Squaring the circle

Mark Denton has brought some characteristic energy and fun to the Creative Circle. How has it gone down in adland?

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Under the presidency of Mark Denton, a re-invigorated Creative Circle has defined itself as a distinctly British awards scheme, very much in contrast to the internationalism of D&AD. On the publication of its new annual, a Beano pastiche entitled The Bumper Book of British Advertising, we brought together a panel of advertising creatives to discuss the relevancy of the Creative Circle versus D&AD and whether awards annuals themselves are still useful.

On our panel: Andy Lockley, executive creative director at Dentsu London; Dylan Harrison, a creative director at DDB, London; Fallon creative and ex-Creative Future, Samuel Akesson and Simon Veksner, author of advertising blog Scamp, and a copywriter at BBH, London.


CREATIVE REVIEW: How would you assess the impact of Mark Denton’s involvement with the Creative Circle?

ANDY LOCKLEY: I think it’s an exciting time for the Creative Circle. The organisation appears to be enjoying a new found energy and sense of purpose. In the past it perhaps suffered by not being able to package and promote itself in as lavish a way as some of the better-funded awards but it occupies a special place in the hearts and minds of UK creatives. It’s run by creative people for the benefit of creative people. It has a wonderfully simple remit – to commend outstanding and original creativity in the British advertising industry – and that is why there will always be an important role for it.

DYLAN HARRISON: A number of years ago The Creative Circle felt in danger of becoming somewhat irrelevant. D&AD was always a much bigger awards night, attracted the best work from around the world and produced the coveted annual each year. There were more focused awards such as Campaign Press, Campaign Poster and btaa. The Creative Circle seemed caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.

Then, almost overnight, D&AD seemed to have become truly global. The price of its ambition was its distinctly British tone of voice and therefore part of its relevance along with it. In the British advertising industry, perhaps reflecting the industry worldwide, losing d&ad’s Britishness somehow felt like the British stranglehold on creativity had slipped along with it. D&AD, the benchmark we’d been so proud of, just didn’t feel like it was ours anymore.

At the same time, under Mark Denton’s creative direction, the Creative Circle was revamped. He redesigned the awards, injected some chutzpah back into the ceremony and most importantly, introduced the Creative Circle annual. Suddenly it felt like there was a serious awards again that was distinctly British.

As a ceremony guest you were genuinely interested in every category. There was an intimacy which had disappeared from d&ad. Upon its publication, you immediately pored over the annual from cover to cover. And what’s more Denton brought a real sense of fun with it … something that had been missing from the awards for some time.

SIMON VEKSNER: The Creative Circle had become irrelevant, for exactly the reasons Dylan describes. The only agencies still entering were the total award-whores, and the judging had become casual (on one jury, I remember someone conceding a debate with the words, “Well it doesn’t really matter, it’s only Creative Circle.”) The awards night itself had become as flat as the champagne they were serving … even the food was bad.

But Denton has changed every­thing. What he did is a textbook lesson for any marketer. First of all, he found a point of difference. With d&ad going global, there was a gap in the market for a purely British awards scheme. “I don’t care who won Gold for Swedish forklift truck design,” as he puts it in last year’s annual. Then he filled that gap in a way that appealed to his target audience of creatives – creatively. The design of both annuals has been brilliant. Ditto the trophies.


CR: And what do you think about The Beano-style annual?

SAMUEL AKESSON: I’m not really familiar with Beano. And, being Swedish, I actually don’t know too much about Creative Circle. I suppose I find it a bit tricky to distinguish some advertising awards from others. But these guys seem to want to be, or rather look, different. They look fun.

AL: The new Beano style annual and award certificates are full of charisma and charm. We all grew up reading The Bash Street Kids and Dennis the Menace so as a vehicle it resonates brilliantly and there is also something very British about it. Just as much craftsmanship and love has gone into producing it as has gone into the ads receiving the awards. The certificates are a welcome departure from the conservative embossed ivory award certificates that are traditionally issued.

DH: Beyond the body of work contained within, the strength of both the D&AD annuals and now the Creative Circle annuals is the book design. This strength comes from charging a different designer or art director each year with presenting the work in an innovative, satisfying and entertaining format – no mean feat. How hypocritical would it be to document the world’s finest commercial creative endeavours in a bland publishing format?

That’s the great thing about doing the annual this year in the Beano style, next year it will be completely different. Whether you love it or hate it (I love it by the way), it demands a reaction either way. Is it as covetable and as authorita­tive as the d&ad annual? I think it’s like comparing apples and pears.

The revenue of D&AD’s dwarfs the Creative Circle’s, as does the sheer number of entries. I think the d&ad annual always was, is and will be the benchmark for cross-disciplinary creativity on a global scale. The Creative Circle annual is more intimate. It obviously has far fewer categories than d&ad and thus feels more relevant. It is a much better snapshot of the best of British creativity, you can get a better feel for what’s going on in this country. And yes, I think that’s worth coveting.

SV: I don’t tend to keep annuals as reference books. I would like to think I get my inspira­tion from places other than old annuals! But I do collect them, because … I don’t know … I’m a bloke, and blokes like collecting things. Which means it’s important to me to have a complete set, so I was gutted when someone nicked two of my D&AD’s. Each of them had a sticker on that said: ‘Property of Simon Veksner. Stealing is wrong.’ It seems that wasn’t sufficient deterrent. But who­ever it was, I’m pretty sure they’ll never win an award again. I mean, that’s got to be bad karma, stealing someone else’s awards annual, right?


CR: Is it important to have a ‘Best of British’ annual? Is there a feeling that the D&AD awards used to celebrate the best of British but now it’s opened up to the whole world, it’s more difficult for great British advertising work to shine through and pick up a pencil?

