Seven ways to judge “The New”

As anyone would be, I was delighted to be invited to judge “The New” category by Faris, the jury president, and the organisers at the London International Awards.  That it was over in Las Vegas was just a bonus.

The jury was completed by Chloe Gottlieb of R/GA, Ben Richards of Ogilvy, and Anthony Nelson of Draft FCB…

Thing was, of course, “The New” a necessarily tricksy category to know what we were meant to be judging.

Nothing’s really new.  It’s all just the endless recombination of existing things, as Faris has been pointing out for as long as I can remember.

Yet within that, we felt a celebration of the new ways in which the industry puts things together for the clients who come knocking.

(Not that I feel particularly “industry” anymore, but that didn’t matter… it was a category for work that shouldn’t really fit in properly anywhere else, judged by people who didn’t really fit in anywhere else either.)

Between us, we hacked together some criteria so we could at least have something to point to in order to back up some gut feel judgements on the work we were seeing.

I thought it’d be nice to share that here…

New Ways….

…to tell a better story

Agencies, in their most classic of forms, are storytellers… weaving a narrative around the products and services of the clients who engage them.  I touched a bit on this, and the changing nature of it, in the Story Quarry thing a week or so.

There’s still a lot of great craft skills around this in the industry, an it was great to see some interesting and diverse ways of telling stories.

It does perhaps feel in the cold light of today that the storytelling art was just a great executional way of doing that thing agencies perhaps had an older, better role in… solving problems.  Storytelling is one tool in the box, but it’s not alone.

…to connect with people

But whether it’s storytelling or problem solving, the fundamental point of the industry is to connect people and companies.  I’m really keen on focussing more on the people/companies route (given all the Communis thinking), and I MAY have mentioned that a little…  🙂

And although there were some interesting examples we saw of doing it at a brand level, there was nothing really outstanding to convince me that “brand” is a long term answer to the community-connection issue… it needs to be about ‘people’.

You’ll always run into the problem that it makes no sense for “a collection of perceptions in the consumer’s head” (Feldwick) to know when your birthday is or what your favourite band is.

A person to person relationship is of course the best way to help with the next area…

…to change behaviour

It always sounds a little machiavellian, “changing behaviour”.  But within advertising land, it’s always been the holy grail; how can we get people doing something, or more of something, or less of something, that they weren’t doing before.

It was refreshing to see creativity deployed in the majority for doing something good… I think the idea that brands have to be nicer and more transparent than before is getting through all over the world, there was a generosity of spirit in a lot of excellent work.

It reminded me of this Benkler quote from The Penguin and the Leviathan –

And in a lot of cases (and indeed the best cases), they went beyond thinking of changing behaviour on a small level, instead creating ways…

…to change society

I’m more convinced today than ever than companies should have a significant and positive role to play in society; if it is the continuation of this form of economic and societal structure that they wish to preserve and evolve, then they must commit to doing so in more creative and generous ways.

We talked around the notion of the necessary extinction of CSR as a faddish sideshow in a company’s corporate system of beliefs; you should make EVERYTHING you do good, rather than excising a small percentage of the budget to “do good things”, and then negating that with the rest of your budget.

For instance, you may remember the US Dept. of Agriculture case from last year, where a government organisation helped Dominoes develop a range of pizzas with 40% MORE cheese, whilst simultaneously campaigning on an anti-obesity drive to stop people eating as much cheese…

Helping clients navigate flawed decision-making like this is important for agencies too, if they are to help…

…to (re)build business

There’s no doubt that given the change in how the world communicates, there’s never been a more pressing need for businesses to be reinvented, or new ones to be created.

Not only did we see lots of agencies who had helped their clients reinvent aspects or entire elements of how they did business, and made money from it, there was also the first nascent evidence of agencies creating new platforms and business streams themselves, and even freeing them up to wider audience who can create more stuff with them.

It’s a good thing to see, especially in response to Murat’s question of Can The Next Instagram/Hipstamatic/Klout/Angry Birds Be Born Within An Agency?

Which leads us nicely into…

…to find new agency roles

A lot of the work brought to our attention just how damned hard it is to get away really, really great things with clients… we looked on in awe at some of the projects steered through difficult client silos and structures by agencies.

After I chaired the Future of Agency debate last week at Google’s Think Marketing, I think it’s inevitable that agencies will have to keep pushing and changing at the model in order to build a future for themselves.  Whether the big agency groups have anything to gain in the short-term by doing so, and will therefore manage, is something i remain to be convinced by.

I’m sure that this debate will be moved on a quantum leap at Google/Neil Perkin’s next Firestarters event this week.

…to build a better future

Well, why not finish with the biggy?

In all seriousness, there was a spirit running through the very best work we saw which gave us renewed belief in an industry that can actually do something amazing for the world, rather than simply default to the “let’s just do the same old thing…”

What is interesting is what it takes to get that done.  We developed a wee acronym at the end of the final day, just to try and sum up what it might take to get this sort of work done:

The nerve to actually suggest and push at the idea, the eureka genius of the idea itself, and the will to push and shove, kicking and screaming, all the way through execution.

What do you think?  Does it capture what the spirit of “The New” would be for you?

As always, would love to hear your thoughts…
This post is half of a blog diptych; if you dare, head over here to meet its dusk-loving, malevolent twin….