Eularie Saldanha
Jun 03, 2021

Will settle for meets in a parking lot: Adland sentiments on digital events

The advertising industry shares that although online events will never replace on-ground, it is learning to adapt, reminisce and hope for the best

Will settle for meets in a parking lot: Adland sentiments on digital events
It’s awards season in adland, and once again, agencies are gearing up to produce case studies and enter their work in suitable categories across different events. And like most things have changed in the last 16 months, there has been a revolution in the way these award ceremonies have been held and attended. 
An agency winning an award is now gratified with virtual claps and e-recognitions, unlike the euphoria of holding the trophy and celebrating with drinks, hugs and more.
We catch up with adland to learn the industry sentiments with regard to the online awards system and how it has impacted the jury processes. 
Virtual vs on-ground
For most creative veterans, the online awards system will never be able to do justice to the traditional on-ground events. 
Speaking about what happens while judging entries online, Raj Kamble, founder and chief creative officer, Famous Innovations, said, “The quality of creative discussions significantly drops. There is so much sensitivity in emotion, passion and connection that matters for the work we do. Secondly, to truly immerse in the discussion, you need to disconnect from everything else you do. That is just not possible with virtual meetings.” 
Professionals believe that judging is a two-way process, which enables the jury to not only judge, but also learn from the best creative minds across the world. 
Amit Akali, co-founder and chief creative officer, Wondrlab reminisces about the lengthy discussions and an understanding of cultural backgrounds behind some of the work he’s seen while attending to on-ground jury duties. “We build networks and relationships which are long-term. For me, judging in front of a computer is an almost zero reward experience. Yes, you get to see the latest work – but you can do that on other forums too. The amount of time and effort taken in online judging is pretty high too, without similar gains,” he said, adding that if discussions on the work don’t happen, then the process in itself is redundant. 
Most global judging events have two rounds, which comprises an online stage where a jury member can work alone, create a shortlist and get familiar with the work. The other is when they meet their fellow jurors in person for the final round.
Tista Sen, regional creative director, Wunderman Thompson South Asia believes that the final round is where the magic happens. 
She explained, “We have not resorted to online judging by choice. This has been the best way we could continue with marquee industry events. I am a great believer in people connection and miss the personal interactions over a coffee or a rosé. Being away from your regular life and focusing only on the work makes for enriching learning and an affinity for new experiences.”
Sen jokes that at this point, she would even settle for meeting in a parking lot.
However, Josy Paul, CCO and chairman, BBDO India, who recently judged an international award show online, on Zoom, says that it was no less than a masterclass in creative thinking and critical analysis. “Once the shortlist was done, we spent so much time deconstructing and celebrating each work in terms of intent, authenticity, idea, execution, elements of craft, and brand connect. I was a student in the house of excellence.” 
Ogilvy’s chief creative officer, Kainaz Karmakar agrees that in-person debates and discussions are fiercer, with focused attention when inside a jury room, but jokes that the thing she enjoys about judging from home, is the homemade food. “I have never enjoyed the food during my jury duties. The food at home is much better.” 
Changes that would better the system
Although Kamble is certain that once things open up, people will travel to advertising events, award shows and juries with a vengeance, he believes that award shows are a very biased system that needs to digress from becoming a matter of scale and budgets.
He explained, “A typical network agency enters the same piece of work in 40-50 categories and their total entries go into hundreds. When you add up the budget of producing work, case studies, entry fees and the time cost that goes into it, you're talking about the annual turnover of some independent agencies.”
Akali, on the other hand, expects the online judging system to be more interactive and have the same opportunities for discussion, as that of live judging. “You could have zoom drink sessions as part of online judging. Currently, the online judging I’ve done has no scope for interactivity. And that’s probably because it’s always followed by live judging. Maybe, with online becoming a norm, award forums will focus on how to make it more interactive.”
Sen applauds the industry for managing this, despite working in dark rooms and over faulty internet. Having believed that the industry has been doing the best it can, she said, “I have recently been part of four global judging events. This requires a great amount of commitment and resilience from judges. It's been different time zones and different meal times. But I love that as an industry, we continue to host and honour creativity and recognise that great ideas can bring the world to its knees even during the worst ever pandemic.”
She recalls an instance where a particular discussion ended at 8 PM for her but went on until 2 AM for a jury member in New Zealand. 
For Paul, however, a win is still a win.
Talking about the sentiment behind his agency’s recent win at the D&AD, he said, “Online or offline, it feels great to be recognised by your peers for the effectiveness of an idea that’s impacting society and transforming the fortunes of the brand. When we won the Grand Prix in 2015 for Whisper’s #TouchThePickle, we were in Mumbai and not at Cannes. We witnessed it live on the Cannes Lions website. In a sense that was online for us, but it was exhilarating and great to be together and celebrate as a team.”
Most of the industry has accepted that in the given times, an online award function or jury meet is their best bet. Given that, albeit it is looking for new ways to celebrate, it is certainly waiting to get back on-ground. 
Karmakar admits that the thrill of winning is not diminished by the medium, although she misses the tight hugs, group pictures and winning together as a team. 
And although Paul champions the change, he upholds on-ground events as sacrosanct. He too, like the rest, cannot wait to get out and celebrate together. He quotes a Mark Knopfler song from decades ago, “There should be laughter after pain…There should be sunshine after rain… These things have always been the same.”
Campaign India

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