Friday, May 11, 2007

Thoughts on PR Awards

Well, the IABC Toronto PR Awards were handed out this past Tuesday and I have to give it a great big A … for Absenteeism! What has happened to our industry? If the awards show was to honour the best of the best and be inclusive of the work from Toronto PR agencies, then we are a bunch of insular, apathetic, “who-gives-a-crap about awards” community. Tuesday was a reflection of that attitude and it was really sad to see.

Sorry for the mudslinging, but we should all be embarrassed if these PR awards are to be a shining example of our work, our profession or our people. The awards night fell short on its potential on so many levels (I won’t get into the venue or logistics cuz that is a separate blog altogether!). I’m referring to the quality of entries, the firms who participated, and the level of sponsorship - or rather the lack thereof.

Let me first point out this isn’t a “sour grapes” posting - anything but. MAVERICK took home a nice haul of awards including one big prize for media relations over $50K budget and three Awards of Merit in media relations under $50k. We are also a sponsor of the MAVERICK Student Award, into which we contribute thousands of sponsorship dollars each year. MAVERICK does its part and will continue to do so in the future. But where the heck is everyone else?

Nobody seems to care about these awards (or any other PR award shows) outside of a handful of independent PR firms, a few banks and maybe one public sector entity. That said, maybe the organizers should rename it the IABC Indie Awards. The big multinationals seem to have completely ignored what many of us believe is essential to the industry: awards and peer recognition. This show received only about 100 entries. In a city like ours, how pathetic is that?

Throughout the evening I kept on hearing the same firms win their trophies: … Apex … Apex … Strategic Objectives … Apex … MAVERICK … … Cohn & Wolfe, (wait a minute, how did that big multinational get in?) Environics … Strategic Objectives … Peel Region (they always get in there for a few) … Apex. You get my drift. By the way, please print out this paragraph and bring it to the next awards show. Should be about the same lineup of winners for next year.

So here is my personal and professional plea to all the “other” agencies: Enter awards, be proud of our industry and, moreover be proud of your own work and your clients. We compete against each other daily on RFPs, so why can’t we compete collectively for awards? Let’s make PR awards really worthy of earning one by having a real and honest competition inclusive of as many firms as possible and not the same old band of independents who dominate awards entries. These shows are getting tiresome and boring. What’s truly heartbreaking is that the value of these awards has been diminished by a lack of support from large agencies and their corporate clients.

I welcome the competition with open arms. C’mon, we’re waiting!


Alan Chumley said...

Here, here.

On a (only slightly) related note, I wonder if the categories of the awards themselves do the industry a bit of a disservice. Despite the fact that there is clearly some very creative and excellent work out there, do we not run the risk of trivializing / marginalizing the true breadth and depth of what communications (in all its forms) can and should do by trying to round hole / square peg into exclusive categories? We know we're better than the simple marcom puffery tactics of yore and yester year for which we receive criticism from others outside our industry. Of course, I'm exaggerating for effect, but where are categories that account for excellence in all-encompassing, complex, multi-layered, on-going stakeholder engagement plans?

Are we communicators or publicists?

If we want to rise to the strategic occasion, let's incent the behaviour with the right kind of awards.

Pat McNamara, APEX Public Relations said...

While I totally agree with your comment that we need to encourage more entries to all of the PR award programs, I think your argument is somewhat flawed.

Just because a number of the independent agencies won the awards, doesn't mean the multi-nationals didn't submit. For example, Cohn & Wolfe, Hill & Knowlton and Fleishman-Hillard all won at the CPRS ACE awards, which means they are participating.

Did you consider that the reason the independent agencies won was because they submitted the best work?

I also disagree with your reference to the quality of the work. Having been a judge this year and in the past I think the quality of the work and the submissions has increased substantially. And I've heard the same comment from many other judges.

Your inference that these awards can't be taken seriously unless the multi-nationals participate (and win?) is, to use your own words, "pathetic". It makes it sound like we're incapable of playing in the same league.

The independent agencies in Canada are a force to be reckoned with. As you know agencies like yours and mine count a number of high profile, Fortune 500 clients on our roster. In fact, some of the independents in Canada are bigger than the multi-nationals. I may be biased, but I think we are the "best of the best" in many instances.

Really, what difference does it make if you are an independent or a multi-national, as long as we're delivering great quality work.

Finally, I think your plea for more participation should also reach out to other corporations, government and non-profit organizations. These are awards for the PR industry, not just for agencies.

As for sponsorship, where the heck are all the suppliers that we all use on a regular basis -- there are some strong supporters, e.g. NewsCanada and CNW, but others should be stepping up.

Hey -- maybe you should volunteer to organize next year! I'm sure you would do a fabulous job.

Julie Rusciolelli said...

Pat, appreciate your comments and congrats to you and your team for such inspiring campaign wins at last week’s awards show. Yes, other industries should be competing for awards including multinationals, not for profit, government and corporate Canada, not just independents. The perception is that only independents chase the prizes and dominate the shows for our “formula” based entries that appeal to judges.

My point is this …. are these PR award shows really inclusive of all the great PR campaigns being unleashed in Canada? The answer is no. The quality of some of the winning campaigns last week just doesn’t measure up to some of campaigns I’ve seen in the market. Four huge PR campaigns come to mind and none of them were honored including the launch of fashion label George by Wal-Mart; the United Church of Canada’s provocative PR campaign and WonderCafe, RIM’s Blackberry Pearl launch with a mega whisper campaign prior and perhaps what is a defining moment for the PR industry was the Dove Evolution campaign where a plain Jane woman morphs before our very eyes and turns into a supermodel. That campaign will re-write PR textbooks everywhere for its use of social media (YouTube) and how that campaign entered the social consciousness of the masses. The Dove campaign is a PR coup and I can’t think of any other company or product that received more worldwide press attention than that Canadian campaign.

Are you telling me that a tea bag launch or a bank campaign, that most of us have never read about, received more and better quality coverage than the Dove campaign? I hardly think so. I was born with a huge humility gene and I believe there are better and stronger PR campaigns out there than some of those we saw win last week.

We need to spread the gospel and encourage everyone to participate and make these awards more meaningful. Otherwise, we’re just playing with ourselves.

As for IABC, I have sent the organizers a two page recommendation sheet for next year. If they want my opinion, they know where to find and read me.

Christine Smith said...

I recently helped produce a CPRS award-winning submission for RBC and know, firsthand, how much time and effort it takes to produce an outstanding entry. Perhaps that's one of the barriers to why some organizations don't submit: just can' allocate the human resources to write the entry.

Anonymous said...

Maybe because companies like yours have no ethics these days (see illegal Audi TT ads in downtown Toronto)

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the reason for lack of interest is that deep down everyone knows that it’s an industry based on banal and contrived fabrications. An award for what? Literary achievement? Artistic vision?

If it is true that a thousand monkeys typing for a thousand years can produce a Shakespeare play, then it should take one chimp typing for 30 minutes to produce a PR message.