When it comes to international advertising awards and events, let me share an open secret. Awards are more than awards; they are learning arenas. They are the Academy of Plato and the awards themselves are the thrones upon which each successful Caesar sits. Knowledge flows freely during different talks, workshops, showcased work, panel discussions and new experiences. Where else would you find the most successful gurus in your business sharing their wisdom and life lessons? I have been extremely fortunate to be selected to learn at Cannes Lions and Design & Architecture Design Awards (D&AD).
Imagine these two scenarios when I received the confirmation letters that I was the recipient of all-expense-paid trips to attend these two world-class festivals. I was SpongeBob and my friends and colleagues were Squidward (if you haven’t seen SpongeBob SquarePants yet, I do feel for you!). The point of this underwater analogy is that people working in advertising don’t know about advertising festivals. Which was fine in a 'pre-hey' Google era, but hey, this is a 'hey' Google era!
So imagine the next scenario when I enthusiastically shared with the Squidwards in my life what a big deal these opportunities are. The passes for the festival cost XX much and I was given them for free. Why did I get them for free? The easy answer would be to say "someone in heaven likes me." The honest answer is that I seek them. And you find what you seek. I want to learn and so I keep my eyes and appetite for email spam open. Cannes Lions happened because an email was sent by Dentsu’s Global CCO to everyone in the network (around 200 offices) encouraging them to apply for the Cannes See It Be It event. I applied thinking I would not get in. The same thing happened with D&AD Rare and this time, it was a tweet. Another tweet led me to apply for The One Show as a speaker but I didn’t receive enough votes. It’s elementary my dear Watson; you will not win or lose if you don’t show up.
Then, there is the matter of priorities. How much are you willing to risk? Money will always be needed even if it is an all-expenses paid trip. No one pays for the visa fees, food and Uber helicopter rides (a real thing in Cannes). The point is: are you willing to invest in yourself? Investing in yourself is the biggest investment you can make in this robots-are-getting-our-jobs era. It could be a $15 course on Udemy, a $100 course on Masterclass or a $2,000 trip to a festival.
A lesson I have learnt in my career is that no one will ever be more worried about your career than yourself and this brings me back to my mantra of being the Lorax (I gave a pretty okayish workshop at Cannes Lions Roar on Being the Lorax and actually caring about the work. Hardly any tomatoes were thrown at me. Honest. Ask the attendees). Being the Lorax means speaking for the work. Kaam kar rahe ho ya naukri? If all you want is a job, then wait for someone to offer you a festival pass on a silver platter (to match your, by then, silver hair) or seek it out yourself.
Stop waiting for others to train you. You can read, right? Then go and learn, keep your eyes open to all the festivals and conferences around the world and keep applying or as Gandalf said: “Fly you fools!”
Atiya Zaidi is ECD, JWT/Grey.