It started when the advertising industry first admitted, or was forced to admit, that Creative Abby, one of the most coveted awards for the Indian advertising industry, had become a mess. The Award, and strangely enough ever since it first became a part of the GoaFest, had become a playground of individual and agency politics – a battlefield where work was taking a backseat. But with dirt hitting the roof last year, mere corrective steps were not enough to revive the Creative Abby. The way forward had to be drastic...
And drastic it was. The Awards Governing Council (AGC), a joint body created by the Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) and The Ad Club Bombay, left no stone unturned to ensure that the Creative Abby was a cleaner process in 2011.
The result so far – agencies like McCann Erickson, Contract Advertising and Saatchi & Saatchi are back at the forum. Over 100 agencies have participated in the Abby Award.
But there are still those, who need convincing, who are waiting to see whether all is well. And the moment of truth is finally here – April 9, 2011 is the day when the industry would know how successful the AGC’s endeavour was.
The Coming Together
Before the AGC was formed, the AAAI and the Ad Club were at logger heads – they would much rather end the combined initiative in the form of the present GoaFest than work a solution. Eventually, the AGC was in place, but it required for its members to first align amongst themselves; step one of the clean-up act was to iron out any stress and take the event’s ownership.
That achieved, step two was attention to details. This also meant that the AGC, with its Chairperson Shashi Sinha, CEO, Lodestar UM, was about to enter a zone that required a 24X7 schedule. One of the first comments from industry leaders was that the industry conversations had significantly increased, not as group meetings, but in one-on-one dialogues between industry members and the AGC.
In a conversation with exchange4media, Sinha confessed, “Not one idea that you see at Creative Abby today is mine. This is an industry-owned event and that was where I focussed my energy on – to get industry’s inputs. If someone had a comment, a problem, a suggestion, I made it a point to connect with them and respond to them.”
In Sinha’s words, 70 per cent of the event was taking industry inputs and putting it back in the event. He observed, “People may speak more about the process and rules, but the most important aspect was reaching out.”
The Unprecedented Judging Process
The Creative Abby judging was done in two parts. After round one judging, the entries were put on the AAAI and Ad Club websites for people to view and give feedback on things like incorrect entries or supposed scams. Round two was held four days later. Not everyone thought this was the best way. Sinha explained, “It was a change and people had not welcomed it at first. The sheer logistics of putting those many entries on different sites was in itself a struggle. Though many did see sense in it later.”
The discussions began in round two, followed by secret voting. The process also took advantage of technology. And forms were created in such a way that jury members’ own entries were blocked.
Another restriction was that the awards could not have more than four jury members from one agency. That was done to balance influence.
The next step was to curb sledging. The AGC cautioned jury members that voting patterns would be observed. And if jury members were found to not be voting in categories that had their own entries, all votes of that juror would be nullified.
The final step was taken together with auditor KPMG. Winning entry clients were called to crosscheck if the work was genuine.
By design or by chance, right after the first round of judging, a significant number of entries have been withdrawn from the Creative Abby. “There were technically legal entries which agencies withdrew on moral grounds. To me, that was positive,” Sinha said.
Withdraw on Moral Grounds
One of the largest agencies withdrew work of a key client when in a back check it was discovered that the work was not originally of that agency.
The AGC even withdrew two jury members of another very large agency.
Some jury members were so uncomfortable with the secret voting system they had to be convinced to continue...
And there are many more examples where the process intervened to clean up any possible mess and guide the way forward.
Sinha explained, “At every stage, we have been active since it was needed. The creative fraternity had to be persuaded that our intention was clean and we genuinely want to make a difference.”
Was there a difference? “You tell me,” Sinha replied instantly, and added, “It was a logic-driven, well thought through process. That said, scams are still there even though lesser. In many cases, there are scams because clients have given them letters of approvals for it. That is something that AGC cannot do anything about.”
There are some complaints already coming Abby’s way. One was that while the award did not allow judges of agencies that stayed away from it, at least one aberration had crept in. “And it was just that, an aberration. If we can ask some very senior judges to withdraw, why would we not do it in any other case we found was wrong?”
Are there more such allegations coming the Creative Abby way? One would know soon enough. But as Sinha said, “finally, this is a perception game”, which he has handled well.