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Making Award Winning Work: Tips from Barbarian's Group Creative Director


Social media, interactive experiences, no smoking in the office—advertising has changed a lot since the Mad Men era. And with so much groundbreaking work out there, it’s harder than ever to stand out. What’s a modern advertiser to do?


Start by taking a tip from one of the best creatives in the industry: Steffany CareyGroup Creative Director at Barbarian. She’s the driving force behind award-winning work for companies like Nestlé, Pfizer, and Viacom, and we chatted with her about what it takes to make meaningful, grab-you-by-the-earbuds advertising in the digital age.

If you’re already in the Ad world, you know that making good work isn’t as easy as just having a good idea. You have layers of internal approvals and levels of clients to appease. So, if you do in fact get to produce something you’re proud of, you should consider it a victory.

But I like shiny things

Let’s say you have made it through the red tape and opinion factory of agency life and produced some great work, and maybe even entered it into award shows and then not gotten any love (or metal) back.  Than it’s time to critique the work, see where the holes may have been, and learn to do it better next time.

Know this

When you say award-winning work, this statement can be mutually exclusive.  Because there is work, and then there are awards. And the two can grind against each other, or live harmoniously together. Creating that perfect combo is the secret sauce. So here are a few tips to think about when making good work great – and making great work, win some awards.


Make it mean more

You may not work for a non-profit brand or on a cause related project, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find purpose in your work. These days, brands have to work harder to be in the lives of consumers. And that depends on whether you can successfully align some sort of fulfillment with the need states of the community. Your work has to work harder and mean something more. Take a step back as you create it and think about its place in people’s lives, the where, when and why, and then create work that elevates that meaning. Hopefully it will be inspirational or entertaining for others. Make it mean more.


Leave frou-frou for the runway

Award shows are cluttered. The clear, simple ideas are the ones that stand out. Getting out of your own way helps too. Enlist co-workers and others not in the industry to pressure test your work. Did they get it? Did you get frustrated when they said they don’t? It’s not that they don’t understand because they’re not in the ‘industry,’ it probably means the idea is not clear enough. This is a good pressure tester with creating the work, and then submitting the work. Elevator-pitchify the description. How you craft and present the work has to be clear.


Do something different

When creating work that is standout and solid, try storytelling. And yes, Storytelling has been the 'it' word for a while now, but try doing it well. Stories are best told with a unique spin, so find a new way in. Make it connect and matter to your audience. Make it entertaining and insightful, so the takeaway makes the viewer want to see more about the lives or stories you’ve shared. Be surprising, simple and thoughtful. And when it comes to award show submissions try something different as well. If you have a great body of work you’re proud of, don’t sell it short when entering it. Know that judges have seen an epic amount of the same thing. Use real stats that matter. Judges are numb to the number of impressions noted. Most people don’t even know what impressions really measure. While you’re crafting don’t forget a unique spin on how you present it.

Money can’t buy brains

Big budgets aren’t a necessity these days. Technology has afforded us all the ability to be a DP. You shouldn’t need millions of dollars to execute your idea. To amplify an idea, money helps, but to win awards, you don’t need a huge budget as your foundation of thinking. You can submit a simple and humble idea to an awards show and make it look big and sexy on screen. Great ideas don’t come at a price tag. A small budget does not mean small thinking.

All in all, have some fun. Never think you’ve nailed Advertising. It’s a bendy, shifty, shaky, and exciting world that’s ever changing and evolving thanks to technology and younger generations that are smarter than us. Take work seriously, but not too seriously. You will undoubtedly have some delicious takeout Mexican and funny stories to tell your kids someday.

And if all else fails, you can still appreciate the fact that you may never have to own a suit.

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