Publicis Says No Award Participation in 2018, Creative Community Responds

It’s a business decision, not a philosophical one, so what does it mean for the industry at large?

Yesterday, Publicis Groupe CEO Arthur Sadoun dropped a bombshell when he announced that his company would be taking the entirety of 2018 off from any awards programs or other promotional investments. What made the proclamation all the more stunning was the reasoning behind it. This was not a company taking an ideological hardline to make a statement about the merits of putting creative work up for judgment and competition. No, it was purely a financial decision.

Sadoun said that all of Publicis’ “investments and focus” will be steered away from submitting work and instead funneled into a massive AI-fueled internal communication project nicknamed “Marcel” (after the group’s founder, Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet). The intent is to build, completely in-house, a platform through which their 80,000 employees across 130 countries can collaborate more efficiently. Just a few weeks ago, Sadoun alluded to his intentions in an interview with The Financial Times where we touted the “alchemy between media, creativity, and tech” before adding “if you [position] yourself as an expert in transformation, what matters is the means you have at your disposal.”

Not surprisingly, the announcement sent shockwaves through the industry. Even though the impetus behind the decision is not philosophical in nature—Publicis just wants all of its time and resources focused squarely on Marcel, with no outside distractions—it has sparked something of an existential crisis in the creative community. The responses have run the gamut from angry to confused to contemplative, and Publicis’ decision has caused many to take a step back and consider what awards mean to the industry as a whole.

Many took to Facebook to declare that Publicis’s decision will cost them their most valuable resource: Talent.

“Good People will leave and he has to pay twice to get them back after a while.” – Dirk Oll

“Bye bye, talent!” – Pedro Vilar

“Cheap bastards, creatives work their asses off to win awards. They come on weekends, stay nights, and now can't even let them enter their best work to win an award which wins your agencies honor and glory? Of course not, you're a bloody suit, driving your BMW, flying in your private jet to meet Fortune 500 big shots while everyone else has no life…Creatives need AWARDS! Awards is how you get promoted, how you make more money, how the suits forgive your mistakes. One year without awards? What's the point of working so hard then? Don't ask people to give 200% if you're going to treat them like garbage.” – FastCopywriter

“Taking away a chance to be honored is one of those rights of passage milestones that many creatives have dreamed about since they were very young. It's a subjective "brain raise" that pushes them to be even better. The gut blow of taking that away is akin to telling a new 21 year old that they now have to wait until 22 for the things that come with that age (u.s. speaking). Wouldn't be surprised if a population of creatives at their agencies tabled their sickest ideas until the ban is lifted.” – Roary Wilder

The comment section under an article on Sadoun’s comments posted on Campaign Brief found people voicing similar concerns, including a reader usernamed “Groan” who wrote:

“Let the brain and talent drain begin. While we shouldn't be an industry so obsessed with metal, it is a reality that you need it as a creative to get better jobs, briefs and money. Imagine you're a young creative somewhere in the world who has a killer idea, but it will never be recognized [sic]. Or a woman who may want to have a kid in the next few years, but can't pre-bank some awards so you have a job to come back to post baby. Sure it may save the group money, but it will hurt a lot of careers. The big problem is agencies working out how to charge for ideas and make money, not to just cut staff and costs.”

Others seemed baffled that Publicis would even need such a complicated platform in the first place, much less one that will allegedly absorb so much of the company’s time and money.

“Couldn't they have reduced the number of entries and put everyone on Slack?” – Jeremy Swiller

It's like a massive version of an open plan office. And as every creative knows, open plan sucks. Well done to the consultants who sold them on this.” – Craig Farndale

“A copywriter in Paris is not going to brainstorm with an art director in Hong Kong. That's not how this business works! Your platform is a big waste of money! Ever heard of Facebook, google hangouts, e-mail? That's better than creating some stupid platform that everyone will be avoiding as much as possible.” – FastCopywriter

“If you can afford a whole new "professional assistant platform" from award expenses, then you should double-check your spending behaviour anyway” – Kay Scheyerle

Of course, there are also those who applauded Publicis for their bold decision, seeing it as a not-so-gentle push the industry needs.

“Kinda funky to pay $$$ to enter a contest to win an award anyway. Just a bunch of pat on the backs and grandstanding amongst industry anyway. I respect them for pulling out.” – Shawn Starr

“Keeps their employees focused on serving clients, not themselves, methinks.” – Todd Perkins

While there are still a number of questions to be asked, such as whether or not Publicis’ decision also includes allowing its group members to serve on juries (not a financial commitment, but certainly a time and energy one), and whether this is a thinly-veiled creative “reset” for the company without the assumed indignity of having to admit as much publically. Or even, for that matter, whether or not performance-based incentives actually work—something that Forbes writer Donald Delves argued against way back in 2011.

Clearly the implications strike at the core of what the Clios are all about—recognizing, rewarding, and inspiring creative work—so any year with fewer participants and fewer creative voices is going to be a weaker one. And in the end, recognition matters. It shines a spotlight on creative work regardless of the size of the agency behind it. It raises the bar each year, and resets what is considered innovative and exciting. And it also gives up-and-coming creatives a substantial notch on their resume that propels them forward and establishes them as a force to be reckoned with in a highly competitive industry. You can’t change the world from the sidelines, right?

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