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Q&A with New York Festivals president Michael O’Rourke

GLOBAL – New York  Festivals president Michael O’Rourke talks about the new trophy, global creativity, and what this year’s jury is looking for.

New York Festivals unveiled a spectacular new trophy this year, why now, and what has the response been to the new design so far?

The response has been incredible.  The new award speaks volumes and conveys so much more than the average trophy.  For one, it’s iconic New York City, the most multicultural city in the world, not to mention the capital of advertising. It comes in four different sizes, giving agencies the opportunity to develop and create their own unique skyline where their growing collection signifies a sum greater than its parts—a single award represents one building and one strong piece of work, but a skyline represents the agency’s dedication to long-lasting creativity and overall success within the industry.


And course, there’s the embedded HD projector showcasing not only the winning work but the entire list of people who contributed to the campaign. It breaks the mold of traditional awards and we’re quite proud to present these awards every May in NYC.

How did NYF select the design team Sagmeister & Walsh to design the trophy and what was involved in the process of creating such an iconic trophy?

Anyone familiar with design knows Stefan Sagmeister. And if they know Sagmeister, they are certainly aware of the tremendous talent of his partner, Jessica Walsh. Our goal was to break tradition, and to make a profound statement, so there really wasn’t a better choice than Sagmeister & Walsh. They are true designers, through and through. And even though they’ve won enough awards to make them “old pros,” they brought a fresh new perspective to what a trophy means to a winner and what it should represent to the world. 

What changes are in store for the 2015 competition? Will NYF launch any new categories to address emerging trends?

As we do every year, we’ve modified and molded the categories to what’s happening in the industry based on our own internal research, combined with valuable feedback from the advertising community. Based on that, we’re excited to announce that Package Design will be a separate competition from Design, highlighting the importance of this very specialized discipline.

A package—a three dimensional piece that sits “live” on a store shelf, amongst a plethora of competing products—demands a smart design, one that’s unique to the brand and makes it stand out from the rest. Designing a package is a lot different than designing a poster or a website. When creating a signature package you have to consider the structure and shape of the piece and how the consumer will use it. The design has to compliment the use.

The New York Festivals Executive Jury evaluates each and every entry on the shortlist selected by the Grand Jury. NYF’s Executive Jury is comprised of 24 Chief Creative Officers from around the globe and the Grand Jury boasts over 400 creatives, how does NYF go about recruiting this all-star team?

A lot of effort goes into seeking out and securing the Executive Jury every year, and believe me, it’s not a process that gets easier over time. The goal is to select a group that represents experience, dedication, and integrity. Experience, because the Executive Jury is evaluating all Shortlisted entries across all competitions, so we require people at the chief creative officer level who have had ample experience working across all mediums—we don’t segment them based on medium. Dedication, because it requires being willing and able to evaluate over a thousand shortlisted entries submitted from all over the world, across 15 competitions, for five long and intense days.

Anyone willing to do this is not only dedicated to what it is they do, but dedicated to the industry as a whole. And integrity is required for obvious reasons, not the least of which is that New York Festivals remains vigilant in its stance against political scoring and scam entries. Choosing the right jury is an integral part of this approach. 

What areas in the world are emerging as creative leaders in the ad industry?  Based on your experience sitting in the judging rooms for hours with the world’s top creative leaders what countries consistently hit it out of the park with brilliant award-winning work? Who are the up and comers?

I honestly don’t believe that certain regions are necessarily “up and coming.” Everyone is doing great work! What’s changed is that now, everyone has a crack at the world stage—if the work is done right. Of course, the big media buy still plays a huge part in getting your message out there, but we’re seeing plenty of campaigns take the world stage through simple ingenuity, thoughtful craft, and strategy.

Well thought-out concepts with beautiful executions will break through the clutter. If anything, it’s proved that working with less pushes you to come up with something that much more unique, that much more thought provoking. I believe that great creative is being done just about everywhere, and now there is more opportunity than ever before. To me, makes things much more interesting.

What’s the atmosphere like in the Executive Jury room? NYF assembles 24 of the world’s most award-winning creative thought leaders together in one room what sort of conversations are taking place?  

At certain moments, you can cut the tension with a cotton ball. You have anywhere from 24-30 highly opinionated and successful chief creative officers standing up for what they believe in. And their beliefs and opinions are what got them in the positions they are in, so it’s ultimately witnessing a battle of the minds. And there are other moments where you witness an incredible amount of camaraderie, appreciation, and respect for one another.

There aren’t a lot of opportunities for these folks to sit down alongside their peers and collectively share their passion for what it is they do. So when the opportunity comes, they are prepared to dig in and have a go at it.

What are the criteria for evaluating entries?

Each entry is evaluated on its own merits, which means that entries are not competing against one another, but are being scored individually according to whether or not they are deserving of an award in the category in which they’re entered. Judges give each entry three separately weighted scores, one for each of these distinct criteria: Idea/Execution, Brand/Market Relevance, and Production/Execution.

With this patented scoring system, the jury scores entries more instinctually, and simply evaluates the work based on how well it meets each criteria, letting the collective body of scores determine the award level. This process has ultimately established a more accurate format in terms of awarding work. And because each jury member sees all Shortlisted work across all competitions, the end result is a body of work that best represents that year in advertising, devoid of discrepancies that you might see when juries are segmented by medium or competition.
Looking back at the entries for 2014, what were the most “discussed” campaigns in the jury room?

One would think that the most discussed campaigns would revolve around work that was up for the higher level awards. But interestingly enough, this is not always the case. Oftentimes, entries up for a Third Prize generate the most debate, proving that every single entry is under the microscope from start to finish. Having said that, obviously campaigns like Epic Split…

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