Why Media Agencies Don’t Win Advertising Awards and What We’re Doing About It

5 min readJul 12, 2017

Making advertising for your agency’s ideas

In 2008 I wrote a column for Campaign that pointed out that media agencies were notable by their absence from advertising award shows like Cannes, even in the media category, which you’d think they would be ideally suited to win.

Pontificating for a decade. MySpace was already unimportant.

Having judged innumerable awards, usually in the integrated and innovation type categories that require case study videos rather than just submitting the work itself, it’s obvious that the entry is almost as important as the idea when it comes to winning awards.

People often decry this as a distraction, that ideas should stand on their own creative merit, untainted by the spin of well crafted case studies. This misses the point, entirely.

Case studies are advertisements aimed at juries [and peers and prospects] for the kind of ideas that don’t fit in simple boxes, that flow across media, that creates systems of engagement, that are not just striking visuals and snappy copy, and those are the kinds of ideas that drive the industry forward.

Further, since many if not most of the campaigns you are judging are from other countries [in global shows], as a judge you may have never encountered the work, you have no idea how it resonated, whether people loved it, talked about, ignored it, or indeed whether it had any cultural or commercial impact at all.

The case study is as important as the idea because it has to communicate the idea and the context that made it great to someone who has not experienced it.

Just as the advertising is as important as the product, for someone who has never used the product.

If you don’t believe in case studies, you don’t believe in marketing your work, which means you don’t believe in advertising.

Why don’t customers just pick the best products and award the best companies with their business?

Agencies that say their ideas should stand on their own merit, but don’t advise the same thing to their clients, are managing some truly remarkable cognitive dissonance…

…or they just don’t believe what they tell their clients.

If an agency complains they are too busy with client work to do case studies and award entries, they should also tell their clients to stick to manufacturing widgets and dongles and drop their marketing resources and expenditure and agency partners.

So, the case study and the awards are marketing and the entry is all you have to go on — a short form video advertisement for an idea. And creative agencies obviously have significant muscle memory in creating short form film, whereas other kinds of agencies don’t.

Or, at least, didn’t.

The Great Blur means that all discipline based agencies have begun to escalate their value proposition up to “creative solutions to business problems” which in turn means they compete in the larger budget pool, alongside every other kind of agency, and the consultancies to boot. Short form video content is now being produced through innumerable different supply chains.

[At Genius Steals we have worked with media agencies in several countries on developing their creative processes: how they brief, germinate, refine, package and sell creative ideas to their clients.

The great blur affects how clients work with agencies and all partners are being asked to offer up brand building ideas, individually and together. Integrated briefing, integrated work and all that.]

Which means things are changing. Still, a decade after my original observation, that change is yet to be reflected in the awards: creative agencies won 9/10 of the Gold Media Lions at Cannes and the Grand Prix.

As an industry we say “ideas can come from anywhere” and yet, just like the advertising agency CEO who says the same, we too often only reward ideas that come from “the creative” agency/department.

All these Media Lions winners are from creative agencies. The only media agency to win a gold was in the sub-category “Excellence in Media Planning” which I suspect no creative agency entered.

We believe that creativity is the key skill and differentiator for all kinds agencies, and that if media agencies want to build their creative reputation, they need to build muscle memory in packaging and merchandizing their creative ideas.

So, we’re doing something about it. This year we’ve created a stand alone Media Creativity category inside NEW@LIA Awards.

For open entry there is the Media Innovation category, which rewards using traditional media deployments in nontraditional ways or creating new media opportunities that benefit brands and consumers.

But for the first time there is a category that only rewards creative ideas germinated by media agencies, regardless of production partner.

By restricting the category, we can provide a nurturing environment, as NEW@LIA was always designed to be, to help new kinds of ideas grow, flourish and be celebrated, and help media agencies all over the world build the muscle memory needed to compete in the ever expanding market for ideas.

The LIA Awards, as part of their commitment to creativity in all its forms, our subsidizing our fees for our Crafting Award Winning Case Studies workshop (for NEW@LIA entrants). If you’re looking help developing case studies, we have a lot of experience in that field, working with agencies and winning and judging awards.

If you’ve got work that’s relevant, let us know what you’ve been up to >> ENTER YOUR MEDIA CREATIVITY INTO THE NEW@LIA AWARDS MEDIA CATEGORIES.

Work submitted must be broadcast, published or released in a commercial environment with client approval between 1st July 2016 and 31st August 2017.

We’ve partnered to create NEW@LIA AWARDS to reflect and champion new kinds of ideas.


Native Advertising, Influencer Advertising, Media Creativity, Creative Data, Self-Promotion, Creative Tech, Product Innovation, Media Innovation, Experiential, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality.





Hello! I'm Faris. I'm looking for the awesome. Founder/Genius Steals. Itinerant Strategist//Speaker. Author of Paid Attention.