Inside the Jury: How It All Comes Together

See what really sets the Clio Awards apart from its peers

Even after nearly 60 years at the forefront of the industry and pop culture, there still exist some misconceptions around the Clio Awards. Specifically, about what exactly goes into Clio’s process for selecting, judging, and awarding work that represents the best of what advertising has to offer year after year, and what makes us unique within the industry.

First thing you should know: It’s really, really hard to select a jury. We’re not complaining—in fact, we bring it on ourselves every year—we’re just stating a fact. But we do it for a reason. Jury selection is vital to our mission, so we don’t take it lightly. We aren’t looking to just fill a room with people. We’re looking to fill a room with the right people. And that takes time, effort, and serious consideration.

In order to shed a little light on how the Clios work, why getting the right mix of people is invaluable, what kind of work tends to stand out the most, and why we are who we are, we’ve decided to open the doors and let you in to our process.

THE RIGHT MIX

Internally, it’s referred to as “the jigsaw puzzle.” The annual challenge we set for ourselves to ensure that the jury room has the right blend of experience, talent, and diversity to accurately reflect our global reach and industry aspirations. As if that weren’t enough, all jurors must have at least one gold statue to their credit from an international awards show, and once a juror serves he or she must wait three years before they can participate again. It’s all in the service of keeping the rooms fresh, and represent all of our core values without overloading our jury rooms to the point where we lose our other primary goal: To inspire rich, productive conversation.

“What was interesting to me was that the jury was much smaller than in other festivals,” says Pereira & O’Dell co-founder and chief creative officer P.J. Pereira, who served as a jury chair for the 2016 Clio Awards.  “It’s a global festival with the jury size of a regional festival, which is good. I think the size of the jury there was perfect. And it was all a bunch of creative people who spoke the same language and people from all over the world, very diverse, lots of women – it was a really interesting judging experience overall.”

The intimacy with which the jurors could interact, Pereira explains, helped bring work to the forefront that might have been drowned out in a larger room. Bringing attention to all work—regardless of the agency or the amount of money behind it—is a key component of Clio DNA.

According to Pereira, the size and make-up of the rooms allowed the jurors to “have conversations and make bold choices that a big jury would never be able to make. Individual voices have less weight in a bigger jury – so the things that end up winning with a big jury are the things that please most and don’t displease many, you know? And when you have a smaller group, if three people hate something you can still try and talk them out of it. Every single juror’s [opinion] has bigger weight.”

Karin Onsager-Birch, chief creative officer for FCB West who served on the Clio Awards jury last year, concurs with Pereira on the make-up of the room and how it affected which pieces were chosen and discussed. “The jury room was engaged, in a thoughtful manner and with a respectful sense of camaraderie,” she says. “The size of the jury allowed for discussion and flow.”

And judging is only one part of the overall experience. The close quarters also created tangible connections among the jurors themselves, and the ripple effects were felt well beyond the walls of the jury room.

In 2015, former JWT national creative director Swati Bhattacharya considered herself “semi-retired” after an impressive 22 year run when she agreed to participate in the Clios judging. To say the decision was life changing would be an understatement. “I was nervous about going to my first international judging experience,” Bhattacharya admitted at the time. “But within a few minutes of landing at Tenerife, Clio started to feel like my birthday party. The mood, the people and the work—everything seemed celebratory! Nobody was wearing a country hat or a gender hat; it was always a human hat.” During her stay, Bhattacharya bonded with FCB global chief creative officer Susan Credle (“one of these evenings, I stayed up talking to Susan until three in the morning”), which led to Credle offering Bhattacharya the position of chief creative officer at FCB Ulka.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

Nearly everyone loves to travel, and the Clios are no exception. But there’s more to the selection of off-site judging locales than just wanderlust. It’s a chance to break people out of their routine and get their full attention far away from the pull of their desks and computers. It’s also meant to provide a source of inspiration alongside the work under consideration. 

As the 2017 jury looks forward to visiting Sanya, China, Pereira and Onsager-Birch recall how the 2016 group trekked to Bali—and it’s probably safe to say it left an impression. “Boy, did it ever,” enthuses Onsager-Birch. “The setting was gorgeously conducive to the judging. We felt deliciously far away from our day-to-day jobs, so could really focus. There was none of the amped up stressful energy that surrounds some of the other award shows.”

Pereira, a martial arts enthusiast, was thrilled to bring his family with him to explore Bali and take advantage of the unique cultural opportunities. “Some people surf, some people play soccer, some paint…I fight,” says Pereira. “So when I went there, I heard about these amazing martial arts from Indonesia and I found an instructor there and was able to go deeper. I went two hours a day with him, every day in the morning, before judging. It was an amazing experience.” 

HOW TO WIN A CLIO

An inspired, refreshed, and engaged jury is the core of what makes the Clios work, because at the end we want the best work—not the biggest, flashiest, or most expensive, but the best work—to come to the forefront. This is achieved through a combination of process (transparent voting system, with room for debate), selection (a carefully curated group of creatives and professionals), and location (somewhere far, far away from stress and commutes). The focus is on the work, and the larger ideas of how we move the industry forward, what makes a creative work effective, and, ultimately, how can we all do better?

“[The experience] reaffirmed my commitment to hire great craftswomen and men,” says Onsager-Birch. “And to want to do great work that will be recognized in that setting next year!”

Pereira also readily admits that, in this case, he was happy to bring the work home with him. “When you spend time looking at work so intently for such a long time, talking to people you respect, discussing qualities of work – you come back a different professional. I always make sure at least one a year I take an opportunity like this. It keeps me sharp. It keeps me up to date on the discussions.”

While there are no hard, fast rules for winning a Clio (sorry for the bait and switch headline), the fact that no submission is left unturned in a room filled with engaged professionals eager to dissect and discuss their choices creates an environment where every piece of work has a chance to win the room…and a legitimate chance to really effect some change within the industry.

“With the Clios, it seemed like a very senior group, a bunch of chief creative officers, but there were also people who were younger who brought a fresh creative take,” says Pereira. “And I learned from them probably more than they learned from me.”