The shift from mediocrity to excellence requires a determined effort

The truth that we find inspiration from the go-getters around us is captured in the popular saying ‘You can’t soar like an eagle if you hang out with chickens!’ With the marketing communications sector’s awards season on the horizon, its time to ask ourselves, once again, whether it really matters and if winning awards is all that it is hyped up to be. Last year some top brands were conspicuously missing from the awards and I gleaned from some of the bosses that they were grappling with the significance of these shenanigans and wondering what all the fuss was about.

Don’t forget what got you to the top, if at all it wasn’t the ability to thrive in office politics, then it must have been the fire in your belly that was fueled by a dream to be better. And you knew that it was possible to reach that goal because you had seen others before you come and do great things against all odds, and as a junior executive you sought out all opportunities to prove yourself to your peers, your bosses and anyone who cared to listen. Things didn’t go your way on many occasions because the corporate politicians stole your ideas and took credit for your work, but once in a while you got recognised for your diligence, your passion and your sweat, which added more fuel to the flames as you sampled success.

It’s the lonely man, as described by Leo Burnett, working away in a corner and determined to create something new, do things differently or find novel solutions to old problems, that we rely on to bring positive change to our organisations. Burnett says that it will be a shame when we forget what they bring to the table and when we stop recognising them and instead credit the usurping prima donnas for the results.

When managing a high performance teams, one of the things you need to do frequently is celebrate successes, because in a high pressure environment where people get incessant knocks as a daily staple, its those high moments that make it worthwhile. Its during that time when we reflect on the critical success factors and demonstrate, for everyone to see, the high standards that we aspire to. Others will want to emulate this but some others will want to do better, and its on that positive competition that civilisation advancement depends on. A recent study among young men showed that they’d rather take a pay cut if they were to earn more than their peers. In the study they were asked to select one of two incomes, one of which was high but lower then their peers, and another income that was lower than the first but slightly higher than their peers. They overwhelmingly chose the latter!

Apart from leveraging on human nature to drive excellence, the awards establish a competitive environment within the sector to get the juices flowing. ‘Make no small plans, as small plans have no magic to stir men’s blood,’ goes the common adage, setting the stage for ambitious projects that meet the brief and that get recognition for their brilliance and exceptional execution. In a perfect world, the award submissions are written as we get down to business, plan and manage the advertising or PR campaigns, and when we present the final results to the client, it will not only be an award submission, but it will also be a well written case study that can be used in our marketing courses.

But the reality is that we set the interns, hot on their heels at the last minute, to write up the project, review the scattered documents that have been stored by different people in different places, some in soft copy, some in hard copy, and most of them not updated sufficiently, and expect them to submit a perfect award entry. When the intern, fatigued from the two long days and late nights pulling teeth, presents the final document to his boss for approval, the papers are signed without as much of a glance at its contents.

At the other end, the judges are overjoyed to receive a record number of entries, only to find that a majority of them have gone through the process highlighted above. Did you ever wonder why judges don’t smile during the standard gala events? Its because they’ve read through a record number of bad entries, which feels like putting your head through a vice and squeezing.

Then, there are those few entries that hit the spot; a well written submission with clear objectives, a great display of the strategy and execution, and finally a good demonstration of the results. Most of these entries are either written by senior executives or closely supervised and supported by the leaders. You get the sense that they are genuinely seeking excellence in everything that they do, that they have given themselves enough time to complete the task, and have included the perspectives of the members of the team that participated. They also flesh out the examples of the outputs and eventually demonstrate that they had an impact on the bottom line. The companies that do this best also ensure that they have made progress over the previous year, and that their projects are living examples of the kaizen principle.

The saying goes ‘when the hunter learns to shoot arrows without missing, the birds learn to fly without perching’ and in our context this means that its up to us, collectively, to drive excellence in marketing communications. The awards encourage us to look beyond our individual profit motives and approach the sector with foresight and vision in order to create an environment where talent thrives, ideas raise the bar, and the execution meets the bill. The process leverages on a workforce with sizeable egos that demand to be recognised for their work and at the end, industry progress hinges on a balance of power that is created by everyone having their own selfish interests.

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