Revamping the Lotus Awards

Lotus Awards winners | BCBusiness
Samples of some of the best creative work from B.C. ad agencies in 2013.

The advertising industry gives its annual celebration of the best and brightest a much-needed makeover

Although the cockiest among them will never admit it, advertising and marketing people are obsessed with winning awards for their work.

Who can blame them? In an industry where once-six-figure accounts handled by ad agencies “of record” are routinely crowd-sourced or brought in-house at a fraction of the cost (if penny-pinching ex-clients are to be believed), any validation for the much tarnished persuasion craft is welcome by its practitioners.

Advertising awards also inspire the junior ranks of up-and-coming creative talent—always a hot commodity—demonstrating that at the winning agency, good work and the long hours required to produce it will be recognized by the world (or at least a recruiter willing to dangle more money on behalf of an agency that’s noticed). But ultimately, award shows provide a beacon of what’s working in an industry that is struggling to define itself. Just last month, an article in Adweek, a storied trade publication, stated bluntly and sweepingly that “The definition of advertising has never been more unclear.” Imagine Variety or Oilweek expressing such a lack of clarity about their respective industries.

So it’s into this maelstrom of disruption, threatened market share and increased competition that B.C.’s advertising and marketing community prepares to celebrate its own on November 13 at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

Established in 1989 to “recognize outstanding creative work of individuals, companies and agencies in B.C.,” the Lotus Awards have been recalibrated after a few tough years of few volunteers, lack of local agency interest and questions about the integrity of the program.

Victoria Wills, national traffic manager at Vancouver-based Rethink Communications Inc., stepped in as Lotus Awards chair last year to find that things needed fixing fast. “The show was in jeopardy last year, but the committee was able to turn things around,” she says, citing Vancouver agency St. Bernadine Mission Communications Inc. for its industry survey asking how the Lotus Awards could be improved. That feedback was incorporated into this year’s event, starting with no longer asking rotating local agencies to volunteer handling show duties.

“With the results of the survey, we hired [event production company] brand.LIVE to handle the production of the show,” says Wills. “The event management portion was always a burden to the agency that took on the responsibility. They were also a key part of making our sponsors feel more represented in the show, something that had slowly been fading.” 

The awards committee also focused on clarifying standards for the design categories with a concerted industry outreach effort. “We made sure that our judges and entries committee was well-rounded with volunteers from all disciplines, asking them to make adjustments to the categories, entry process and judging process,” Wills says.

As a result, this year’s edition of the awards has 46 categories, ranging from the classic (best stationery) to cutting-edge (best app). There’s also an additional student category and the very appropriate and original Unsung Hero Award.

With a new event company and, as Wills puts it, an “industry that was clear that they wanted the return of a sophisticated show that celebrated B.C.’s creative community,” the Lotus Awards stopped cutting budgets and splashed out on a convention centre room.

 Dean Lee, the executive creative director at Vancouver-based agency DDB Canada (which tied with Rethink for largest Lotus Awards haul last year), appreciates how the awards “validate creative solutions we bring to our clients’ business problems.”

He also has an interesting use of the hardware his agency brings home every year. “We give away all our awards to our clients because we don’t want those shiny objects in the office out of fear that they become the focus.”

Fellow executive creative director Cosmo Campbell is impressed with the Lotus Awards’ commitment to using international judges to avoid conflict of interest and ensure a fresh eye on the work. “It’s one of the aspects that makes this show unique in Canada.”

But he does note that the show, despite its significant upgrade over the past year, is not out of the woods yet. “They used to do a really good job of bringing in world-class creatives to judge the show,” he says, citing legendary names like Bob Barrie, Dan Wieden and Jeff Goodby. “In more recent years the quality of judging has slipped a little. Ultimately, the work that ends up winning is only as good as the judges who are assessing it.”