Friday, 26 April 2013

How to Win Awards

So its that time of year again when you are bombarded with emails from the differing award organisations and you cant help but notice almost every trade publication is shoving their own or affiliated awards programs down your throat.

In the past I’ve always been a sceptic of awards particularly the larger ones. The chances of our small business with an average project budget of around £50K competing against the bigger agencies with £250k + budgets is near impossible. I also found them to be a bit pretentious and self congratulatory. I therefore made the decision never to enter them and concentrate our time on other marketing efforts. Now, looking back, it was a pretty stupid decision to make.

Firstly industry awards massively differ from award to award. Some are medium specific whilst others are more generic; some simply award the best work whilst others take budget vs. effectiveness into account and the geography of awards ranges from international to regional. There are appropriate awards for every business to enter and the rewards are long term trophies of your success which helps form bonds with existing client, make new clients and retain/attract the best talent. The only sure thing is that if you don't enter awards, you wont win awards.

I will write a separate blog post soon with a list of all the awards and links to their sites that will help you in selecting the most appropriate for you to enter. This post is solely dealing with how to win the awards after you’ve made the decision to enter.

I’ve been judging awards now for the last 7 years and have been more seriously involved with the strategy and chairing of judging over the last 3 years. I’ve learnt a lot about the processes and the factors that affect adjudication and want to share some of the inside knowledge I’ve acquired that will help you to win.

The simple trick is to put yourself in the position of a judge and try to think what they will be looking for. Considering most people that enter awards are marketing savvy and have submitted projects that have been built for an audience, I’m constantly surprised by how little thought has gone into the application.

You have to consider that a judge is a busy, successful professional within their sector (otherwise they wouldn’t have been selected as a judge). It normally takes a judge a full day to go through the initial list of award applications on their own and then another full day to go through the shortlist together with their peers in order to select a winner. Anything you can do to make this process simpler for them the better. This means keeping your application succinct to the point where you don’t loose any important detail…. Just don’t waffle on.

I’ll use a real example (no names) to illustrate how you can turn a good project into a bad award entrant. Whilst I was judging a web category at the BIMA’s one year, we had an entry that had attached a full project specification document to the application as support. They therefore felt that they could answer most of the questions on the application form with 'see supporting documents'. They also gave a link to their live project. I spent a good amount of time looking at this vast project which I have to admit infuriated me a little because it took a lot of my time. When I came to the judging day I could tell some of the other judges in my category hadn’t much of an idea what the project had achieved and devalued it to the point of it coming off the short-list. I tried to fight their case but in the end I was outnumbered.

Why did this happen? Think of it from the judges point of view. I have 8 hours and 32 entries to look at (this is a conservative estimate). That’s 15 minutes on each piece at the most. I read the application form and it’s not even complete. I then see the supporting 60 page spec doc which I know I’ll never get through so leave that completely. Then I go onto the site and just start clicking around with no specific user experience route. It’s never going to work!

Now what should have been done?

They fill out the application form in a simple and succinct manner, they only include evidence based results, they don’t even bother to include the spec document…it has no purpose here and most importantly, they screen capture and narrate the user experience they want us to see.

The use of video is key to winning an award. Don’t let the judges have to read through a load of text and then make their own user journey through your project. Dictate to them what they see and when they see it. You can also give background, objectives and results in the video that will help to re-enforce why it’s a good entry. If you keep the video to a maximum of 5 minutes you’ll ensure that all the key messages you want the judge to see including the tour of your project have been seen in a more immersive way without the judge having to even visit or navigate your project.

The other great thing about doing this is that the video can be re-used on other awards entries and used as a portfolio piece on your site and on social media. The companies out there that clean up all the big digital awards have always done this. Judges find reviewing an application from the likes of AKQA really enjoyable…its this feel good factor that helps influence a judges feelings towards the project.

