Monday, December 31, 2007

Brand Immersion: Facilitating Innovation and Inspiration

Some months ago I served as moderator for a board meeting of an industry club. Truth be told, I'm not a very good moderator because I've got an axe to grind. But more about that in a minute.

The objective for the evening was to come up with a positioning line. But there was little agreement as to whether this line was for the club or the award show that fuels the clubs coffers. I've been a member of several industry clubs and actively involved with award shows for the past decade. During that time a few things have become clear...

1. Every club's show is number 3 or 4 behind Cannes and the One Show.
2. Every club's show is the most pure, the least political, and the best judged.
3. All clubs rely on their shows to provide the money that funds all of their other endeavors.

It's that third point that gets my brain boiling. The pressure on award shows to be the primary revenue engine for a club is likely to compromise the process of judging and awarding the best work. There's got to be a better model for running a club and there's most certainly a better way to award the work that inspires us to innovate.

In the best possible sense, award shows are about recognizing talented people and good work. For the people who make the work that gets entered, shows hold the promise of a golden career ticket; a way to gather fame, get noticed and move forward in one's career. For agencies they are about counting and collecting hardware - bragging rights. And for the folks who run creative departments they are both a scouting report and an editorial review board that points out talent.

Not so bad really, but then there is the cold hard reality. To make money, shows have to get lots of people to enter lots of work. To maximize entries, shows have loads of categories and that often puts pressure on judges to pass out loads of awards. A good deal of good work gets awarded but inevitably there's some head scratchers. The ones that makes you ask "why did that win?"

And of the one big winner, well that's announced some time in the early spring and often goes on to sweep the shows through the summer season ending when the industry takes its annual vacation on the Cotes D' Azure.

How fantastic that we all agree on what work is the best. But then what constitutes best? During the judging of one show that I was privileged to participate in, one of the judges stopped the proceedings as the grand prize was being debated and asked "What is it that we are awarding?" She questioned whether the purpose of an award was to take a look back in history, judge by standards set eons ago and come up with the best of what has been. Or whether the winning entry should be work that best points to the future.

In the end, the judges fell back into awarding the best of what had been - a fantastically crafted television spot that did indeed go on to sweep the season. In the backward looking, I wondered, "what does this say about inspiration or innovation or carving out a path for the future?"

My friend Paul Lavoie tells his creative folks that an annual is not a manual - look outside for inspiration, look to life to be inspired - not to the past winners of shows.

Let's start with the club.

A club is a community where like-minded or like-skilled people gather for the purposes of networking, learning, and support. But most of these clubs no longer have spaces in which the kind of casual gatherings and spontaneous meetings can occur. Perhaps they make up for that with programming or events? But what of these events? Are they providing opportunities for the membership? Are they inspired or inspiring? Are they shining a light on the future of an industry who's future is commonly called into question?

As I tried to facilitate this session where answers to some of these questions were explored I came away more convinced than ever that the crux of the problem may be the source of revenue. The show itself.

Shows and clubs should and could provide a far more interesting and useful purpose. What if clubs were the nexus inspiration and facilitation of talent and innovation. And what if the purpose of shows was provocation and recognition of the people and work that could point us all in the direction of the future?

Much of this might happen if we took a look at the revenue model upon which a club's life depends. If clubs were supported by their membership, by the product of their thought leadership and the people and companies who wanted access to them, then we'd be able to reduce or eliminate the requirement that award shows have to generate money.

I write this as a challenge to myself and my fellow board members at the ADC, and my colleagues at The Advertising Club. Its time for a change. Our industry needs it and our members need it.

In the coming months I'll follow this post with the progress we hope to make at the ADC.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Brand Immersion: Sign of the times

How to Work Better

Swiss artists Peter Fischli (b1952) and David Weiss (b1946) have, since the late 1970s, captivated and amused audiences with their extraordinary transformations of the commonplace. I particularly like this use of space, transforming a surface of an office building into refreshingly sensible insight.

Thanks to PSFK for bringing this to my attention.

Can Your Film Change the World?

Make a film.
Share it with the world. (submit by Feb 15, 2008).
Change the world.