Interview: Alisun Armstrong, Executive Director, The International AME Awards 2014

“Early adopters deserve a space where they can be recognized – the risk of trying a new, untested platform should be rewarded, especially on the brand side, where creatives often meet a lot of resistance when breaking away from the tried-and-true”

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Interview: Alisun Armstrong, Executive Director, The International AME Awards 2014

Interview: Alisun Armstrong, Executive Director, The International AME Awards 2014

“Early adopters deserve a space where they can be recognized – the risk of trying a new, untested platform should be rewarded, especially on the brand side, where creatives often meet a lot of resistance when breaking away from the tried-and-true”

BestMediaInfo Bureau | October 14, 2013

publive-image Alisun Armstrong

AME is celebrating its 20th anniversary. How has the International AME Awards evolved over time, and what makes the competition unique?

We consider ourselves the arbiters of the world's most effective and creative advertising, so the AME Awards must be on the vanguard – we have to be sure we're on top of the trends and technology our entrants are using to get their messages out. Whether it's a complete system overhaul to recognise that an expanding global economy means entries should be reviewed by regional juries sympathetic to social, economic and cultural contexts, or something as simple as expanding and retiring categories to reflect the constant evolution of the industry, we are always working to ensure we offer marketers and creatives the most relevant place to showcase their work.

We're able to do this because we remain a small, agile operation. We can really tune into what's happening out on the field, hear what our entrants are saying, hone in on the next big thing, and respond accordingly. Our size also allows us to concentrate on customer service -- every entrant is important, every question is important, and so is ensuring a frustration-free experience.


This is your second year at the helm. What changes in the competition have you initiated these past years?

It's been a busy few years. We've got a new website, new categories, and a new entry system that features a streamlined case brief and the ability to upload supporting materials during the entry process instead of through an upload link after the fact. I've also been trying to better leverage the same tools our entrants use – Facebook, Twitter, email – to feature our amazing jury and winners and expand the reach of the competition so we can see even more of the most effective campaigns going on out there.


Social video is the latest item in the savvy marketer's tool belt, and it's already part of the 2014 competition. What is your hope for this newly introduced category?

Honestly? I want to see all the cool Vines and Instagram videos people have been making! But seriously, the full potential of social video is still being explored; I think the early adopters deserve a space where they can be recognized – the risk of trying a new, untested platform should be rewarded, especially on the brand side, where creatives often meet a lot of resistance when breaking away from the tried-and-true.


What other trends do you see marketers utilising to drive brand engagement?

Just when you think a plateau has been reached, someone comes out with a new tool that promises to be a game changer. I'm very curious to see the effects that Google Glass, Samsung's Gear and Bionym's Nymi will have on advertising, and what kind of jumping-off point these new, hot technologies will inspire. Phones, glasses, watches… remember when we thought the future was going to be about jet packs and flying cars? But no, it's apparently going to be about accessories. Maybe hotspot earrings are next? Key fobs that teleport you home? Maybe we'll finally get that jet pack – and it will double as a laptop bag/solar charging station/rain poncho!

How is the response from India for the 2014 awards?

We actually just got a bit of a rush of entries from India, but I'm really hoping to see more.

Indian advertising has made quite a mark so far as their effectiveness for brands in the Indian marketplace in concerned. But we haven't seen them winning big at AME Awards. What do you attribute this to?

There really is some great, effective work happening in India, for sure. That's why I'm hoping to get the word out about the AME Awards to the creatives in your country. We haven't had many entries from India, historically, and I think it's tough for the “new kid” to gain traction.

Aditya Kanthy, Senior Vice-President at DDB Mudra and 2014 AME judge, told me, “There's been some excellent work out of India this year. The work on Flipkart, Fastrack, Vodafone and Tanishq has been particularly good. Some of DDB Mudra's work has delivered impressive results too including our campaigns on Volkswagen.” And he sees the current economic difficulties as an opportunity when he says that “this year, in particular, I'd encourage clients and agencies that have employed the power of creativity to overcome a tough economic environment to enter the awards.”

I'm hoping we can put work from those shops – and more – in front of our judges this year.

Which categories from India have drawn the maximum entries? Do you see a trend in the nature of Indian entries?

Most of the entries from India at this point seem to focus on the Use of Medium and Use of Discipline categories, which tells me there's a great focus on craft.

Last year AME introduced a roster of categories that transformed the competition, such as Sports Promotion, Branded Entertainment, Ebooks, Games, Pop-up Stores, Tablets, Low-budget, and Collateral and Print, as well as Social Benefit, which promotes peace, human rights, social consciousness, and a commitment to planetary stewardship. Was there an influx of unique entries as a result of these recently added categories? 

The Social Benefit categories were definitely the most successful of the new additions, with the most entries as well as several winning works – and they're holding steady already this year with the most entries since the 2014 competition opened on August 1. I love that people responded so enthusiastically to this new category group, and really I love giving exposure not only to the winning work, but also to the great projects they support. I hope marketers and creatives continue to use their powers for good, and I hope the recognition of their work helps inspire them to it.


AME Awards selects regional jurors. What is the purpose of five separate, regional juries? 

It's a big ol' world out there, and the nuances a creative team endeavours to address when building a campaign just may, as they say, get lost in the translation. The regional judging structure (North America, Latin America, Europe, Middle East & Africa, and Asia-Pacific) allows each entry to be reviewed in its own social, economic and cultural context to ensure a score that most accurately reflects the work.


