Don Peasley judges the 2016 Effie Awards

Recognizing effectiveness in marketing communications, the Effie Worldwide competition is one of the most closely-watched award shows in the advertising industry. Our very own Don Peasley, Associate Partner, Client Engagement, is judging the 2016 North American Effie Awards, so we decided to ask him what it’s like to be behind the scenes, judging some of the industry’s best creative work.

Q: Set the scene for us: What is it like to be in the judging room?

A: The Effie organizers do a great job of making judging easy and fun—especially when you’re looking at over 20 submissions per day. Usually, there are about 20 judges in the room, seated at long tables with PCs, and you almost always bump into someone within your industry or from a past job.

As you start to comb through entries, you’re always provided with a written submission and a case study video. You wear headphones and score each entry. Judges can actually get really caught up in reviewing the work—it’s not uncommon to hear another judge unknowingly laugh out loud at a strong case video, or make a less positive noise when they see or hear something that doesn’t pass the sniff test.

Q: As a person in the creative field, you’ve been honored with an Effie in the past. Tell us about what that recognition means to you and your team. 

A: What makes winning an Effie special is that you know you have not only created something beautiful, but it also positively influenced your client’s business. Each win is different, but in every instance, I find myself going back to the initial briefing and creative pitch. I think about the team behind the work, and the belief that once approved by our client, we had the opportunity to do something special.

Winning the Grand Effie in 2010 for the work on the Detroit Public Schools was the most remarkable and unexpected of all the Effies I’ve had the pleasure of participating in. Being recognized for the pro bono work we did on a nearly bankrupt school district, amidst the incredible campaigns for well-known global brands, was never on our minds as we executed the campaign.

Q: Effies are about campaigns that are effective. What will make an entry standout? What types of entries are forgettable?

A: The best entries tie the business problem and the creative solution in a way that makes it very clear why the results delivered were from the campaign efforts.

The biggest thing that I tell clients wanting to enter this competition is that they have to be honest enough to admit that their brand or business had serious challenges. You lose a judge fairly quickly if those challenges are not clear or seen as significant. From there, it comes down to authentic KPIs. Many of my conversations with other judges have centered on how we ensure that the KPIs were established prior to campaign launch, or at the very least, the results far exceeded any reasonable expectation, stated or otherwise.

Q: From all of the past Effie winners, what qualities or attributes always stay consistent?

A: Creative excellence that produces results. When you look at the submissions from big winners, they always have both, and never have just one.


Don Peasley is Associate Partner, Client Engagement, at VSA Partners Detroit, where he manages the Harley-Davidson, Strayer University and Cleveland Clinic accounts. With more than 20 years of marketing and advertising experience, Don has worked on both the client side (at General Motors and Verizon Wireless) and agency side at Leo Burnett Detroit, where he led the Buick, GMC and Pontiac accounts.