Horse’s Mouth: Nick Garrett on the new Axis awards

As chair of the Axis awards committee, Colenso BBDO’s managing director Nick Garrett oversaw a few changes to this year’s festivities that aimed to make the event more collegial, more credible and more celebratory. So how did that work out for him? Have the changes helped change the perception of the awards among the wider business community? And what about those Driving Dogs? 

On expanding the audience: “In terms of our plan to give Axis more scale and reach in the
business community and more credibility within our own siloed business world, I
think we’re starting to do that. The fact we sold 300 tickets to the speaker
event and managed to get six high quality speakers made a difference and I’ve had great
feedback about the presentations from attendees, industry leaders and senior clients. It’s definitely a healthy
step in the right direction. It would be devastating if in our first year with
this speaker series we didn’t get enough momentum and traction, so hopefully
that will build over the next few years. Is it more speakers? Is it a two-day event? Who knows, but hopefully it will attract other great people to come in the

On the speaker event: “The goal is definitely to mix it up. The
starting point is having two or three world-class creative minds to be
executive judges and join the committee. And while they’re in town it’s
mindless not to have them try to inspire more people than just their respective jury
partners. Then you combine that with other smart creative minds in other
areas who are connected to the communications industry and it’s really, really healthy.
Who doesn’t want to know what’s on a senior person’s mind at Google? A contradiction and a complement to
that is having someone like writer Don Watson, who has decades of experience in the industry and is
worried about our lack of concern around the death of the English language and
how we’ve lost the art to truly communicate. So that’s a nice balance. And when
you get someone like Tony Kaye, who really is on everyone’s wish list to have
worked with at some point flying in at the last minute [to replace Ogilvy’s
Chris Wall, who judged all the work but wasn’t able to join for the executive judging or the speaker events], it’s

On the changes to judging: “The reality is it worked out well. On the final day of judging with
the executive panel there was a huge amount of alignment and consistency around the
international judges and the local guys and it went through
seamlessly. What we couldn’t allow was to get caught in no man’s land where we had no international judges and were probably talking to ourselves too much. Having international judges is the right thing, but we learnt a tough lesson last year when work that permeated popular culture weren’t recognised by the international judges because some local context was missing.
We don’t want to see that happen. Ghost Chips in particular was very unfortunate last year. We all know that,
and we’re learning from our mistakes [despite winning a few international awards, including in book at D&AD, a Webby and a bronze Clio, DDB and YWCA’s ‘Demand Equal Pay’ campaign followed in its footsteps and missed out any significant metal at the local award ceremony].”

On Getty Image’s inaugural creative exhibition: “Sometimes the first step is behaviourial. By showing we’re proud of the work and
leaving it open for a day and half for anyone in our industry or the public to
see is a starting point. If this year is successful we hope to attract more
people next year. But it’s there. The main piece is showing we’re proud of the

On the winners: “We’re really happy and excited that there’s
a very healthy spread across agencies and across campaigns this year. There were 28 golds awarded, which is consistent with the past three or four years. And 14 different gold winners across all the categories, which is fantastic. We decided this year to make it consistent
with other award shows and perhaps give a bit more gravitas to the grand Axis by awarding grand prix, so we broke it up into five categories … It’s a brilliant year for DraftFCB and
deservedly so. They’ve done two brilliant pieces of work. And when we sat back, Paul Head, myself and all the jurors we were really quite proud there were four great pieces of work that were truly world-class. We all thought it was probably one of the strongest years for New Zealand. The grand Axis doesn’t necessarily go to the campaign that won the most golds, but the campaign we felt
was the most creative and most inspiring of the year. It just so happens it
went to the campaign with the most golds, but that wasn’t the mandatory. DB Export Dry’s ‘The Wine is Over’ won the most awards on the night, but it didn’t win a grand prix. So I
think it’s a fair and smart methodology.” 

On confusion over Driving Dogs: “Personally, after liaising with James Mok, senior people at DraftFCB and senior people at the
client organisation at BMW/Mini, I’m confident that it was part of Mini’s
strategy and they wanted to amplify an ongoing relationship that’s gone for
many years between the SPCA and Mini. This is a global
trend about doing cause-related marketing so there is a halo effect for
Mini [charity campaigns aren’t eligible to win the grand Axis]. It’s a niche brand in New Zealand and publicly connecting it to a good
cause that they personally and emotionally back was part of their ongoing
strategy. It’s obviously had a bigger impact in SPCA but that’s not to say it
hasn’t had a positive effect on Mini. In
terms of brand awareness and exposure and likeability you’d have to ask the client, but I’ve seen
stats that have been signed off that show they had a 600 percent increase in their
Facebook likes. That isn’t the only barometer, but it’s pretty impressive
nonetheless. The main piece for Mini is that it permeated popular culture, it put a
smile on everyone’s face, it’s a great piece of creative thinking and 20
million people around the world have seen it. When it first came up we’d be lying if we
said we weren’t confused if it was an SPCA piece that Mini was involved with or
a piece that Mini launched and SPCA was connected with. But it’s clear it’s a collaborative
effort. Mini has been involved from the beginning, they’ve funded it, it’s not
scam, it’s very clever and I think any creative leader would cut their arm off
to do it. Credit to the boys and girls at DraftFCB, it’s bloody good work.” 

On awarded work winning more awards: “Great work floats to the top, no matter
which way you look at it. People in this industry respect great work, they admire great work and
they talk about great work. Nothing’s changed and it will be the same in 20
years time. The internet has allowed creative thinking to be accessed within
hours, not months, so people see the best work. Yes, something has a better
chance at the end of a 12 month cycle if it’s had exposure and has started to
do well at international awards. But by the same token there’s a lot of
brilliant work that launches one month before an awards deadline, not many
people have seen it, and it is still brilliant work and it speaks for itself.”

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