Essential fuel – why we need awards more than ever this year

Make no bones about it – 2020 has been a tough year for many people. Despite recent positive news about the search for a Covid-19 vaccine, we are still in difficult times. There is an abundance of personal tragedy, people going hungry, and a significant economic downturn. Is this therefore a strange moment to be talking about the importance of awards?

Quite the opposite: it is now clear that this period of our lives is a marathon, not a sprint. Recognising and respecting the clear difficulties and struggles is an essential step to survival – but so is finding the spirit to maintain the motivation and determination to finish this marathon. As we adjust to on-going restrictions and challenges, working out how to live and work in this new context, celebrating the positives becomes even more important – for individuals, teams, businesses and our whole industry.

Work that we are proud of provides identity, esteem, motivation and connection through all aspects of our lives. Creating work that connects brands to audiences is what we all strive for; awards turn up the volume, recognising great work and the people and business behind it, allowing us to refuel emotional and spiritual energy for the marathon ahead.

This commitment to the life of our industry for the longer term is one of the reasons we’ve chosen to work with The Drum as exclusive sponsor of its Out of Home Awards this year. I’m pleased that the synergy between Alight Media and The Drum, both always looking to constructively challenge the status quo and championing those who do the same, will create a strong platform for recognising excellence. Every piece of great work challenges in some way – be it the team responsible or the audience consuming it – and if you always play it safe you never make significant progress. Our investment in the awards shows our belief in celebrating those who make this happen and our commitment to the future and growth of the industry.

Awards will certainly be different this year. We’ll be championing the winners remotely, which will give greater focus on the work itself. Yet we are a connected industry full of social animals: meeting and celebrating in person builds connection, culture, collaboration and learning. In the absence of physical meeting it’s more important, not less, that we use awards to keep us all connected. I always want to come away from award ceremonies feeling a combination of inspiration and jealousy off the back of the great work I’ve seen, and this year is no different.

These desires and challenges also apply to each of our teams and companies, and the cultures we nurture. Remote working, uncertainty, frantic news agendas and the personal challenges of combining family and workspace can all be obstacles to a positive culture and motivation. We need to make conscious efforts, as individuals and as leaders, to provide the fuel. Recognising great work, and celebrating the people behind it, help us all light the fire.

Looking beyond our work, we are also citizens and consumers, experiencing the out-of-home medium as others do. The medium has played a crucial role during a challenging year which we can celebrate throughout the entirety of these awards, not just the specific ‘response to COVID-19’ categories that have been added. From government messages, to supporting the NHS, to nurturing community spirit via local sports teams, OOH has been a truly effective way of communicating and engaging with the public. Big moments, big ideas, big brands and common culture rely on the unique shared experience of messages in the public space.

It didn’t stop with the big brands either; being an SME ourselves, with many fellow SMEs as existing customers, we were delighted to see others in our medium join in supporting these businesses. We understood the biggest barriers that were blocking investment in advertising – cashflow, creative guidance and expert advice – and continue to tackle them with our SME Generator scheme.

We’ve seen that even in this turbulent year the timeless truths of OOH continue to apply. We’ve also seen great examples of the way they apply reflecting the new realities in which we live and work. These awards will show us some of the new formula for a new world: we have to find the ways to sustain ourselves and our businesses even in a pandemic. Once the national lockdown earlier this year started to lift and brands looked to reconnect with customers, OOH again stepped up to the challenge. Quoting James Murphy, Co-Founder of New Commercial Arts: “As society starts to rebuild its confidence and its appetite for business and consumption…as we step back out into the light, what better media is there to show brands out in the light, being confident and charismatic, than outdoor?” Bring in the agility of digital OOH too and it allows brands to respond instantaneously to changing circumstances or a shifting mood – something that is the norm in 2020. As an example, Natalie Bell, MD of MG OMD, spoke to me recently about her client Specsavers using DOOH to manage footfall into stores within the new regulations. It’s crucial we work with brands like this over the coming months to refine their communications against such an unusual backdrop. I’m confident OOH can continue to play an ever-bigger part in that process; these awards are a way to recognise our impact and learn from standout work.

Life is tough for many people, businesses and brands right now; but there is a brighter future in 2021 and this year’s awards will provide much-needed fuel to help get us there. The shock and difficulty of this year make it more important, not less, that we take the time to both recharge our batteries and recognise the great work being done in extraordinary circumstances. I hope to see you there on November 25th to do just that.

Matthew Dearden, Co-Founder and CEO, Alight Media



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