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The Communiqué Awards at 20: Catherine Warne

The Redhead Associates partner, and former Health Unlimited CEO, on the 'best networking event of the year'

I have been involved in the Communiqué Awards since their inception, so it is with a massive sense of pride that I write about them on their 20th anniversary. It is scary to think so much time has passed so quickly.

There are always people who like to criticise the awards, but in my experience they are usually those companies and individuals who either don't enter or don't win!

Having been a judge for 20 years, two as chair of judges, I continue to be impressed with the rigour of the process. There is no room for confidentiality breaches or tactical voting. It is simply not possible for one person to steer through their own choices, to my knowledge only a couple have tried to sway votes and ended up looking like idiots in front of their peers - and that was a long time ago. Funnily enough, I haven't seen them judging since...

For a judge, the hardest part is sifting through the volume of entries, analysing the results and seeing through any embellishment which may have been added to impress. Judges’ experience serves well here, as most can smell bullshit a mile off!

I'm sure most people have no idea how much time and effort goes into judging. Initially, judges spend at least 30 minutes per entry privately scoring them and writing notes - then scores are aggregated and entries are discussed when the judges meet. Often there’s a good debate about them - hence the need for detailed notes - as judges can see things differently. There will always be an element of ‘gut feel’ in judging awards, but thank goodness for that - creativity is subjective after all. It's a huge commitment and responsibility for the 90-plus judges.

When it comes to the premier awards, concern has been raised about agency people judging the vivas. But I would argue that they offer an important perspective - experience of running an agency helps when it comes to judging the subtle points and digging around claims made in the entry submission. On many occasions I have thrown out a question to help entrants talk about things they haven't included in their written entry but which could bring them points - for example, if they haven't mentioned their values, people strategy, client campaign or a bespoke methodology. Only an agency judge can identify these things from their own experiences and knowledge of both the agency world and the company standing before them.

We are not allowed to judge entrants where we have a conflict of interest. We also give feedback after the awards via our written notes, as unsuccessful entrants invariably ask why they didn't win. Obviously we are bound by confidentiality but we can still guide them on where they lost points and what they missed. To be honest, the usual answer is simply that the winner was better! However, one word of advice I consistently give is to be as honest as you can on the day and don't be wary that what you say may be 'stolen' - it simply won't happen and you won't win!

I believe the Communiqué Awards are good for the industry in every way; they give an opportunity for companies and individuals to showcase the great work they have done to improve awareness, prevention, diagnosis and management of people's health and well being. We should be proud to stand up and share what we have achieved. The pharma industry has been criticised in the media for as long as I can remember and failure to talk about the work simply endorses that criticism. If you don't feel confident that your work can be scrutinised in the public domain then it does pose the question - should you be doing it at all? In such a highly-regulated world we must feel confident and proud of our work.

Are they self-congratulatory? Yes! But the Oscars and BAFTAs are good for the entertainment industry so what's the difference? Do the awards celebrate the best work? Yes, they do - it's a competition at the end of the day and the best campaigns always win. Sadly, there are still clients who won't allow agencies to submit, so some great pieces of work go unrecognised. I have shared that frustration many times in my agency career! I always knew mid-campaign whether we were doing award-winning work, but so often we were unable to enter. Ironically it was often these clients who would expect us to take them as a guest or demand a ticket last minute!

So what are the benefits of the awards? It is the best networking event of the year - a time to meet old friends and colleagues, chat informally about the year and occasionally get a new client on board! If you win an award it's like bees to honey. I know one very big pharma company that every year goes through the Book of the Night and invites the winning agency in to pitch or give credentials. In a difficult trading world this is gold dust.

The awards are also a brilliant profile for up-and-coming companies and individuals - my company was twice voted agency of the year and shortlisted 14 times. We had three winners of the Young Achiever award, with a further six shortlisted. We had one of the first winners of Emerging Leader and I was very proud to be awarded Communiquétor of the Year in 2005. Numerous campaign awards are hung on the office walls and each and every shortlist contributed not only to our profile but also our self-esteem and pride in our work. They are inspiring - but as the old adage goes: you have to be in it to win it.

This year the Communiqué Awards celebrate 20 years of recognising excellence in healthcare communications. To take part in the festivities,book your tickets and join us at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London on 6 July.

12th June 2017

From: Marketing

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