Tell Me A Story

What I Learned Judging the Effies

I was recently offered the opportunity to join the first-round judging panel of the Effie Awards, a global event launched in 1968 by the New York American Marketing Association to honor the most effective advertising campaigns.

This was my first time judging on a panel, so the logistics of work-evaluation were a little different than the everyday kind of judgment I’m used to. That said, the rules of good story telling still apply.

Here are some specific things I learned about award show entries from the other side of the looking glass. 

State your goals upfront

The header for this section could also be “we can tell when you’re faking.” The whole point of the Effie Awards is to judge and award work that works. So you need to set out your objectives clearly and specifically. Looking for your campaign to “garner engagement” is not a worthwhile metric and your audience knows it.

The jurors I spoke with were adamant and unanimous about this point: A lack of precision and specificity in answering this section of the entry resulted in an immediate thumbs down.

The data should tell a story

Did it work? In an awards entry, you can romance the quality of the work all you want, but none of that matters if your campaign didn’t hit the metrics you were aiming for – at least at the Effies.

So here’s where data and storytelling come together: if the metrics stated in the original creative brief weren’t hit, but you learned something fascinating along the way and the work was successful by some other measures, talk about that. That’s interesting stuff.

Throughout the process, strategy, analytics, and creative should not just meet, but go out for drinks and learn each other’s dirty secrets. I was surprised by the number of entries I saw with an extremely tenuous connection between the goals and the work.

Over time, it became really clear when analytics was an afterthought or when the strategy and creative teams had barely had a first date. This does not make for good work, or a good story.

Passion – and spelling – counts

Juries are looking at a million entries. And even if it’s just a dozen at a time, it feels like a million. We have no special reason to love the work. But you do. So, give your entry some love.

If you don’t care enough about the entry itself to keep me engaged, to tell a good story, and for goodness sake, to just proofread the thing, then no one else will care either.

Make me feel special

This isn’t about buttering up the jury pool. Instead, it’s about attention to detail in what you’re delivering.

I know most people will make one reel and send it around to all the shows. But it’s important to know what each entry is asking for. If you craft your entry specifically for each show you’re entering, juries will appreciate the effort.

For example, the Effie Awards ask that the creative reel showcase as many examples of the work as possible. Results are not allowed in this section, and a fluffy preamble is discouraged – just show the work. Show it, show it in the wild, show reactions to it, and show more of it.

Despite this, everyone on the jury saw a number of entries that just “cut and paste” their entry reel from other shows without regard to the specifics of the request. Which, in a lot of cases, just wasted time. (Frustrating because of all those millions of entries I mentioned earlier.) The point is: no matter how hot your reel is, if it doesn’t answer the right questions, it won’t sizzle.

After the session, I sat down with a few of the other jurors. Because the entries were randomized, we didn’t all judge the same work. But we did talk in generalities about the work we saw.

One thing I realized is that long-time jurors and panelists are harsher critics than newbies. My guess is that your standards get higher with every entry you see. Though I’m leaving room for the possibility that sitting safely behind a monitor, fueled by tiny donuts and anonymity can eventually go to your head. Either way, anything run-of-the-mill or merely ‘good’ wasn’t making the cut.

There was a lively discussion about the difference between cleverness and innovation. The definition of each was not clear or agreed upon, but I can tell you that the response to cleverness was lukewarm, whereas innovation was coveted.

Doing something unexpected – whether it’s in the measurement, the strategic insight, the work itself, or even in the media placement – woke people up and inspired positive responses across the board.

In my opinion, most entries showed good work. But the ones that got my vote were the ones that took the entry process seriously. Just like any campaign you’d put out into the world, sell it to me like you want me to buy it. Because a good story gets me every time. 

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