awards bears this out.
During the judging process, the campaign was praised for its creativity and the fame it achieved. Before reading the detailed entry, it first looked as though the whole campaign was basically one press conference - albeit a fun and memorable one, as that was the part that everyone noticed. But like all winning entries in this year's awards - and every year's - it was the clearly stated objectives, followed by the proof of achievement, that resonated and made it a bona fide campaign. The combination of creativity and effectiveness set it apart from garden-variety stunts.
If PRWeek's awards, like many advertising awards, rewarded pure creativity, then this campaign probably would still have done well. But it seems somewhat ludicrous to talk about PR without talking about results; execution is nothing without strategy.
Advertising-awards programs tend to fall into either the "creativity" or "effectiveness" brackets, although there is some blurring between them. Kevin Roddy, the executive creative director at BBH, an advertising agency known for its exquisite and often offbeat creativity, says that even when he's judging a program, such as the One Show (where a win will make you a creative superstar), he still finds it very hard to judge creativity by itself. He recalls seeing a campaign whose execution was outstanding, "but then," he told me, "I looked at the client that the work was for, and thought, 'Is this the right thing to be doing?' There's an internal struggle - I'm not being asked to judge [effectiveness], but the other part of me says that great work is a combination of great creativity and provable effectiveness."
The EFFIE Awards, run by the American Marketing Association (AMA), approach the equation from the other side. During the first round of judging, judges don't even get to see the creative work, just the "case brief." For a campaign to win an EFFIE, it has to combine all the disciplines that the AMA says make a successful marketing program - planning, market research, media, creative, and account management.
As marketing disciplines become less siloed and integration starts to truly mean something, the concept of creativity residing in a vacuum is increasingly unthinkable. In the ad world, there is a grubby practice that occasionally is uncovered at the highest of the highbrow creative awards, such as Cannes, in which a creative team will think of a surefire creative award-winning ad that does little or nothing for the brand, persuade the client to run it once, obscurely, in order to meet the entry criteria, and then scoop the trophies. Such a practice is, of course, unlikely in PR, where a stunt that does nothing for the brand is normally deemed a flop.
But the thing that really makes an awards program is not just the work; it's the judges - PRWeek knows this well. And when you have the executive creative director of an agency so well-renowned for its creativity finding himself unable to applaud work unless it, well, works, then maybe more awards programs reward effectiveness than we would at first think. And thank you again to all our judges, who recognized the powerful balance of gut creativity and thoughtful strategy.