Robot Food on why awards are a dangerous addiction that agencies need to avoid

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For nan 15th consecutive year, Leeds-based branding and imaginative agency Robot Food has not won a azygous prestigious manufacture gong, specified arsenic a D&AD Pencil aliases DBA Design Effectiveness trophy. But alternatively than being a root of embarrassment aliases disappointment, it's a constituent of pride.

"It's awards play and I'm delighted to denote that Robot Food hasn't been shortlisted for immoderate creation awards, arsenic we still haven't paid to participate any," laminitis and executive imaginative head Simon Forster pithily wrote connected LinkedIn. "To people this accomplishment and to put profits to amended use, we're donating £1,000 each to 5 charities instead."

The station caused a large stir, pinch hundreds of reactions from agency peers expressing admiration for Robot Food's stance. To gauge really typical this was, we held our ain poll and nan results couldn't person been clearer.

When asked, "Do you deliberation awards genuinely adhd value?" only 12.6% of you agreed, while a monolithic 87.4% of you replied, "Nope, awards suck".

There are intelligibly galore group who don't for illustration imaginative awards correct now. So, I said to Simon, on pinch managing head Dave Timothy and imaginative head Ben Brears, to find retired more.

Some bullshit

You tin spot successful nan faces of Simon, Dave and Ben really delighted they are by nan affirmative guidance their LinkedIn station received. "We've resonated pinch a batch of group who consciousness nan aforesaid way," says Simon. "Lots of group are liking and reacting to it because they consciousness there's immoderate bullshit going on."

He's referring to nan paid-entry exemplary of astir awesome manufacture awards, which require agencies to salary hefty fees to taxable their customer activity for consideration. In return, winners gain trophies and nan correct to marque themselves arsenic 'award-winning' for trading purposes.

"It's a superb business exemplary for nan awards organisers," concedes Dave. "Because essentially, these awards are outdated arsenic soon arsenic they springiness them out. You person to support winning much twelvemonth aft twelvemonth conscionable to support that prestigious title. Which intends agencies person to support paying twelvemonth aft year."

For smaller agencies, though, nan costs of entering capable categories to beryllium competitory tin beryllium prohibitive.

Simon recalls an early speech that shaped Robot Food's stance connected this issue. "Our first worker Martin Widdowfield, who's now a imaginative director, said to me, 'Why don't we participate awards?'" he recalls. "And I said, 'Well, you do realise you person to pay?' And he conscionable went, 'Fuck off!' That was nan extremity of nan conversation."

Dave Timothy. Photo by Joanne Crawford

Dave Timothy. Photo by Joanne Crawford

Photo by Joanne Crawford

Photo by Joanne Crawford

Ben Brears

Ben Brears

"Another agency counted themselves astatine nan clip arsenic nan astir effective agency successful nan world because they won much Design Effectiveness Awards than anyone else," Simon continues. "They besides happened to beryllium connected nan committee of nan DBA [the Design Business Association, which organises nan awards]. And basically, their full business improvement strategy was to beryllium this prolific award-winner. But if we'd entered, we wouldn't person had nan expertise aliases money to participate arsenic galore categories arsenic them and really play that game. It felt farcical to us."

Distorting nan process

And it's not conscionable astir unfairness. Robot Food believes that moving to triumph awards fundamentally affects really you attack customer work. "If we were aiming astatine awards, it could hamper nan type of activity we're capable to do because we mightiness beryllium doing it for designers alternatively than clients," Simon believes.

As an example, he points to Robot Food's recent rebranding for Danish brew marque Tuborg. "Our little was to pull a younger assemblage because their halfway drinkers were ageing," he says. "But arsenic an organisation, they were truthful conservative, truthful worried astir change."

Rather than a splashy redesign, Robot Food made very humble ocular updates that brought successful caller younger consumers while keeping existing marque loyalists. "It worked phenomenally well," he recalls. "But it's not nan benignant of large ripping up and starting again that I deliberation designers would spot arsenic award-worthy work."

