Can DDB’s Kassaei turn back the awards tide?

There’s a fierce rivalry between WPP and Omnicom (as you may have noticed) and the most visible stage for it in recent years has been the battle for creative awards, most notably at the Cannes International Festival of Creativity.

Recently the Network of the Year award has gone to WPP’s Ogilvy & Mather, unseating Omnicom’s BBDO, which still wins most other such baubles. WPP has been the Cannes Network of the Year ever since the award was instituted, possibly at WPP’s behest. As the biggest marcoms company it bloody well should win it, of course.

Now the CCO of another famous Omnicom network, Amir Kassaei of DDB (below), has upped the ante – threatening to pull out of some awards or, at least, reduce DDB’s number of entries. Kassaei has previously accused WPP media agencies of skullduggery in the Cannes media awards.

Which certainly won’t be music to the ears of Cannes operator Ascential (formerly Top Right Group and, before that, EMAP) which is planning an £800m IPO next month.

Kassaei says that winning awards only means that “you are good at winning awards,” not that you’re the best agency. There’s probably some truth in this. What’s undeniable is that the cost of putting on a good show in the major awards is going up and up. Ogilvy is said by some to have spent $10m on its presence at Cannes two years ago. That may be another reason for Kassaei’s disenchantment.

But winning awards undoubtedly helps some agencies – adam&eveDDB in the UK (Cannes Agency of the Year in 2014) has certainly used its successes to boost its new business performance. DDB elsewhere, as its rivals will gleefully point out, has not performed as strongly.

So are Kassaei’s various complaints justified or just sour grapes? Ad awards used to be about distinguished practitioners awarding outstanding work. This was judged on craft terms – the assumption being that well-crafted advertising did the job better than stuff that wasn’t.

It’s much more complicated than that these days, with all sorts of (possibly spurious) submissions along with the craft element. That could be changed. And organisers could place a limit on how many submissions one agency or network could make. That would certainly make overall rankings fairer (and pigs might fly, of course).

And submitting ads that only run to qualify for an award should be more harshly treated. Maybe with an outright ban (those pigs again..).

So it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen does it? But we’ll see what Kassaei, DDB and, indeed, Omnicom come up with.

Oh, hang on a minute, what about clients? It’s their money – ultimately – after all. The assumption has always been that clients find awards a useful way of judging and selecting the agencies they want. They certainly seem to turn up in large number to events like Cannes. But do they really? Perhaps a client or two will enlighten us.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

One comment

  1. More than anything else, I’m hearing agencies complain that there is little (if any) correlation between their winning metal and their ability to win or hold on to business.