So a quick summary of DO's and DONT's:

  • DO enter awards that are relevant to you.
  • DON'T bother to enter awards that are not suitable or are above/below your league.
  • DO make sure you enter the right category.
  • DO read and take notice of any category criteria and constantly refer in your application as to how you satisfied them.
  • DO fully complete the application form(s) in a succinct manner.
  • DON'T put in measures of success or ROI stats unless they are proven and/or externally sourced.
  • DO remember that a judge has 15 minutes at the most to review your project.
  • DO make a video for your entry of no longer than 5 minutes.
  • DO include objectives and results in your video.
  • DON'T expect the judges to view your project in the way you expected.
  • DON'T give any supporting detailed documents unless essential or specifically asked for.
  • DO attend an award ceremony if you're shortlisted. It's great networking and you look like idiots if you win and are not present (seen this a few times).
  • DON'T give up hope if you don't win. Keep on trying.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Best Magazines for Digital Creatives

So this is clearly a little specific for creatives in the digital realm but in general industry magazines are one of the best ways of keeping up-to-date with what is going on. They fit somewhere in-between reading books and getting on-demand content. The quality of editorial on some of the best mags is exceptional and in theory a monthly mag can only be up to a month out-of date. That said, there is a clear place for books and more on-demand interactive content but I'll cover these in a different post.

Most of the good magazines have digital editions which tend to be a little cheaper but one of the major attractions for me is that they are paper-based. I spend so much time looking at a backlit screen that I really enjoy the break that reading a print edition gives me. The cost of subscribing varies from publication to publication but monthlies are normally around the £50 mark for a years subscription. When you think that this is often the cost of a single decent creative book, it feels like pretty good value to me.

There are lots of different publications you can subscribe to and I'd like to say the more the merrier but we only have so much time in a day to read them. It's therefore better to be selective about the ones you subscribe to. I subscribe to 5 publications and spend about an hour a day reading them which sort of works out that I can read them all before the next ones arrive. I'll go into the specific titles I subscribe to and why in a bit but first I want to talk about general news.

One of the most important life skills a creative needs to have is in understanding the world around them. It's why a lot of us agencies favour recruiting grads that have had taken some time out to travel, making them a little more worldly. The importance in understanding the world around you comes from picking up the skills to determine the many differences between human backgrounds and behaviours that are shared among certain demographics or target audiences. Its also handy to understand the needs and wants of a general population which includes current and world affairs, lifestyle, business and unfortunately politics. The best way of doing this is to read a newspaper.

Those that have grown up with a newspaper will just see this as common sense but there are still more people that choose to not read one than do. For those new to newspapers, you'll need to choose one you feel is suitable for you. Firstly choose a quality paper...or more often called the broadsheets. Then buy a few different papers on the same day and choose one you like. I chose 'The Times' because of the world recognised quality of journalism but the guardian is also a strong alternative, particularly with its media section and great tablet version (The Times isn't so great on tablets)

So, assuming you have general news covered, the next step is to get a little more specific with the publications. I split the types of publications you may like to read into four different categories. Publications that...

1) ...assist in your understanding of your industry's skills.
2) ...assist in your understanding of your industry's business.
3) ...assist in your understanding of your client's business.
4) ...assist in nothing obvious but really gets your imagination going.

It goes without saying that ideally you'd choose to read one magazine from each category but sometimes you may need to read more than one from each category, like in my case for example. In catgeory 1, I choose to read three magazines; Creative Review, Computer Arts and .net as I need to keep in touch with creativity, computer arts and computer science. You may also find that one magazine covers multiple categories. Again, as an example I cover categories 2 & 3 reading Campaign, which helps me to keep in touch with both the agency world and the things our clients (large consumer brands) are up to. My publication of choice for category 4 is Wired. This is one of the best magazines I have ever read and in my opinion the editors have set a new level for magazines in terms of editorial quality, responsiveness to their readers and how to make the most of the mixed paper-based/digital mediums.

So if you are, or want to be a digital creative, I suggest reading the same magazines as me albeit with your own choice of daily newspaper. If you are not in digital or creative then you can still select an appropriate combination of magazines that will make a massive difference to your job knowledge. I can guarantee you after a month of committing time to doing this you'll appear (and will be) more intellectual and knowledgable about your work than even the most senior of colleagues that don't do this.

