Awards in the Time of COVID

By Mandie van der Merwe Posted on Jun 10, 2020

A perspective piece on judging the One Show 2020 by ECD at M&C Saatchi in Sydney– Mandie van de Merwe

2020 was going to be different. I was heading to SXSW and then to Puerto Rico to judge The One Show awards. My biggest worry was transitioning from a cold climate to a tropical paradise and getting over my insecurities about wearing a bathing suit in front of other judges (though, tbh, not much can keep me out of the water). Instead, 2020 threw us all a curveball.

The One Show, as we all know, made the decision to go ahead with the awards. Judging went ahead. The big difference was the final round of judging. Instead of Puerto Rico, judging happened in my apartment overlooking the paradisiacal McMahons Point. Instead of a week-long in-person debate with the other jurors, we had a pretty robust video call one night to decide on the medal. It was different– not bad-different, just different-different.

Usually, during the latter rounds of judging, you go into a bubble– cordoned off from the world with your jury. There’s debate, there are different points of view to reflect on, and there are engaged minds testing the veracity of the case studies. This year, leading up to the last video call, I debated with myself a lot in those final rounds. In fact, there are probably pieces of work I gave more consideration than they usually would have received in a normal judging environment because I lived with them alone and I had to debate with myself and moderate my opinions without any external voices. Interestingly, the final list of work that made it to the final call and discussion was, by-and-large, unanimously agreed upon by the jury group before we got onto the call.

The call was intense.

A. Because it was at 11:30 pm AEST

B. Because there was an intimidatingly smart collection of minds from New York, Miami, Dusseldorf, Bucharest, Stockholm, and Toronto.

C. Because not being in the same room didn’t change the way in which the ideas were debated.

In fact, I think the video call format created a more balanced jury room. IRL we can get swept up in the moment, and I’ve seen juries where the loudest voices steer the room (unintentionally or otherwise). This time, because of the process, the room gave space to the quieter voices.

I’ve heard many debates about the integrity, and even the validity, of award shows in 2020. In terms of the integrity of the show, I think the results will speak for themselves. Only the best work has been recognized and it would have rivaled any previous year. As to the validity of award shows in a pandemic, I find the debate a little tedious.

Firstly, award shows (even in a non-pandemic year) are about setting a benchmark for ingenuity and creativity. It’s about making sure that as an industry we don’t tumble into the wastelands of mediocrity that somehow capture much of the advertising out there. It’s about the recognition of ideas that are too brave, too well made, too unique to just be rewarded with better NPS scores.

We need to acknowledge those clients who took a leap of faith on a brave thought– we need to say “good onya.” That recognition generates goodwill– a commodity that is in short supply during a pandemic when companies and brands turn their attention inwards towards self-preservation.

"We need to acknowledge those clients who took a leap of faith on a brave thought– we need to say “good onya.” That recognition generates goodwill– a commodity that is in short supply during a pandemic when companies and brands turn their attention inwards towards self-preservation."

There have been some outstanding pieces of work this year (due to strict rules, I’m not allowed to call them out by name– pesky NDAs), but you know some of the campaigns I’m talking about. Some of them you might not know because they were local campaigns. That’s the point– there are brave clients out there– big and small all over the place. They’re redefining their categories for the whole world– not recognizing them publicly and proudly is a wasted opportunity. We miss out on reminding some of our less brave clients (big or small) about the power of ideas and how effective they can be, not only for business results but also for public perception too. We miss the moment to appeal to our clients’ egos and desires to be the best in their business.

Further to that, we miss the moment to recognize individual effort. COVID-19 has taken so much from us already. I don’t think this recognition should be so easily snagged from us. Awards shine a light on talent– on writers, art directors, designers, directors, musicians– the list is endless. COVID has had an impact on people’s careers– especially younger talent who is trying to make a name for themselves.

Lastly, awards are all about inspiration. We’re all figuring out what COVID-19 means for our businesses and our client’s businesses. While it’s easy to imagine that awards are superfluous in tough times, we also need to remember that in times of difficulty, the easiest thing to do is revert to what we know– to safety, to follow others’ tried and tested measures without daring to push beyond that. History shows us that the brands that dare to do things differently are rewarded and we need to remember that. We have the privilege of being inspired by incredible ideas that use creativity to overcome hurdles, even though the size of our worlds have shrunk to the size of a one-bedroom apartment.

Yes, it’s been hard. Yes, it’s nothing like judging in Puerto Rico– that’s for sure, but maybe it’s brought out the best in us as an industry. The focus is not on the thrill of the experience of traveling around the world and judging in paradise, but rather on the singularity of creative excellence– recognizing great work and showing off to the industry and our clients the type of work we should all be striving to create.

Thank you, One Show. Thank you, fellow jurors. I can’t wait to meet you all in person one day– hopefully in Puerto Rico.




The WINNERS of The One Show will be unveiled online on June 17–18.


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