Today I received a call from Brigitte Johnson, PRSA-NCC President, about my recent commentary in Examiner.com suggesting changes for Thoth, based on my experience with the DC Ad Club’s ADDY awards. The commentary also appeared on this blog.
First of all, I would like to present the two comments I have received on this article:
Excellent post Mary. It’s a yearly challenge figuring out which award competition (if any) makes sense to enter. This was a previous lunch crew topic, and you’ve done a great job vocalizing many of the concerns and question marks that came up in our discussions. Well done!
I agree with you completely – local judges with a vested interest in their work and those of others they work with, should not be the judges of awards competitions. The tendency towards bias is just to strong. My experience with the Thoth awards has been that it’s expensive, and we have entered work that literally built new brands and markets, and not even made it past the first cut. We were given the judges remarks, anonymously of course, which was useful.
But to me, the biggest problem with the Thoth awards is that everything has to be submitted on paper which seems completely archaic in today’s PR world. When your entire program was conducted online, how can you fairly judge work that is then printed out and put in a binder?
The Addy’s are prestigious and their judging is a much more sophisticated system. As for IABC, I have judged their national awards programs and found the judging to be systematic and very professional. Entrants can submit either on paper or electronically or both, which is a much better way to showcase work. IABC has a multi-tiered system as well. There is a first layer of judging that wades through all the submissions, and then there is another round to pick the winners with a second group of judges. I’ve seen judges opt out when they have a vested interest or bias against an organization submitting work.
I don’t know if I have an answer to your bigger question, but at this point, we’d rather satisfy clients than judges. There’s no better recommendation than someone you’ve done great work for.
I want to summarize the content of this call for three reasons: first I want to clarify any misinformation that may be alleged about my article and its claims. Secondly, I like hearing other people’s opinions, but I don’t like getting calls like this one. Thirdly, I want to again invite comments on my blog or my article. If you have something to say, go public!
So, the purpose of the call to me was this: she wanted to express to me that there were inaccuracies in the article.
I was ready to listen to her. I am not infallible. I can be wrong about things. I was curious to know what she had to say. I also pointed out that anyone is welcome to comment on the article, or on my blog, and that I had contacted the Thoth chairs with questions prior to writing this article, but had not received responses to my questions.
Brigitte’s first issue had to do with my discussion of transparency in my article. In comparing the competitions, I noted that the Ad Club identifies the judges. The PRSA-NCC does not, nor does it state how the judges are selected, or which categories they judge. I said that in comparison, that disclosure was not transparent. I did not say: the PRSA-NCC was trying to hide something. Brigitte thought I was insinuating that in my article.
Saying something is not disclosed is not the same as saying someone is trying to hide something. I didn’t say that and I didn’t allege it. I can only stand by what I write, not what others suppose I may be implying. That is entirely subjective. I don’t have any control of other people’s opinions.
If I’m going to say something, I will say it. I don’t mince words or beat around the bush.
Which brings me to the next issue of impartiality. I stated that the PRSA-NCC way of judging the competition with local judges did not ensure impartiality in the same way the DC Ad Club competition, which is judged by non-local judges. It would be hard to argue with that statement. She felt it was inaccurate.
I did not say the Thoth judges were partial. I don’t have the information to make that claim, and frankly, I would be loathe to make a claim like that even if I knew for a fact they were. I don’t have an issue with the Thoth competition as an entity. I stated the system of judging could be improved, to ensure impartiality.
However, it would be truly hard to support the assertion that the PRSA-NCC way of selecting judges is truly better than the DC Ad Club way. I think it would be really difficult to say it would be impossible for the judges to be partial with this current approach. And that was my point. As much as I support the PRSA-NCC, the chapter has to be open at least to the idea of discussion of improvements. Personally, I don’t feel I could impartially judge entries from PRSA-NCC members myself, as much as I would try to, because I know so many members so very well. And if I won a Thoth award, and then discovered that two of the judges on the panel were my friends or clients — which in my case would not be a far stretch — I think I would always wonder (even just a little) if that had anything to do with it. That’s why I don’t enter!
Why not just eliminate that worry and go with non-local judges?
I don’t have that worry with the DC Ad Club. So I think it’s better. I wish PRSA-NCC did it in a similar way. Argue with that, if you will, but first support your opinion with why the PRSA-NCC way is in fact better. Because so far, I don’t see it.
What was interesting is that she shared that in the past, some Thoth judges didn’t want to be identified publicly, because they were afraid of members contacting them, or walking up to them at the ceremony, and saying “Why didn’t I win?” I felt that only point only reinforced my suggestion of using non-local judges for the competition. That only served to illustrate the possibility that using local judges may create a situation that is too close for comfort.
The third way my article was inaccurate, Brigitte wanted me to know, was in implying that the judges were, or had been in the past, unethical in some way.
I will confess, this is where I lost my temper with her, and asked her to stick to the statements made in my article.
I have not implied the judges were unethical. I have not alleged it. I have not stated it to be so. And I do not believe it to be so. No form of the word ethical is included in my article. I resent this very, very much.
All I can stand by are my own words. I can’t control what someone else feels I am implying, especially if they are an interested party. If anything, I am candid to a fault. If I think something’s unethical, I will say so. But I didn’t say it, I didn’t suggest it, and I didn’t write it, and again, I can’t control what she thinks of me. I ask to be judged only on what I write.
The fourth issue where she said there was inaccuracy was my assertion that Thoth brought in revenues for the chapter. Now, here, she might have a leg to stand on. I’m not privy to chapter financials. I’m willing to present that Thoth loses money, provided with that evidence.
But I did not claim Thoth makes or loses money.
I stated Thoth brings in revenues for the chapter. The definition of revenues is income received from activities, services, or products, and the chapter charges for those entries. I have also heard leaders in board meetings talk about the importance of bringing in revenues from Thoth entries. It is inarguable that Thoth brings in revenues.
It is also indisputable that it costs 50% + more to enter Thoth than the ADDYs. And in my opinion, the ADDYs delivers more value because it is a tiered competition, the work is judged by non-local notables in the field, and the winning entries are displayed, gallery-style, and publicized. I believe that value is something PRSA-NCC and PRSA should emulate.
Hey, I knew I was going out on a limb with this one. Politically, sure, it doesn’t make sense to voice your opinion about these kinds of things. After all, some of the people involved with Thoth are my acquaintances and my friends. They want to promote Thoth, and I want to promote Thoth, too. I just want it to be better. I knew it was possible they would get defensive, or take it personally, instead of recognizing that I am suggesting changes that would benefit all members.
So, I am open to criticism of my own opinions. Just, please, support your own opinions with facts, as I have tried to do.
Try to keep an open mind about changes that may benefit the chapter.
And please! Take my words for what they are, and not what you imagine them to be.
Mary Fletcher Jones is a member of the PRSA-NCC and has volunteered for PRSA-NCC in past years. She has also volunteered for the DC Ad Club and worked on the ADDY awards.