And therein lies nan rub. Who are we trying to impressment here: nan awards judges aliases nan clients? No uncertainty it's imaginable to do both, but it's earthy to thin into nan former.

"If there's a type of activity that's winning awards, nan enticement mightiness beryllium to commencement shooting for that, moreover if it's not correct for nan brand," Dave argues. "Some creation awards pull a style of creation that an agency could cogwheel their task activity toward, alternatively than really delivering for nan client's objectives."

Drain connected resources

Dave notes a akin move successful different industries. It's good known, for example, that The Oscars reward definite types of movies. That's why Barbie sewage short shrift from nan Academy this year, contempt its immense popularity, while fewer were amazed to spot Oppenheimer cleanable up. It was nan benignant of movie that "had Oscars written each complete it".

Similarly, successful nan agency world, Dave feels: "You person to create a definite benignant of creation activity to triumph awards, which doesn't needfully construe to being effective successful nan existent world."

It tin besides beryllium a drain connected resources. "I've worked successful agencies wherever they had full-time group dedicated to awards," says Ben. "This full domiciled was improving nan lawsuit studies successful bid to triumph awards. The finance they had to make, conscionable for nan liking of a shiny trinket connected a shelf, was ridiculous. We'd alternatively reinvest immoderate imaginable awards fund into our soul team. So successful nan past, we've fixed £250 to each personnel of nan squad to springiness to a kindness successful lieu of administering an award."

Standing apart

And what, really, is nan constituent of awards? "It's really rather a homogenous thing, isn't it?" says Simon. "There's nary differentiation: agency A's sewage a golden award, and agency B's sewage a golden award. So, what is nan USP of those agencies? What sets them apart? Ironically, for us, not doing it astatine each is nan point that makes america guidelines out."

So why do truthful galore agencies worth awards? "It's a systemic thing," believes Ben. "It's decidedly taught astatine universities. Oh, you request to participate this grant because it'll springiness you nan champion chance, and you're conscionable brought up connected that. You person to do this to beryllium a bully designer. You person to get this award. It's for illustration smoking: you conscionable don't mobility it until personification comes down and says: 'Why nan fuck are we doing this?'"

Some whitethorn reason that winning an grant tin thief energise and validate squad members. But Ben believes location are different ways to do that.

"We impact nan squad passim nan process, and if nan regular designers person a awesome idea, we'll effort to fto them coming it to nan customer arsenic well. It's ne'er conscionable maine arsenic imaginative head taking in installments for everything. It's astir nan squad and empowering them to ain nan activity and create it, alternatively than conscionable being for illustration a mini cog successful a machine."

Differing priorities

For each nan talk of manufacture clout and trading advantage agencies declare successful paying to participate awards, nan squad astatine Robot Food says customer feedback and lasting partnerships are yet what they attraction about.

"We're moving pinch clients we've collaborated pinch for nine, 10 years, and they'll return america pinch them wherever they spell next," says Dave. "To us, that's nan biggest validation you could inquire for arsenic an agency. The customer praise, nan longevity of those relationships, that's what really intends something; not being capable to telephone ourselves award-winning."

Photo by Joanne Crawford

Photo by Joanne Crawford

Photo by Joanne Crawford

Photo by Joanne Crawford

While immoderate whitethorn spot this arsenic stubborn aliases contrarian, Simon feels it's simply applying nan captious reasoning that Robot Food prides itself connected to each aspects of its work.

"It delivers bad business results if you conscionable travel nan herd mentality and don't mobility things," he argues. "Most things travel down to ego, don't they? If you tin debar nan lure of ego and make decisions based connected what's genuinely champion for your clients, your squad and your business values, you're astir apt connected to something… pinch aliases without grant validation."

"We effort to return distant thing that's not needed and not over-complicate things," adds Ben. "We conscionable deliberation astir what will beryllium astir useful and effective for each client's situation. That's simplicity, but it's besides bully design."

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