If you are interested in finding out more about the publications I read daily and or subscribing the URL's are below:

The Times
Creative Review
Computer Arts

Monday, 21 January 2013

How to be a Better Creative

This post is the start to a series of simple guides and tips for existing creatives and/or those that would like to either be a creative or be more creative in their work. I hope to share some of my experiences in my quest to better myself and the creative teams that have worked for me. It is biased, because of my experience, towards the digital marketing side of business but I hope that most of the posts will be beneficial to anyone wishing to develop their creative flair in their jobs. 

I've spent quite a fair bit of time being a digital creative, working in creative teams and running a creative agency and have learnt a lot along the way. When I talk at events or guest lecture, I normally theme my topic on enhancing general creativity in business, how to best formulate creative teams or how to run the creative process but I rarely talk about maximising an individuals creativity. 

I am by no means the best creative out there and have always had to balance my time with the operational running of my business. That said, being the creative lead of a small self-owned creative agency has allowed me to take an agile approach to experimenting with the development of both my own and my creatives skills and understanding. Some things I've done clearly assist in making idea machines (not to devalue the humanistic element) whilst others don't help so much.

The actual output of an individuals creative is 75% external factors such such as environment, process and team structure which is why I have in the past focused more on these parts. It means that a company looking to improve its creativity can make the biggest changes to output by just having a more systematic approach to how it runs its business. I will no doubt write more about these parts in the future but at present I want to focus specifically on how you, as a creative, can better your ability. I just wanted to point out the huge effect that any external elements have so you understand that as an individual you can only be at your best if your business is supporting you. 

The thing is, you are are an individual and if you are an employee you are recruited on an individual basis. Despite what many say, there is a definite need for specialist creatives particularly in companies that have a strong consumer brand presence. Creative is either non-existent in a company, is supplied by internal teams or external agencies. Whether you work client side or agency side makes no difference as to your potential to be a good creative. The mis-conception that client staff are not as creative as agency staff is simply because of the external factors the company works them in. I've seen some of the best creatives I've known make the transition from agency to client side and then believe they've lost their creative flair solely based on the environment they work in. On the flip side I know some wonderful creatives that work client side that make a huge difference to the quality of output from the agencies they work with.

Creativity is a set of processes in our brain, formed through a combination of genetics and learnt behaviour. By the time we have finished school and are starting to think about a career direction, a lot of our creative ability has already been formed. Its true that we all have the inherent ability to be creative but it really depends on how you define the term. You could argue that someone buying items in a shop totalling £5.20 that then hands over £10.20 instead of just the £10 is creative as they are solving a personal problem in a creative way. I suppose I define it as a solution to a problem that is a lot more emotionally complex.

I'll tag anything I write that might help in developing personal creativity into 'Creative Guide'. They will include practical advice on learning resources, development approach etc...and some things can be used in an appraisal system you are currently working on with an employer and therefore be developed whilst on paid time.

The single most important thing in being a good creative is about keeping your passion alive for the subject. Its true that 'what a young mind lacks in experience they make up for in passion.' Its a skill in itself to keep that passion alive throughout your career particularly when you start getting into more managerial roles dealing with the managing of people and business operations. It goes without saying that the best creative is therefore one that is experienced with a retained passion for the subject.

I should also make it clear that whilst I have followed some of the academic side of creativity, at the end of the day I run a business. I've taken some good things from lectures, papers and books from academics but the advice I give will only be things I have found to be practical, have implemented myself and have been successful. Most of the the academics are too purist in their approach and when you come to make use of the strategies they discuss they are either too costly, time consuming or even detrimental in conceiving a good simple concept. When you start thinking too much about process rather than the problem you were originally trying to solve you are going backwards.

Anyway, I hope these simple guides help. Please leave questions, comments and share your own advice or tips from your experiences.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

The Problems with Internet Dating

Nb. This is a huge post. I’ve already had a few people say my posts are too long so I promise I’ll do a few more manageable ones later. There’s just quite a lot I have to say about this subject. I use quite a lot of stats in this post. They come from a variety of sources but mostly from Reuters.

