In The Trenches

Comments from the judges

Published on March 13, 2017 Back to blog

Two weeks ago, I made my annual trip to New York City to judge the final round of the North American Effie Awards. It’s an event I look forward to all year long, not only because I typically make a weekend out of it with my family, but it also provides a great lens into the state of the advertising industry.

For those unfamiliar with the Effie’s, it is among the most prestigious national award shows in the advertising industry. Entries are not only measured on creativity, but also strategy, overall approach and, most importantly, effectiveness. During this final round of judging, senior marketing executives and agency leaders from across the country (and beyond) are sequestered into five rooms where we review, discuss and rate the entries that have made it past the hundreds of judges before us.

The discussions that take place in the judging rooms focus primarily on the work (details of which I am not permitted to disclose here). Outside of the rooms – at breakfast, lunch, breaks and the after-party – the discussions extend into the changes, challenges and opportunities that we are all being faced with. Today, I’d like to share some of the highlights:

1. The brand story is bigger than advertising – With many entires, I enjoyed seeing how a big idea was brought to life not only in the advertising campaign, but also in the overall customer experience – from the retail store and customer service to actual product integration. This is not only the way in which big ideas should work, but it also represents a significant opportunity for agencies to have a greater overall relationship/impact with a brand.

2. People are the most credible form of media – Every year, marketing to influencers to spread brand messages becomes more prominent. In some cases, this includes targeting celebrities, well-known bloggers and highly regarded professionals in the associated industry. However, the most impactful campaigns (which often did not require massive budgets) were those that focused on the brand’s most important audience – their customers. Strengthen those relationships and help them share your story with their friends, and good things happen.

3. It pays to give – Some of the entries I enjoyed the most were those where brands were giving or doing something of value for an audience without asking for anything in return. From educational materials and pure entertainment to working with communities and giving to charitable organizations, these brands proved that relationships are bigger than mere transactions. Brand perceptions, engagement and likelihood to purchase were all positively impacted. 

4. The entire journey must be measured – The industry has been talking about the importance of measurement for years. However, this has often translated into “top of funnel” media metrics like overall reach and click through rates. As brands, media companies, social/analytics/survey tools and CRM systems become more sophisticated, we can (and must) measure the entire customer journey – brand awareness, perceptions, engagement, conversions, purchase (actual/intent) and more. With this data, you are much better positioned to make meaningful improvements.

5. Creativity doesn’t only live in the creative department – From the entry write-ups and discussions with colleagues to the keynote speaker at lunch (Leland Maschmeyer form Chobani), one of the biggest themes was the recognition that everyone can be creative. Creative ideas can come from anywhere. Once a great idea is identified, each person – art directors, copywriters, technologists, account managers, clients, media buyers, etc. – must work together to apply their honed crafts to bring that idea to life. Let everyone share their ideas, be creative and contribute to great work.

I left the event feeling inspired by all of the great work being produced in our industry. I also walked away with some pride, knowing that while there is always room for improvement, Small Army is at the forefront of the industry. On a personal note, I also got to enjoy a great weekend (albeit very cold) in the big city with my family – the highlight of which was seeing Wicked on Broadway (my 13 year old daughter is now obsessed with the music). I hope you got something out of the weekend as well.

Jeff Freedman
CEO/Managing Partner
Small Army | Finn Partners