Award shows are about more than winning.


Awards shows play a crucial role in inspiring us to open our minds to new possibilities, they fuel the competitive spirit to perform to a higher standard and they teach us how it’s done.

The “textbook” of my first copywriting class was a One Show awards annual—the book that displays all of the winning creative work for the year. For my 20-something self, working an entry-level job in an ad agency, living in a trailer and looking forward to 50-cent tacos at Tortilla Flats, I was sure I couldn’t afford the $65 for the publication. It was an unjustified extravagance, and I really couldn’t understand the expense…until I received the book.

It was beautiful. Hardbound. Two inches thick. It had weight. And inside was a brand new and exciting world to me. The best advertising in the world. Sample ads and billboards, radio and TV scripts—even full campaigns.

The message was clear: this is good work—do this.

Being able to see how successful work is done is invaluable. And it’s a rare opportunity. With gated content and so much niche-work being done (as opposed to mass-market), we just don’t see a lot of the great campaigns and tactics out there. But as marketers’ media mix has become more varied and complex over the years, the educational aspect of awards shows has become more important, maybe even essential.

If you want to, say, see examples of email drip campaigns (and outstanding ones, at that), being able to check out an awards annual beats signing up for mailing lists so you can see how Audi, Crate & Barrel or Starbucks market to prospects.

There are many awards shows out there. They vary from local to international. Some are industry-specific or media-specific. I think the best ones emphasize the work by sharing the work and displaying the work—as opposed to just handing out plaques, posting podium shots and publishing a trophy count at the end of the night.

The One Show, Communication Arts (CA), Clios, Cannes and others do this either by publishing a printed annual, creating an online gallery or doing both. If you want to immerse yourself in the work, these are great options. They all offer great opportunities to see “how it’s done”—although compared to the One Show and CA (both under $100) the $99 per month subscription to view Cannes work can be a bit of a bite. Insider tip: you can check out Clios winners free.

For a more educational experience, you can’t beat the Effies, an award show revered by marketers across industries for its focus on results as well as for its case study format. Viewing the case studies requires membership, but the comprehensive details and insights make them invaluable tools. The Direct Marketers Association DMA International® Echo Awards have an online gallery of winning work that also makes for an exceptional educational resource—but you’ll need a membership to access them.

My area of copywriting specialty is transportation and logistics, and I was delighted recently to discover the Compass Awards (funny story) put on by the Transportation Marketing & Sales Association. The work is all in my niche and all the winning campaigns and content are available to members through TMSA’s resource library. Smart idea.

As someone who’s trying to learn more about this industry, I’ve been eating up the case study format. The Compass Awards were one of the many learning opportunities I discovered while attending TMSA’s annual conference. (Read my takeaways here.)

Even when you don’t win, you can still take something away from award shows.

(Speaking of awards, wondering what I’ve won? Or would you rather see the work?)