First, Publicis Groupe CEO Arthur Sadoun says "no" to awards shows so his agencies can focus on building out the Marcel platform in 2018. Then today, while at an event hosted by the FT at the Cannes Festival of Creativity, Sir Martin Sorrell says WPP he may follow suit, citing the burdensome expense and, in the case of Cannes, a sense that the festival has strayed too far away from its original mission, to celebrate creativity.

Equally interesting, though perhaps not quite as high profile, John Immesoete, CCO of data-driven marketing agency Epsilon, penned a guest column in today's Advertising Age in which he shared the opinion of a CMO of a large CPG firm on the value of awards. He called the awards circuit a set of “little contests that mean absolutely nothing to helping my brand."

For most of my career as an ad agency business development expert, I’ve held mixed opinions (skewed toward to the negative) about awards shows. The cost-to-benefit ratio just never made sense to me. 

Was that chief marketer of the CPG brand right? Is Cannes just another ‘little contest’ that means little to marketers looking for a new agency?

First, there’s the investment in time simply to decipher which shows to enter and in what categories. Every show is different, although all are equal in the unnecessary level of complexity they force entrants to endure. And most seem quite happy to add to the confusion with new categories for emerging media or new forms of advertising. It’s tempting to see this as a way for an agency to increase its chances of winning until one faces the realization that it means another entry form to complete—and another opportunity to fill the coffers of the show’s organizer. Ka-ching.

Then, there’s all the work to do. Writing, rewriting and agonizing over the editing of case studies. Sweet-talking, then hounding, the account team to get the assets, creating videos, producing, formatting and designing artwork. And then painstakingly packaging the submission according to the lengthy and circuitous instructions that threaten disqualification should they not be followed.

I’d rather do my taxes.

Full disclosure, all this is coming from a person who’s never had an opportunity to go to the Cannes festival. Maybe attending would have felt like a just reward for all the work. Or would I be found brooding over my rosé, wondering if all that time and money could have been used more effectively to fulfill my mission: winning my agency more business.

To be sure, the artfully produced case studies were often used in new business pitches to dazzle prospects.

But sometimes they weren’t. Sometimes those expensive video case studies languished on a server somewhere because we lost that client or because the work that may have won us awards wasn’t that effective in winning us business.

And that list of awards never quite got beyond being mediocre.

It takes years of effort and investment, not to mention outstanding work and perhaps even sheer luck, to build a critical mass of awards big enough to make a prospective client’s jaw drop. (Or not. According to John Immesoete’s experience with the CPG CMO, not only did a Cannes Lion not impress, it repulsed.) 

You could call Arthur Sadoun’s statement an attention-grabbing stunt, but I give him credit for making the investment in his agency network to make it better and more relevant to the needs of today’s CMOs.

What about your agency? You may not be on the size or scale of Publicis Groupe (or even one of its agencies), but if you’re pondering how to spend your precious marketing budget, here are three things you might consider doing before being lured by the siren-song of Cannes and other creative awards.

  1.  Optimize your website. Make sure your website clearly and simply tells your prospects what you do, why you do it and how you do it better than others. Make it search engine friendly, and don’t forget to make it easy to capture leads when qualified prospects find themselves on your home page.
  2.  Invest in some business development tools that are right for your agency. Are you an agency of natural-born promoters, natural-born salespeople, or somewhere in the middle? First, figure out what kinds of business development activities you’re best equipped to do, then get yourself the best tool you can afford to help you do it, whether it’s list-building software, social media tools or a CRM system. (RSW just released its 2017 annual New Business Tools report to help you decide which might be a good fit).
  3. Get out there! This is especially true for small agency CEOs, a group I work with the most. You are probably the best salesperson your agency has. What would it take to get you out there networking and meeting with potential prospects more frequently and consistently?

That last point is where I will give the Cannes advertising festival its due. It’s still a place where connections can be made and deals are done between marketers and ad agencies. Maybe next year, skip the awards entry forms and spend that money on an over-priced hotel room overlooking the Croisette.