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No more tall poppies: Why success is yours if you've earned it

Kiwis have traditionally shied away from celebrating their successes. But TRA marketing manager Claire Tutill says the tides are turning and we’re getting more comfortable fronting up to our wins, but only as long as it’s done with humility and backed up with proof.

There’s been plenty of chatter in our industry in recent years over the role and importance of advertising and marketing awards. So perhaps it’s an interesting time to look at whether awards align with the Kiwi mindset and our collective approach to success and recognition.

Industry awards are important for agencies looking to create some sort of distinction between themselves and the competition round the corner. But by nature they’re prone to puffery, meaning that while they have become a necessity for agencies to be involved with, the level of self-promotion that’s involved often doesn’t sit well with those writing (or reading) the entries.

Our recent work on the Kiwi Cultural Codes* found that how we talk about our success determines whether people view us favourably or not. Kiwis have no time for boastfulness or arrogance, which is where framing awards can be challenging.

One way to be more aligned with how Kiwis view success is to have runs on the board, having the results to show that your success has been earned. 

When we look at the various industry awards, they often look at either the creativity of the idea or the effectiveness and impact on business outcomes – rarely both.

If you’re in the industry, I’m sure you can think of several occasions where a sparkly idea has wowed the judges with its creativity, but not been backed up by visible results for a client. And if you spend any time in industry blog comment sections you’ll quickly get an idea of the work that is respected in the industry versus that which is not.

By and large we’re fine with agencies sticking out from the crowd as long as there’s a sense that their success has been earned. And that’s evidenced by commercial results for the client.

Campaigns that are created with the sole goal of winning awards are never going to be viewed favourably because the true value the industry places on our success is determined by commercial results, not awards. Awards are simply a nice by-product of good, effective work.

This is not to say that industry awards are not important. They are, and they help us keep the bar high, hold us accountable and keep us pushing forward for better results.

But they sit better within the industry when they authentically achieve results for the client. If we circle back to the ongoing narrative in the industry around quality and quantity of awards shows, then perhaps awards that genuinely place judging emphasis on effectiveness over creativity hold greater gravitas for clients and those in the industry. Because then at least we’ll know that the agency’s success has been earned.

It’s sometimes easy to forget that the awards process goes beyond the glitzy dinner and trophy case and must be grounded in the reality of the client’s business. Having written award entries myself (both for TRA and our clients) the learnings from the project, campaign or initiative often quickly become obvious.

Being able to take a step back and take a full picture view of a piece of work is a rare and enlightening opportunity. If we are to view awards as being about more than just the recognition, then we can take some important learnings back to our work and our clients. We bring the authenticity back to the process, making it about more than just our own success.

Industry awards generally don’t align well with Kiwi’s approach to sharing our success. But if we have the commercial results to back up our wins and take the process beyond sheer recognition we can reframe awards in a way that is more on code.

* The Kiwi Cultural Codes was a collaborative project between TRA and True.

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