What mix of disciplines make up the AME Grand Jury?

Our jury comprises top interactive and multi-disciplinary marketers, media planners, strategy directors, social media experts and creative directors from all over the world. We have people from both sides of the table – art directors and executive creative directors, planning directors and senior strategists – and from both agencies and brands. It's a great meeting of minds!


What are the criteria for evaluating entries, and how does the scoring process work?

There are three rounds of judging. Round 1 determines the Shortlist. All entries are reviewed by region, and judges only see entries from their respective regions. Round 2 decides the Bronze, Silver and Gold winners, and again is scored by region. Shortlisted work that does not earn a medal becomes a Finalist in this round, and the highest scoring Gold with an eco theme receives the AME Green Award. Then there's the final round, The Best-In-Shows. All judges come together as one jury to score the Gold-winning work and determine a Platinum Award for each region (if the region had any entries that achieved Gold Award status). The campaign from this round that earns the highest overall score is awarded the highest honor in the competition, the AME Grand.

In each round, judges are asked to evaluate specific criteria and provide four separate, weighted scores analysing specific attributes of the work according to the following matrix:

• Challenge/Strategy/Objectives – 20%

• Creativity – 25%

• Execution – 25%

• Results/Effectiveness – 30%

The most important measure is effectiveness, and the reason why can be summed up by 2013 Grand Jury member Wesley Ter Haar, Founder of MediaMonks in The Netherlands: “It's easy to say something is great work because you like the way it looks, works or thinks, but if the numbers don't add up, it's just window-dressing.”


What makes a campaign worthy of a Platinum Award? Why is earning an AME Platinum Award such a prestigious honour?

Any AME Award in your trophy case is absolute proof that your company can deliver, and solidifies your success in today's communications industry – plus gets you and your client worldwide exposure. And most importantly, it provides you with a platform to showcase your work in front of a panel of the industry's most accomplished professionals.

But the Platinum Award is especially prestigious because it means your work rose above all others in your region – it sets the bar for your part of the world and shows that your team not only makes creative and compelling work, but work that meets a client's challenging demands and brings measurable effects to their bottom line.


As an international competition, what cultural differences, if any, have you noticed in AME entries?

My purely unscientific and anecdotal observations of our winners indicate a few patterns – exceptions abound, of course, and no single culture can or should be pigeonholed, but from what I've seen: India leans towards campaigns that centre around the family and are aspirational; with Latin America, it's funny and/or sexy; Asia seems to go for youth and sentiment; Germany does a lot of thinking outside the box; Australia and Canada have a tendency to get adventurous; and the US, well, they're all over the map.

But everybody does a lot of humour – and why not? Sharing a laugh with someone really makes a connection. It's a great way to break barriers down and get your message across.


Advertising and marketing are continually evolving. How have entries changed over the last five years?

The biggest change is most definitely in media and formats. There are so many different options for advertisers it's hard to keep up. And the fact that so many of those new tools are part of the digital sphere means measurement has gotten easier, which means that showing evidence of results has definitely gotten more sophisticated – much to the satisfaction of the jury, who are really stressing the importance of reliable results this year. The march of big data has changed entries, too, and all that information allows campaigns to be more targeted and, presumably, more effective. Finally, crowd-sourced content, usually through contests, has definitely been increasing. These tools, all the websites and blogs and games and apps are like 24-hour news networks – they need to be fed constantly. Fortunately, a vast number of the public are happy to help stuff that gaping maw.


As a marketer, what changes have you seen in the industry this past year? In your opinion, what's trending in 2013 and what is on the way out? 

It's a little overwhelming to think about the developments we've seen in just the past year – Vine burst on the scene, and Instagram almost instantly upped the ante by upping the clip length; augmented reality is popping up everywhere; big data gets bigger everyday; content is no longer just king, it's now supreme ruler; and OMG Gmail brought tabs to the inbox! And all that in addition to the new gadgets recently introduced by Google, Samsung and Bionym, which are most certainly bound to bring new advertising/branding/marketing opportunities.

What's on its way out? Well, the Facebook hashtag thing definitely doesn't seem to be going anywhere. The jury is still out on the QR code. And the rest remains to be seen, though I don't see the content imperative going anywhere anytime soon, and while there have been discussions on the true efficacy of big data, I think there's too much invested in it for it to fade into the background. Social and mobile will continue to be a priority, but cat videos will probably continue to win the internet in the end.


How has AME updated its entry process, what are the benefits to the entrants?

Last year, we completely redesigned the online entry process to make it more intuitive for entrants. I wanted the form to be simple and comprehensive enough that anyone could create a sophisticated, coherent case brief, whether they were a seasoned awards coordinator or an intern.

This year, we added the ability to upload supporting material as part of the entry process, instead of asking entrants to follow an external link after check-out. I know I'd feel better if I were to go through the considerable work of filling out a case brief and be confident that each piece of my supporting materials was accounted for before I hit 'submit'.

All in all, every change we make – whether it's technical or content-related – is carefully considered and made with the entrant in mind. We want to be sure entering the AME Awards is as painless as possible; a campaign shouldn't suffer in the scoring rounds for obfuscation in the entry process.