I Run an Ad Awards Show. They’re Imperfect, but Vital in Creativity’s War Against Mediocrity

The CEO of D&AD responds to Publicis' awards ban

Tim Lindsay is CEO of London-based advertising awards show D&AD. Photo courtesy of D&AD

Publicis Groupe’s withdrawal from all awards shows for the next 12 months raises some interesting issues about the shows themselves: Are we too big, too greedy, not properly reflective of the industry, inaccessible? Are we still for the creative community that creates the magic and the value in our business? Are we a force for good in the 21st century communications economy?

These are all valid questions that need to be responsibly considered.

Of course, some of this applies more directly to Cannes Lions than it does to the not-for-profit shows; the ones like D&AD (of which I am CEO), the One Club and others that put their surpluses back into the industry in an effort to develop talent, promote real excellence and address big industry issues like lack of diversity and poor gender balance.

"[Cannes] has to chase the money. And the money is now disproportionately in the hands of the technology companies, the ad-tech firms and the big consultancies."
Tim Lindsay, CEO, D&AD

To be fair, Cannes does some of this stuff too. But it’s a publicly listed company and has to increase its profits every year for its shareholders and executives. It has to chase the money. And the money is now disproportionately in the hands of the technology companies, the ad-tech firms and the big consultancies. You can see them dominating the beach. They’re the reason that large parts of the creative community feel that Cannes is no longer for them.

And this is where the bigger issue arising out of this fascinating kerfuffle lies. It’s the conflict that appears to some to exist between the forces of technology and all that it drives; and creativity and craft—very neatly symbolized by Publicis Groupe’s planned AI platform, Marcel, and the creative community’s (mostly) disappointed reaction to it and what it signifies.

Because here’s the thing: Tech advances have been of immense benefit to our business, even as they precipitated great change. They have changed the way we live our lives in almost every respect and created new and valuable experiences. But in our world, they’re also principally about distribution, enablement and analytics.

"Brilliant ideas beautifully executed will always create better outcomes."
Tim Lindsay, CEO, D&AD

A semi-automated, leaden-footed pop-up ad that chases us around the internet because its perpetrators have harvested our social data is still a piece of crap, however cleverly it’s been targeted and bought. And there’s a lot of it out there. Craft and creativity are as important now as they’ve always been, perhaps more so. Brilliant ideas beautifully executed will always create better outcomes.

And that, folks, is why awards shows matter and why Publicis Groupe is, with respect, making a mistake.

Awards shows challenge and stimulate the industry to do better. They set a bar and a standard. They reward and motivate creative people. They help brilliant new companies break through and brilliant new talents make their name. They are an effective marketing tool. They provide a crucial metric for our business and for our clients. They drive effectiveness. They preserve great work for posterity in order to inspire future generations. They encourage new talent to join our industry and help that talent prosper. They train and nurture our practitioners. In many cases they campaign for a fairer, more sustainable industry in the belief that that’s how we will serve our clients better. They encourage innovation, experimentation and risk taking. They are woven into the fabric of our industry and deliver enormous value..

We call this “stimulation, not congratulation,” because more of the former and less of the latter is probably appropriate at this interesting time.

So yes, by all means let’s take stock and perhaps even thank Publicis Groupe for causing us to pause and reflect. But let’s not throw the healthy baby out with the dirty bathwater. The war against mediocrity continues and awards have a crucial part to play.

Tim Lindsay is CEO of advertising awards show D&AD.