Learn from a winner. Jari Lähdevuori, partner at Kurio, explains why awards shows matter, and shares his expertise on crafting a winning entry.

“All you ever do is awards shows.”

The ubiquitous comment from friends who are not working in the industry.

Always I correct them. Yet always I love what’s hidden in that incorrect statement. It works as a good reminder of the special traits of the ad land, the creative complex.

Having just been on two juries and a panel about awards shows, I wanted to share some thoughts with regard to this unique part of the work in our industry.

These thoughts are wrapped in a framework we’ve developed at our agency Kurio. They stem from crafting entries, winning awards, doing research and being on juries. We’ve received metals from D&AD, WARC Awards, Clio, Effie, and many more – enough to have been named the eighth most creative agency in PRovoke Media’s Global Creative Index 2023. In addition to creating the entries for our agency, I’ve also analyzed 6000+ winning entries of Cannes Lions over the years, as part of a research program we have with the festival. Within the last month, I’ve got to discuss great entries with brilliant co-judges at the SABRE Awards (EMEA) and Grand One (Finland).

The learnings shape our “Awards Show Diamondgram”. It is a 101 for the shiniest shelf-fillers.

Image of the awards show diamondgram

And it starts with why.

Always start with the business objectives. Each campaign and each entry need to start with this. Period. Getting the approach – the intent – right, will guide you towards the right actions.

Another big why is internal motivation. It gives direction for your team. It creates drive. This in turn has a halo effect, which helps bring even more talent inside to ride that same wave.

Third, they generate external enthusiasm. For agencies “external” means clients, for in-house teams it means e.g. partners. Awards get recognized. As HBR puts it, they might be a prerequisite to getting an invitation to pitch for a potential client-to-be. Even entries get recognized. At Kurio, we always present ourselves via our case studies. They are the ones that people remember after a meeting. They are the ones that generate interest.

But maybe the most important reason to enter is that every entry makes you better at what you do. More entries (eventually) mean more awards, which are linked to more impact. A recent WARC report shows a clear link between creative awards and results: 20% of creatively-awarded campaigns go on to win effectiveness awards. What’s more, the most highly creatively-awarded work wins effectiveness awards 42% of the time.

The sole act of doing an entry will help you grow. Creating an entry is like an internal review of a campaign. The benefits of that are well documented in Leo Burnett’s 7Plus program. They started scoring all their campaigns internally on a scale of 1-10. Progress was evaluated every three months by running a meeting and looking at 1000 to 1200 pieces of work from all over the network. Within the first five years of 7plus, 27 Leo Burnett agencies were named agency of the year in their country – at least once. The so-called “Total Quality Management in idea’s business” paid off, big time.

Now that we’ve established a solid set of why, let’s look at four key aspects of what.

Which client? Some clients are more interested in awards shows than others. Embrace those that are. Make it a common goal from the get-go. Then work towards those metals together, day after day, case after case. (And for the in-house marketers, the same logic applies to different internal teams and/or partners.)

Which case? A good rule of thumb: if you are proud of it, enter it. Even if you don’t end up on the shortlist, you’ve turned one of your best pieces of work into a case study.

Which awards show? There’s an awards show for everything. One of the things you have to love about our industry. Get to know them. Keep a list of them. Make a yearly plan about them. And always be ready to change plans and enter at the last minute when you see some show declaring they’ve extended the deadlines (which they always will do.)

Which category? Getting the (sub) category right matters way more than what awards show you choose. Avoid spray and pray – carefully select the category that best suits your case. When needed, rewrite the entry again based on the particularities of that category.

As the number of entries is rising in many awards shows (e.g. +6% in Cannes Lions 2023), and judges will plough through a pile of entries for hours on end (I counted 20+ hours in the SABRE jury), you need to make your effort count. Here’s our seven critical points on how to do that.

Set aside time (and money). No matter how good the campaign is, it won’t be a winner, if the case study isn’t.

Write the case as it unfolds. Start compiling materials for the entry on day 1. You’ll save time and end up with a better result. Sometimes your debrief is half your entry – all you need to add are the executions and results. This method also helps you avoid “writing backwards”, writing your case to fit what was achieved – a thing which experienced juries will spot.

Know your jury. Understand what they don’t understand. They are not familiar to every market, every industry, and especially not every company. You need to do them a favor and explain the context in simple terms. Help them understand why your success is a major one.

Excite, don’t exaggerate. You need to convince the jury that your campaign achieved what it set out to – maybe even more. You should aim to get them as excited about it as you are. But avoid exaggeration. Your local novelty launch might have broken records, but was it really the reason behind a global sales surge? Correlation doesn’t equal causality and the judges know it.

Speaking of convincing the jury, the 2-minute, industry-standard case video is your best bet. It may be the only thing a judge will see. That’s why we devoted three points for it.

Make your case video stand out. Get creative! Be different! My favorite examples over the years include Re:scam by Netsafe New Zealand, Don’t Drink and Buy by Bud Zero and Whopper Sign by Burger King.

Make your case video entertaining. It may be tears you bring to their eyes. It may as well be tears of laughter and joy. Whatever it is, if you can deliver an emotional impact, the jury will remember you.

Make your case video at least as good as the campaign. Think of it as the trailer which gets released only after the movie. Pack it up with all the best bits. Polish the details. Make them crave the campaign itself.

All of this leads to our final point.

Done right, the awards shows lead to a winning mentality. You’ll aim to win at all times – starting the moment you receive the brief. You’ll set the bar at the right level. A high level.

The winning mentality is a spirit, something that’s embedded in your culture. It puts you on the right trajectory, time and time again, tumble after tumble.

Citius, altius, fortius.