The recent sad news about Seve Ballesteros reminded me of the framed award lying on the floor propped up against the wall behind my desk. I think it was the last award this agency won and it was for a poster we produced in 1985. As an agency we’ve not really gone in for awards, every now and then we feel we should join in but it is inevitably done half-heartedly if at all.

We quite like awards in our industry, maybe all industries do, but ours in particular seems to have a lot of them. Some people seem to put a fair bit of store by them and certainly claiming to be an award-winning-agency has a nice ring to it. Also, there can be no doubt that many people are impressed by awards and of course everyone likes winning them, after all who doesn’t like being associated with success. But it has always struck me as a strange way to measure success. I can’t think of any other business that measures success this way. You would have thought that the longevity and success of your clients might be a clearer barometer of ability or that the talent of your agency might be better measured by your balance sheet, after all most clients aren’t stupid and are unlikely to pay for a substandard service.

Alan and I visited an agency in Edinburgh about 3 years ago now. We had a client in common and I was looking forward to seeing their agency and how they did things. You entered on the ground floor and walked up a flight of stairs to the reception and the body of the kirk. All the way up the steps the walls on either side were festooned with awards, there must have been well over 100 certificates and plaques and you were immediately given the impression of an agency at the top of their game. At the meeting they even mentioned to the client that they would like to enter a piece of work they had produced for them into a competition later in the year. Interestingly the client declined the offer. That agency no longer exists today, within a year of that meeting they had gone bust, the trade press were distraught, they were one of the countries top agencies after all, and how could this have happened. Perhaps if we had judged them correctly we wouldn’t have thought of them as one the best. In these testing economic times it is more important than ever that we don’t lose sight of what marketing is all about. Surely it’s less about peer group pats-on-the-back or certificates on the wall and more about your clients telling you they reached their targets, and giving you the next brief.

The award on the floor behind me features a lovely caricature of Seve Ballesteros holding the Open trophy on the front cover of Golf Monthly magazine. It’s actually a really good ad and has stood the test of time well.

We don’t have Golf Monthly as a client anymore, we lost them about 6 months after we won that award, but I know which I’d rather the agency had kept for the last 23 years.