Winning awards and being a successful creative: An interview with Jonathan Cude
By Gail Marie
Jonathan Cude began his advertising career answering the phone for a director of Broadcast Production who hated voicemail. “I could never leave my desk,” remembers Cude (as he is known at McKinney). “If I didn’t answer his phone and he got a message, it was a big deal.”
McKinney’s chief creative officer since 2008, Cude now thinks that winning national awards for the advertising we create is the big deal. CMOs evaluating which agency to work with have only so many metrics to consider: How big is the agency? What kind of clients do they have? And how many awards have they won? The creatives who make the work that wins awards think awards are important, too. An Effie, a Pencil or a Lion looks pretty stellar in a portfolio or a LinkedIn profile.
But Cude warns creatives to be careful: “They can help your career, but they’re really not going to feed your soul.” He said this in an interview this spring about the six Effie Awards McKinney won this year, and I scheduled more time with him last week to discuss the caveat further over Diet Coke and cheese balls.
Q: Tell me the story of the first award you won as a creative.
While in ad school, I won Best of Show for the student section of an award show in Atlanta called Show South for a Barron’s magazine campaign that I did with Mike Byrne, who’s now the CCO of Anomaly. It was all type — we were both copywriters.
The first award I won as a professional was a Cannes Lion for what I think was the third commercial I did at Wieden+Kennedy. I was really lucky because it was part of a larger campaign idea for Nike, and I’d done just one spot with the Olympic skier Picabo Street. She was in the process of recovering from a broken leg, so we did a spot where she’s literally in a wheelchair, rolling through hospital corridors as if she’s skiing on a mountain slope. It was part of a campaign called “What are you getting ready for?”
Q: How does the possibility of winning an award for creativity or effectiveness affect the work that agencies create?
Some people create campaigns in order to win awards, and I think that approach is a trap because it doesn’t come from the right place. Agencies should be doing the best they can to help clients succeed in the marketplace. At McKinney, we do that by creating compelling, engaging, interesting, creative ideas. We don’t give up on ideas if for some reason we think they won’t win at a creative award show. They may still be damn good ideas that are going to help our clients.
At the same time, the possibility of winning awards definitely helps keep people in this industry intent on doing interesting, engaging, entertaining, groundbreaking, more compelling things. And that’s good for consumers and for brands.
Q: How should creatives think about awards?
Because a jury of their peers looked at something they created and liked it, creatives should be proud of the awards their work wins. But you can’t hang your self-worth on it.
I’ve won enough of them and know enough people who “just want a Pencil” or “just want a Lion.” And then they win the Pencil, they win the Lion, and the next day they still have all of the same deadlines looming and all of the same problems to solve. The awards don’t solve much. They’re good for a couple of hours, and then it’s over.
Also, if winning awards is your main motivation as a creative, you’re going to be unhappy most of the time because much of what you work on will not win awards.
Q: What should advertising creatives do to, as you said a few weeks ago, feed their souls?
This industry and this job of being a “creative” will take as much from you as you let it. My first boss in advertising told me that in order to succeed, I’d have to learn how to manage my energy. And he was right.
It’s a funny business of projects that come in waves. You’re busy for a time and then you’re not. Creatives have got to take advantage of the downtime between projects instead of worrying about why they’re not busy. Instead of filling up that time with anxiety, they should recharge for the next thing. Go see a movie. Hang out with your wife. Talk to your boyfriend. Take your dog to the park. Because two weeks from now, you won’t be able to. That’s a hard lesson to learn.
Creatives also feed their souls by doing work that uses technology in a new, cool way to solve client problems, by mentoring younger creatives, and by celebrating the small wins along the way.
Q: What do awards mean to you now as CCO of McKinney?
Entering award shows is expensive, so I have to do a cost-benefit analysis as chief creative officer. I have to ask myself whether it’s worth it not to have the two, three or four people I could hire to do more great work at McKinney so that we can submit award show entries. Sometimes I say yes and sometimes I say no. It’s part of McKinney’s marketing budget. And if we’re not marketing the agency effectively, that’s not good.
That said, I like winning awards and I’m happy when we do. I’m most happy for the people who made the winning work because it puts the spotlight on them for a little bit. When we win awards, particularly the Effies, I’m also happy for our clients because there’s a rigor around that show. The Effies are judged by clients, by account people, by planners, by creatives…so you’re getting multiple perspectives on the same work. And the work has to have worked in the marketplace.
That said, there are plenty of very successful agencies that don’t enter award shows. They’re just not McKinney.
The last show of the season, Cannes, kicked off this week in France. Cude is there to present “Every Company is a Media Company” with Cheil’s Daniele Fiandaca and Thomas Hong-tack Kim, and to give the same advice to creatives in other interviews.
He may or may not be snacking on cheese balls while doing so.