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VSAers Judging 2017 North American Effies


Over the past three years, VSA has been honored to receive two Effie’s for work with Kimberly-Clark’s Kleenex and Harley-Davidson. This year, VSA Partner Curt Schreiber and Associate Partners Karen Semone and Hugh Allspaugh will have the exciting privilege of judging the 2017 North American Effie’s. Curious to hear their insight around judging this year’s competition, we sat down with the three prior to the event.

Q: Karen, this will be your third year judging the North American Effie’s. What do you love most about judging this renowned competition?

Karen: It’s a great way to stay on top of the best work in the industry. What’s nice about the organization of the jury is that they allow you to select your areas of expertise and only judge submissions in those areas. They also make sure you’re avoiding any conflict of interests with any of your own brands or competitors in those categories.

Q: Curt, your expertise as a thought-leader in branding and design will undoubtedly guide your decisions during this competition. What are the first things you look for to determine a well-designed campaign or entry?

Curt: Presence and substance. A powerful presence means the promise is confident, authentic and empathetic to the audience, and a campaign is only great when it’s supported by great content and real meaning.

Q: And Hugh, as a lead strategist here at VSA, how do you believe your expertise in this area will help influence your decisions?

Hugh: Having written countless strategies and awards entries, empathy is a key ingredient—combined with a healthy amount of skepticism. My objective is to interrogate the entries for the true measure of success, see through the smoke and mirrors and reward the ideas that truly deliver the business goals in an attributable way.

Q: Karen and Hugh—Your roles at VSA require a certain amount of expertise in marketing. What are some things you keep top-of-mind when evaluating an entry?

Karen:  The most important thing to remember—and it’s not easy—is that the form factor of the submission itself should not influence you at all. As we at VSA know, agencies put a ton of time and effort into perfecting the reel, documenting the strategy and sharing results. At the end of the day the creativity of the idea, the quality of execution and its performance in market is all you should be thinking about.

Hugh: Business first. The Effie Awards are all about marketing effectiveness which, for me, makes it the most interesting of the award programs in our industry. I’ll focus on the core business problem, how the strategy aligned with the most valuable target segment to address the business goal and how a unique insight was articulated to focus the creative idea.

Q: You will all be evaluating from a diverse pool of entries for this competition; what are some qualities that immediately stick out for a winning entry?

Karen: Of course for me the content is top of mind. Quality and craft of writing, storytelling elements and the freshness of the idea. To be put before the jury, the work is extremely strong, and the emotional takeaway is often there. So it’s a nuanced art to discern the best of the best.

Curt: I look for originality, and if it strikes an emotional chord with me.   

Hugh: Two things: (1) The best entries will tell a compelling story that uniquely frames the problem. It will reveal an insight that feels like an epiphany, and feels unexpected for the brand or audience. (2) I’m looking for creative ideas that are channel-agnostic and demonstrate a true understanding of the audience. In other words, if it’s just matching luggage, it won’t stick out.

Q: How does being a competition judge help you reflect on your own work at VSA?

Karen: Seeing the depth and breadth of how other agencies and brands solve marketing problems is absolutely inspirational. At times it’s validating, and at others it’s humbling. I think ultimately I can’t help but think how we at VSA might have approached the same problem, from a more design-driven angle.

Curt: There’s a great range of work happening in the world and judging helps to understand the state of the industry.

Hugh: This opportunity is a rare peek behind the scenes into how other brands and agencies are problem-solving. I’m sure it will be a humbling experience (hopefully also reassuring).