The opening line of a recent blog on the independent site read ‘We’re all going crazy for internet dating!’ That line might go some way in explaining the number of crazy people you may need to get through to find a good date.

Four years ago I found myself single for the first time in my adult life at the ripe old age of 29. I had also just moved into a new area and didn’t know anyone outside of work. As many will tell you, those that have been single for a long time find it more difficult to adjust to being with someone whereas those, like me, that have been in relationships a long time find it hard to adjust to being single. I have to admit that it was a new, very lonely experience for me, particularly as I had a child in my last relationship. I'd gone from hectic family life to being totally alone. At that time I knew that I wanted to be in another relationship and believed the easiest way to do so, considering my circumstances, would be to give internet dating a try.

Over the last 4 years I have been on and off different dating sites, resulting in a numerous amount of dates that have varied from the nicest of people to the most crazy I’d ever met. Some of these crazier dates verged on being serious enough to get the police involved.

One of the obvious mutually interesting discussions you can have with any date is about internet dating itself. I found it fascinating as to what women thought about it and the experiences they'd previously had. It often felt like smokers talking about smoking; you could be total strangers and found yourself talking about something you hated but still carried on with because you couldn’t see an alternative way. My experiences, my feelings and these discussions I had with dates really made me consider why the current way of internet dating could be more problematic than problem solving.

With more people single in their middle age, more breakdowns of marriage and both males and females working endless hours in pursuit of careers, any technology that can assist in the search and recommendation of a prospective partner has got to be a good thing, right? Well it seems like a lot of people think so, with an estimated 80% of single people in Europe and the US trying online dating. The revenue generated from internet dating in the US alone equates to over $1 Billion dollars, with 40 million registered internet daters from the 54 million estimated single people.

So if the large population of singletons has a demand for these services and the internet dating companies are supplying them what is the problem? The real problem stems from the complex set of human requirements involved when you are looking for someone and how the websites manage or more often mismanage the mechanics of delivering these requirements. Regardless if we are aware of it, as users we follow the intangible rule sets given to us by the sites in interacting with potential partners. This bends our normal behaviour to interact in a way that often brings out the worst possibilities of meeting someone. It’s therefore as much our own fault as the dating site owners but we are being educated to think that what we are doing is normal…well it must be if the majority of the population is doing it.  The over-engineering by the companies of their offerings has gone past the point of helping.

It is quite clear why these companies have done these things. It is a competitive market so they all need to appear to differentiate themselves and also add that little something extra. There are two major things that all the providers of these services have in common. The first is that they are trying to make money and the second is that the quicker they are at finding you a long-term partner the less money they will make. Therefore these companies have the following impossible dilemma; their customers needs are quite the opposite of their own. In fact only 10% of new users leave in the first 3 months and 95% of the same leavers haven’t met anyone. It just clarifies that internet dating isn’t the quick fix a lot think it might be.

So what are the problems of internet dating at present? There are quite a few if you ask me. I can’t cover them all so will focus on the main ones. I haven’t been on or even heard of every dating site in the world so these are problems that only exist in the sites I’ve had experience with (Chemistry, Match, Match Affinity, eHarmony, Plenty of Fish and Zoosk) but I can imagine most of the problems I’ll go into apply for the majority of other sites as well. I only state problems for the genuine, normal minded person looking for love. Those not fitting into this bracket may find the problems I list beneficial.

Aesthetic commodity selling
Some sites are more genuine than others in this way but the crux of it is that a large part of our attraction is based on physical looks. With most sites wanting to emphasise the huge number of members they have, they will display page-by-page of a huge number of photos side by side. When your photo is listed amongst hundreds of others you literally become a fish in the sea. The ‘plenty of fish in the sea’ saying is more of an enlightening of the truth so I don’t feel the problem lies here. The problem is that by the sites making this the primary focus of search, we start short-listing entirely based on looks.

