Observations of an Effie Judge

Posted by Catherine Goss from Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide — North America on April 21, 2017 

Advertising agencies have a reputation for loving awards. However, sometimes the award circuit can be perceived as a little too self-congratulatory, and, as a result, many of us have heard clients scoff at entry fees or display a lack of enthusiasm for participating. The Effie Awards, however, tends to generate a different response. The Effie Awards is an award show that honors “marketing ideas that work.” While some awards focus solely on one component of a great marketing campaign, such as the strength of the creative idea or innovativeness of the media approach, the scope of the Effie Awards is more comprehensive. The Effies (as they’re commonly referred to) emphasizes the “why” behind the strategy and the proof that significant results were achieved as a result of the marketing. Entrants must describe the business and marketplace challenge, the big strategic idea, the work itself (creative, communication plan, etc.), and then provide evidence (usually by way of data) that the effort worked in market to achieve the desired business results. As advertising professionals this notion of “marketing ideas that work” is exactly what we’re in the business to do. It’s why our clients hire us, it aligns with Ogilvy’s global mantra of the “Twin Peaks of Creativity and Effectiveness,” and, let’s be honest, when we achieve it we feel an incredible sense of reward and accomplishment.

Recently I had the honor of participating as an Effie Awards judge. It’s a job that involves sitting in a conference room with other marketing executives reading entry after entry on a loaner laptop and watching case study videos on loaner headphones. No fancy outfits, ballrooms, or shiny statues quite yet. This is the step in the award process where judges are asked to review content and evaluate the business impact of each case with a highly critical eye. While it may not be glamorous, it is an incredibly interesting job, and one I found to be a terrific honor. And since the principles the Effie Awards recognizes directly align with what, how, and why we do what we do as agency professionals, there’s a lot we can learn from this process.

With that in mind, what follows are some observations from my recent experience as a judge. These observations are written with two goals in mind: first, to provide some tips and guidance for those writing case studies for business purposes or for submission to the Effie Awards (or other award shows); and, second, as food for thought for the work we do day in and day out, to help keep us focused and mindful of some of the fundamental principles of effective communication.

Expand your sphere of influence.

One of the best ways to achieve success is to know what success looks like. Most of the cases I reviewed during my judging session were for campaigns where I was not the target audience so I had not been exposed to them before. I found this very refreshing and a great reminder of how important it is to constantly expand our view and see other types of work. This is how we stay fresh and it’s a great way to help recognize what “good” truly looks like. You certainly don’t need to be an Effie judge to do this. We are all bombarded with marketing messages daily. Simply pay attention to what works, to what doesn’t work, and to why. You can also try changing the channel, reading different content, and looking beyond your typical sphere of influence to broaden your view. Doing so will help you push your thinking and the campaigns you work on to be more innovative, strategic, and connected.


Allow your creativity to start from the problem, not a process.

Frequently in our business, agencies first concept for a big creative idea and then think about the best way to deploy that idea tactically based on a Communications Blueprint and/or Media Plan. While this approach often makes sense, sometimes a communications idea can be what drives the creative idea, rather than the inverse. For example, during my judging experience I reviewed a compelling case where a significant part of the business challenge was that the target audience distrusted advertising. They knew their audience avoided all overt forms of advertising and would fast-forward commercials. As a result, the marketing team used branded entertainment and sponsorship—an anomaly in their low-interest category—to create a stand-out campaign that fully engaged their jaded audience and delivered impressive results. This example and many others like it demonstrate how the best ideas often do not follow a formula for development. Don’t be afraid to be bold. Look at your specific business challenge and start your ideation and concepting work from there.


Lose the lingo.

It’s easy to forget that not everyone knows the intricacies of your business. As a result, we get so used to the well-loved acronyms, terms, and shortcuts for the brands and categories we work on that we tend to forget that those not entrenched in our daily business often have no idea what we’re talking about! If you have ever sat in a meeting as a new team member where every other word is jargon, you know how frustrating this can be. As an Effie judge the same thing applies. If the person reading your case study is continuously distracted by the need to discern what an “ABC” or “XYZ” is, she or he could miss how brilliantly your strategic idea addressed the market need. A good rule of thumb—for award entries and all business writing—is to avoid the lingo. Write so your cousin or the person sitting next to you on the bus can understand your words even if they never took a marketing class in their life.


Remember that brevity is key.

If you can’t say it simply and succinctly, don’t say it. Writing in a crisp, concise manner is far harder than waxing poetic, but when you over-explain your points you lose the attention of your audience—and, thereby, your credibility. When it comes to award entries specifically, bear in mind these judges are reviewing multiple cases in one sitting. The greater your focus is, the greater theirs will be.

In sum, I encourage you to think about your work and whether you have a case worth submitting to an award show like the Effie Awards. I also encourage you to get involved with an industry organization like the Effie Awards or one of the many other exciting and reputable organizations we have access to. Whether you serve as a judge, a volunteer, or even just an observer of the winning cases that are published each year, you are certain to learn something valuable that you can apply to your daily work. Personally, I found my recent judging experience highly interesting and motivating. Taking an objective view of what others in our dynamic industry are doing is a wonderful way to enhance our own level of strategic and creative excellence.