Last Friday night was the Cincinnati ADDY's awards ceremony. I finally had a campaign I could enter for the professional competition and sat with some anticipation when they rattled off the gold and silver winners. Sadly, I did not win anything. Before they announced the Best of Show winner, I was already out the door and back at the bar to get my last free beverage. You might be thinking this is going to be that lamentation of a loser that didn't win anything because her work just sucked or didn't stack up to the big-boys. First off, false on all counts. Second, there's an obvious trend to who wins these awards, and it always comes back to money and hands on deck.
I knew weeks ago that I wasn't going to win, but I wanted to try anyway. It might be some form of masochism that I took the time, effort, and money to enter my work into a contest that I knew I had very little chance in being noticed. I've already covered the subject of judged contests before, yet I wanted to try one more time. After seeing the winners and what projects actually won, I know it's a numbers game.
My business consists of a solitary person doing all the work: me. I design, edit, modify, upload, download, print, proof, and package all the pieces. The campaign I entered was the labor of 11 months and spanned from the web, to social media, to print, to a coloring book, to buttons, to in-person events, and to a hand-sewn puppet. Yes, a puppet. Budget wise I spent more on it than I earned from it. It was for a good cause, a non-profit fundraiser, so I felt good doing it.
The winners had many more people developing the concept and probably even more people involved executing the final product. With much higher budgets and access to skills and labor, my little one person work has no chance on the professional platform against established agencies. Does more money mean 'better' campaigns or just the kind of campaigns that win at peer-judged shows? More often than not, the answer is yes. Is that a solid measure of a successful campaign? Well, that feature was overlooked for this contest. From the impression I got it was just the best looking work, not a reflection of how well it did in the wild.
One aspect that I didn't participate in this year was the People's Choice (PC) voting. A total of 16 projects were presented as options for the PC, but there were many, MANY more entries available. Out of the 16 to pick from, two won gold in a different category and six won silver. Half of the entries already won something. That isn't to say they aren't worthy of being in the running for the PC award, but I don't understand how only these 16 were our options.
Being given only a selection of 16 to vote on didn't make sense. How is this the People's Choice if we're told which projects are up for the vote? This isn't the election folks; this is the People's Choice. Why not put numbers on all the projects that were on display and have the people pick from everything? That would actually be a choice. This is a lot like the Oscars where the films that are more often nominated are films that weren't seen by the mass public. It's an inside job by members of the Oscars, not by the box office success of a film. Which is a clear measure of how well, or poorly, received a film was. This is a favorites game played by a select few. This wasn't a reflection of the people at large, just the judges; both the Oscars and the ADDY's.
This experience isn't one that left me bitter, but has reaffirmed my feelings on judged competitions. If I made work that was only to satisfy a designer's eye, then maybe I'd have a better chance at notoriety among other designers. But I didn't get into this business to be rewarded for making work that only appeals to a specific demographic. I make work that best reflects the brands and businesses I work with. It isn't for me, it's for them. It's always been for them. If they are happy, then I'm happy. And they are not designers. If I make work with designers in mind, I've alienated my client and missed the mark on what really matters.
Maybe one day I'll enter a project that was just for the sake of winning an award. But until they reduce the cost of entry into the competition AND the ceremony, I'll give them a skip.