Successful couples that had been together over 20 years were asked what was the most important thing that first attracted them to their partner.  Only 23% believed it was looks. In contrast 89% of us select a first internet date based on looks.

Consider the following simple romantic scenario. You see an average looking stranger standing near you at a bar talking to their friends. You pay no attention until you overhear them talking about something of importance to you. The stranger sees things the same way as you so you turn to pay attention. The stranger notices you, smiles and you engage in conversation. Only after interacting with them have you found them attractive…an impossible scenario with internet dating. It is however, possible to go through these romantic feelings after the selection process, by which time you may well have skipped past the romantic stranger in the story above. This was because there were 40 other photos on a page alongside theirs and 10 were better looking.

Lies, deceit and telling you what you want to hear
I’m guessing its not a new concept to anyone that people lie about certain things with apparently 53% of us doing so just on our CV/resume or linkedin profiles but for some reason a lot of us are still a little na├»ve about it when viewing profiles. People are trying to sell themselves. Trying to better their competitors, men lie most about their age, height and income whereas women lie most about their age, weight and physical build. 

Why?? Some people realise its all about getting that first date and go to stupid extents to bend the truth. Some totally fabricate it because they are trying to escape the reality of their lives….I really don’t know! 

I’ve personally experienced this problem many times. I’ve met a woman that had pictures from 10 years ago and lied about her age, an enormous woman that looked like she had eaten the slender girl in her pictures for breakfast and a couple of women that have totally fabricated their entire life stories to such detail that as a rational person you believe them. After all…why on earth would they bother!

Stranger danger
It took me a while to realise the reason why I was meeting a higher percentage of odd people dating than I’ve ever met in the rest of my life. Its simply because when you are internet dating you are quite obviously meeting a stranger. 

In the rest of our lives we typically meet friends and sometimes, even dates through friends. By default when you do this you are likely to meet someone your friend considers a friend. It is unlikely that a good friend has many odd friends let alone would want to introduce you to them. 

As we get older and go through our friendship cycles the chance of meeting odd people become smaller and smaller and our expectations follow suit. That’s why it becomes a bit of a shock at first when you meet your first random odd-ball.  It really can put you off internet dating for good and might go some way in explaining the 10% of people leaving within 3 months.

You also need to be aware of sites that use this problem as selling point.  ‘My single friend’ for example claims to be more genuine because friends of the dater write the profiles. This might help to a certain extent but taking the above into consideration an odd person may have an odd friend and friends are actually more likely to write a glowing report of a person than they would of themselves. It’s also not too difficult to fake a friend (it only requires for another email address to be registered).

Also the sites don’t want to publicise it as much as they do their success stories and weddings but it goes without saying that there are some dangerous people out there without good intention. I’ve heard some quite serious accounts of things that have happened to people I have met.

Out and about
When you get to the point of going for your first date you start to think about where to go, what to do and what time to do it. 74% of people in UK go to a pub or bar for a drink on the first date.

The problem that some seem to have with doing this is the timing. I mean it’s likely to be a weekend night or at least an evening so there is plenty of time to keep going.  Drinking seems an obvious way to calm the nerves and to get to a point where we feel more comfortable in being ourselves but the date can then sometimes go a little further than maybe we would have liked.

I was surprised to find out that in the US 33% of women have sex on their first internet date. It’s not for me to tell anyone what they can or cannot do and I think its fine if two consenting adults want to have sex after a first date…its just that more often than not, when friends of mine have done so they were either 1) drunk and regret it or 2) they believed something would carry-on after. This means the other person was clearly telling them what they wanted to hear in order to get them into bed. The ironic thing is the number one reason I hear from everyone as a reason to date online as opposed to meeting someone naturally is ‘I’d rather meet someone sober online than meet someone drunk out in a bar’.

Too much typing, not enough meeting
A lot of people cite ‘lack of time’ as being a reason for not meeting someone but then have to spend a huge amount of time searching, short-listing and then writing to people. The right amount of mail contact before a first date is unique to each individual. There is a need to feel balance between spending the time to check if someone is normal but also wanting to make something more real. 