SA: I don’t think so. It seems quite old- fashioned to want to separate these things in terms of country of origin. Is that actually what the definition is? Country of origin? Or is it the country where the media was bought? Or the country where the creatives were born/or perhaps the country in which the effect of the communication is expected to be measured? Of course there’s a lot of national preferences and tonality in advertising but I don’t necessarily think that’s a good thing.

Everyone has to appreciate and accept that communication, although perhaps regionally focused, is always happening in a global context. If it’s considered great in Britain and not great anywhere else in the world, perhaps that means it’s not that great.

AL: D&AD has been quite deliberate in giving itself more of a global mandate. This is reflected in the selection of more international jurors. Inevitably an international jury will have a slightly different approach and perspective to a domestic jury.

DH: The ‘Best of British’ quality of the Creative Circle both inspires home grown talent and attracts foreign talent. The Americans have the wonderful One Show annual, why shouldn’t we have ours? Let’s be honest, as with the One Show some of the work included in the lower reaches of the Creative Circle Annual wouldn’t have made it into the d&ad annual. Is it then still relevant? As a document of the best British work that year and to build the confidence of the up and coming talent in the industry, yes I think it is. D&AD does feel less British now, it has become a truly global brand. But it is an unparalleled recognition of worldwide creativity. I think this is a good thing as because of the very high creative standard in this country, we’ve historically been in danger of becoming a tad myopic. The d&ad doesn’t merely celebrate ‘the rest of the world’, it celebrates the best of the world, including Britain. And I’m happy to say a huge proportion of the work in d&ad still comes from this country, reflecting the industry here. As someone who got their first break in advertising off a d&ad student workshop, I’m immensely proud of what d&ad has become.

SV: Imagine we all played table tennis. You would start off winning the trophy at your local youth club, then you’d enter your county cup, then the UK competition, maybe the Europeans, and finally the World Cup. Would anyone suggest that table tennis not have a British championship? That would be insane. So I do think it’s important to have a Best of British advertising annual.

D&AD is a world event now. Although unlike table tennis, advert­ising has several competing World Cups, since there are also the Clios, Cannes … but what can you do? It’s a free market. But I find that a positive state of affairs, since each scheme has its neat and unique features. And fair play to D&AD on going global and competing – successfully – on that world stage. You are absolutely right in your question, it will inevitably become harder for Brits to win a pencil at d&ad, because there’s more foreign competition. But the effect of making pencils harder to win … will be to make them even more covetable. And raise standards even higher.

AL: The output of our own domestic industry is so rich and diverse, it deserves to be celebrated. If D&AD shifts its focus to an international arena it creates an opportunity for Creative Circle to become more special­ised (if that’s what it chooses to do). However, Creative Circle is built on such a simple principle and has such a strong ethos, it has a platform on which to develop a global presence, if that is something it chooses to do in the future. As long as Creative Circle has people of the calibre of Mark Denton willing to dedicate their time and energy into it, anything is possible.


CR: Mark Denton has injected fun into Creative Circle, is this valued and appreciated in the ad community?

SA: Personally I think it looks fun. Like they have an opinion. They seem to want to do things their way rather than someone else’s. That’s usually a good thing. The d&ad annual looks like a boring stock image catalogue. Perhaps it’s ironic?

AL: The annual has had an extremely positive reception as far as I’m aware of. I think what will be interesting to see is how the Creative Circle brand develops over the next few years. It definitely has an opportunity to forge a distinctive personality and tone of voice that sets it apart from other award organisations.

CR: The D&AD annual exists online too and all the links and websites mentioned in the print version are clickable…. Do we even need printed annuals in this day and age?

SA: I don’t know if one necessarily cancels out the other. Nice looking books are always good, aren’t they?

DH: You only have to compare the Cannes advertising festival and d&ad to answer the question. Cannes is a mad, wonderful and intense week for advertising, both in the awards and along the Croisette. But after the week is over, along with the hangovers, the memory of what triumphed at Cannes fades.

The D&AD annual on the other hand, serves as a comprehensive document of the year’s best creativity from around the world. The physicality of the book somehow gives it a perma­nence that is lacking when we just access information online.

In addition, the D&AD annual is too much to take in during one sitting. You keep dipping in and out, discovering something new each time. As it covers so many diverse categories, not just from advertising but also design fields and everything in between, we end up poring over work from many disci­plines we’re not really exposed to in advertising. The way we navigate online, we only see the work we’re interested in. When reading the annual you finish the advertising section and realise you’ve only thumbed through less than a quarter of the content. It demands further investigation.

There is something about the sheer weight of the D&AD annual. Its gravity gives it gravitas. The heavi­ness somehow echoes the depth of brilliance in the thinking contained within. I started out learning advert­ising by studying as many d&ad annuals as I could get my hands on. Holding these substantial tomes, I could begin to calculate the seemingly insurmountable task ahead: to generate ideas as exquisitely simple, inspired and rare as contained on the pages within.

AL: It’s easy to get your work into an online archive.  There are dozens. However, there’s just something special about having your work included in an actual book. Especially one that has been beautifully bound and crafted.

SV: I do worry that the D&AD annual is getting too heavy. Wrists could get sprained. And that would be a problem, since a sprained wrist would seriously slow the rate at which we can type words into YouTube’s search box. I’m going to say they should ditch the Design part. They’ve probably discussed it a thousand times, and I’m giving a totally glib and impractical answer, and I’ll wake up in the morning with a horse’s head in my bed and the horse will have a yellow pencil in its mouth, but there you go, that’s my opinion.