When reputation produced growth
Posted on April 15, 2017

Awards shows are akin to a sugar rush and have little impact on agencies’ revenue streams or reputation, argues Leo Burnett’s regional managing director Kamal Dimachkie

Today they only exist in our memories and in some of our aspirations and dreams, but there was a time when creative work built reputations that paid dividends, and agencies could cash in with new business and growth.

This is not a trip down memory lane, nor is it a sentimental indulgence, rather an attempt to decipher what went on – though few bothered to understand it, and even fewer sought to protect it. I talk about creative reputation that – at its best – could result in awards, though not the kind we boast of at the Dubai Lynx and, at times, at Cannes and a number of others. No, back then it was much more organic and much more genuine.

For those that were in the industry back then, and for those whose youth denied them such an experience, let us all remember the time when assignments, brands and clients moved agencies based on reputation. Yes, back then clients came to you as an agency because of your reputation; your philosophy, your values, and your creative prowess. And that most precious of products – work that was not really judged based on the number of awards it collected, or on the colour of metal associated with it; it was built based on a genuine connection in the marketplace and how much it permeated the public consciousness and social fabric.

Back then, ads were folklore. Children would sing them when a song was involved, the public was moved by them to purchase, and society adopted the personalities ads presented. Creativity was organic, and it often mirrored what we lived every day; it was social before the advent of social, and it would move product and produce profits. Your work as an agency spoke volumes about you and was sufficient collateral. No wonder, pitches were few and far between, and they never went beyond a creds presentation if at all. 

Let’s fast forward to today, where metal abounds and pictures of trophy-raising agency types on regional and global stages fill many a social post and publication. How short lived it all is, and how little it produces by way of growth. And while the level of polish and craft are light years ahead of work of times past, and the creativity often makes international juries’ jaws drop and raises envy (as we saw earlier this year at the Lynx), sadly the connection isn’t there. Awards, reputation and new business are a trio that often seem disconnected.

Granted, times have changed, and much has been said about the pitching frenzy through which we are living. But this isn’t about pitching; it is about a simple equation of creativity building reputation. Where the creativity is not organic and does not permeate the social fabric, reputation is at best flimsy or extremely short-lived, and the agencies’ trophy cabinets, bursting as they may be, are able to tell you very little about their new business and growth prospects.

Two markets have stood the test of time and, in so doing, prove the veracity of this hypothesis. In Egypt and Lebanon (at least for some time in the recent past), agencies (I am aware of Leo Burnett Beirut and Cairo) often won business because of their reputation and work, and less because of speculative pitching. In both instances these two agencies are famous for producing organic creative work that has been adopted by society. I am also convinced that these are not the only two examples out there (though they are the only ones I am familiar with). For the rest of us, the formula has been elusive and, awarded or not, we have been treated pretty equally by prospective clients.

As we enthusiastically feed the coffers of a growing and voracious awards industry (which previously did not exist), we seem to have lost the plot. Awards festivals and nights are akin to a sugar rush. We all want it, we crave it, we all pursue it with a vengeance, but alas, it is so short lived and has little impact on our revenue streams. Mind you, we all tout it in our credentials presentations, and we are becoming increasingly more creative in framing our achievements, little or big as they may be, so we can make a claim. Claims that are increasingly making prospects cringe and increasingly care less.

I salute every awarded piece of work for I am sure it must be deserving, even the creatively submitted entries. However, if it is reputations we are trying to build, then – just like health and fitness – there are no shortcuts. We need to produce work that engages masses, moves them, and become part of the local psyche and folklore. Only then – assuming it is award-winning – will awards become true barometers of creativity and reputation, and new business. Perhaps then we can sit back, think more of our brands, pitch less and earn our reputations.