I can say in my experience, it doesn’t matter how long you chat online for, you will never know what someone is like until you meet. I mean, if someone really was an axe-murderer they are not going to tell you in advance are they? The other problem with chatting for too long is you start to build up false expectations of how your date will be.

Multiple dating
I’m sure a lot of us have heard a few ‘old-wives tales’ about people that have done the 14 dates in 14 days. The thing is, if this were possible then it wouldn’t be a bad thing and isn’t considered multiple dating. Multiple dating is when you make the commitment to continue dating i.e. seeing them again whilst also continuing to see other people. Even after understanding the definition, I don’t think multiple dating is wrong providing the person you are dating knows this is the intention. The problem comes when one person multiple dates whilst the other believes they are the only one. 

Apart from the deceit, particularly if having sexual relationships with multiple dates, multiple daters are unlikely to be focused exclusively on committing to one person. Some people are doing this for sex, some for self worth but most are actually quite genuinely looking for ‘the one’ and taking a ‘get out of jail’ and ‘try before you buy’ approach. So if one date doesn’t work out many others exist. The sad truth is its unlikely that any will work out causing problems to everyone involved. Although its not very common with women, 53% of males multiple date.

Where’s the romance gone
There’s something quite romantic about meeting someone in a natural way. Even the toughest of us secretly long for a romantic story of meeting and that first meet has been the romantic focus of many a romantic comedy. All of my past relationships had a story behind them, meeting someone on the snow whilst boarding, a girl on a train I met when all the seats were taken, a girl I adored from Uni that took 7 years to find…It really doesn’t hold the same appeal for me to say ‘This is the girl I got to know from 

While its inevitable that this will be the case if you meet someone internet dating it’s another reason why we shouldn’t be delving into long conversations online. Use the site to find someone then have as much of the initial relationship in the real-world as possible.

The laws of attraction
Although I’m not soppy enough to believe that there is just one person out there for us I do believe some people are better suited than others. What I strongly disagree with is that I can be matched to them people through a website search. 

The sites that take this approach are using more and more intelligent ways to try to match that includes genetic algorithms (an evolution of your own matching criteria influenced by your activity). This means, for example, that although I might say I want to meet 30 year old blondes, if the site sees I’m clicking a lot of 40 year old brunettes it will start to include more of this type of match.

The point is, I don’t know either consciously or subconsciously what a successful match is for me. If I did I probably wouldn’t be single. We are human. We have irrational brains. The thought processes used and emotions shown in attraction and love are too complex for any human to program into a computer. As individuals we are so unique that you could argue that not even successful couples know the real complexities as to what initially attracted them to their partners.

It’s not actually the sites mechanics that are at fault. It is the marketing messaging of these sites that convince you to think that by being clever they are more likely to find you a perfect match.

Yes your details are almost public. I can’t see how the same people that are so fussy about who sees what on social networking are happy for millions of their preferred sex to see the most intimate details about themselves including their feelings on relationships, what they are looking for in a partner and their private stats. Its all too common these days for you to find people you know on one of the sites and then find out things even you didn’t know about them. 

In terms of the companies selling data to 3rd parties, some will never do this and some have opt-in/out options but I can tell you after joining the biggest sites and opting out of any comms I have still had a whole load of emails from other more promiscuous sites and spammers…someone clearly divulged that I was at least dating.

So reflecting on the problems and why they exist you can see that they mostly relate to this conflict of interest between what a dater wants and what the companies supplying the services want. They want to show that they have as many members as possible so commoditise you. The only barrier to membership is the fee so any nutter with the money can join. They want you to stay within the realms of their platform as much as possible so entice you onto the site with notifications and dating matches by email. They are quite happy for members to multiple date and even happier to get all your lovely valuable details. Heck, most of the sites even sent me special offers for becoming a member again after I’d stated the reason for leaving was because I’d met someone on their site.

I wish everyone luck in their dating experiences whether online or offline and hope you find the one that completes you so you'll never have to delve back into this horrible dating mess again :)