Mike Fromowitz
Oct 12, 2012

Singapore’s Gong Show returns—Does it really matter?

The Singapore Creative Circle Awards (CCA) is making a come back after a hiatus of two years. And it’s about time.For years, global and regional award shows have taken precedence over local ...

Singapore’s Gong Show returns—Does it really matter?

The Singapore Creative Circle Awards (CCA) is making a come back after a hiatus of two years. And it’s about time.

For years, global and regional award shows have taken precedence over local ones—the CCA included. Some have really high creative standards, and are widely recognized by the industry. The best of them—Britain’s D&AD (Design & Art Direction), The Cannes Lions, Communication Arts Annuals, The One Show, The ADDY, The CLIO Awards, Spikes Asia and Effie— mean something when you put them on your agency reel or your personal resume. They demand attention each and every year taking more than their fair share of the ever-shrinking agency award budgets in these financially challenging times.

These international award shows have been the priority of Singapore’s creative community and in turn have slowly eroded the importance of winning Gongs in the CCA,—a show judged only by creatives with one agenda: to push the standards of Singapore’s creativity higher.

Awards, awards, and more awards

Advertising awards are a very lucrative business, which is why there are so many of them. The entrance fees are usually hundreds of dollars, and if you're entering several campaigns in the plethora of International shows, you could be out of pocket by a few thousand dollars. Sometimes, even more.

Now there seems to be a debate in the Singapore ad industry over the future of local award shows as the Singapore CCA is attempting to make a come back after its two year intermission. They are currently in their call for entry phase yet there seems to be a certain degree of apathy surrounding the event—most likely due to their "on again, off again" behaviour and years of controversy with Batey, Ogilvy and Saatchi & Saatchi  boycotting the awards at one time or another. Due to financial constraints, the previously annual event had been staged every two years.

This man can turn it around

This year's CCA Creative Chair and Jury President Tay Guan Hin is encouraging Singapore’s creative people to reflect on the importance of having a local creative show. And I’m proud of him for doing it! I can’t think of a better person for the job.

Guan is Regional ECD, South-East Asia JWT and was Asia’s first creative to be inducted into of the JWT Worldwide Creative Council for his outstanding work and potent leadership. He steered the agency to AdFest’s Network of the Year in 2008 and 2009 and the Spike Asia Network of the Year in 2009.  His awards include Gold Lions, Gold Pencils from The One Show and Gold Clio statues, as well as numerous awards from D&AD, AdFest, Award and Spikes Asia. His most recent accolade is the New York Festivals' Creative Achievement Award, which recognises Guan as one of the most talented and respected creative leaders in Asia, consistently pushing creative standards in the Asia-Pacific industry.

His creative flair also played a significant part in Saatchi & Saatchi Singapore being named International Agency of the Year in 1998 by Advertising Age. His inspiring leadership saw Leo Burnett being ranked by Campaign Brief as the fifth-hottest agency in the region in 2004.

However, one of his biggest contributions to Singapore’s advertising industry has been his mentoring of young creative talent. Little wonder then, that the CCA has chosen Guan to be their Creative Chairman. If anybody has the skills and fortitude to bring the CCA Gongs back to the prominence it deserves, it’s Guan.

"Every country with a good creative reputation needs a local media-neutral creative show that's purely for the creative from the creatives,” says Guan. “Without a local awards show, young creatives are missing out on a stage to let their talents shine. It is these creatives who will make Singapore proud as they mature into well-rounded leaders”.

The career maker

For years, the CCA has celebrated the best of local creativity and the people behind the work in our industry. It gave birth to several illustrious careers of some highly talented individuals who have gone on to head some of the most creative agencies, locally and globally.

As I see it, with so many ad agencies vying for fewer dollars in these difficult financial times, it is only our creativity that pulls us out of the commodity quagmire and separates the best agencies from the rest. It’s also creativity that helps us make a positive impact on our agency balance sheets.

Certainly, every country with a good creative reputation needs a local, media-neutral creative show.  Pity then that Singapore’s own creative people are giving the CCA such little attention. Didn’t the Gongs help make many of their careers?

As the Gong’s creative chairman, Tay Guan Hin will be re-inventing the show, promising changes that will make sure the awards “celebrate not just the stars, the ones that will be stars, but also the unsung heroes who work behind the scenes to make break out creative work possible”.

Guan‘s changes include a plan that, for the first time, will see awards given “to the most creative clients based on their bravery to buy risky work. We will also be recognizing the unsung heroes, like producers and young photographers who work so tirelessly behind the scenes to make us look good”.

Do the Gongs really matter?

For three decades the CCA used to be the premier local awards show for Singapore creative people. Does the CCA matter now? I believe so—and big time! “The Gongs” (the nickname given by Neil French) represent Singapore’s creative standards and set the benchmark for younger talent to look up to.  It remains a forum to better the island nation’s creative product, and pride of place in the map of global creativity.

Local shows still have a place in our industry because they measure the climate of how well we do nationally. I think that every country that wants a good creative reputation needs its own local creative show.  No doubt, the Creative Circle Awards has only added to Singapore’s highly visible creative reputation in the region, and award winning campaigns have kept other Asian countries on their competitive toes.

The CCA’s have also attracted and given rise to some of Singapore’s great creative heroes: Neil French, David Droga, Tham Khai Meng, Linda Locke, Jim Aitchison, Marcus Rebeschini, Craig Davis, Eugene Cheong, Calvin Soh, Robert Gaxiola, Steve Elrick, Andy Greenaway, Tomas Yang, and Tay Guan Hin. The list is long, so forgive me for for omitting others who have truly made a difference.

A need to take the high road

Perhaps there are other reason why the CCA has taken a two-year hiatus. Maybe it’s because there’s been a great deal of attention paid to financial management and to the bottom line at many agencies. Maybe it’s Singapore’s creative community not doing enough to fight for the things they believe in.

When I was Chairman of the Singapore CCA, we had one simple charter: to recognise, stimulate and promote the highest standards in creative work. I know that Tay Guan Hin will do everything he can to raise that flag again. But he’s got an even tougher job now than I ever had, given that there’s a growing number of marketers, bean counters, and agency managers who are unwilling to accept creativity as anything more than a group of ego-centric misfits, turning out pretty pictures, clever headlines, and scam ads, so they can win in the awards shows.

Unfortunately, there’s still a big job to do in educating those inside and outside our industry that creativity means imaginative approaches to communication, openness to new ideas and mastery of the craft of advertising.

I continue to believe that CCA Gongs mean something to clients. If you find that hard to believe just win an award and see who it is that requests a Gong for his or her office.

Most importantly though, winning Gongs at home, on your local turf, is a significant milestone for Singapore’s art directors, copywriters and creative directors because it gives them the impetus to push on and produce work that they can be proud of and that the industry can be proud of.

The ads that win in the CCA show have travelled a very long and difficult journey with creative people pitting their wits against marketing managers, product managers, and negative agency account handlers and researchers. God help them—but they get them through. The CCA honours those people who have fought against terrible odds to create better ads; people who push and challenge themselves to see how far they can go; to out do what they did last year. Of course, to those who shine on the day, winning a Gong or two means more status, more recognition and more money. And more competition of course.

In the past, the Singapore Creative Circle Awards have often been a signal of change. Change for the better, or change for the worst. Either way, change is unstoppable. Singapore has always stood out as one of the finest and most creative centres in Asia. I think much of that is due to the CCA’s and the fact that the rest of Asia (and the world for that matter) has always taken a keen interest in the awarded work, and those creative people who were winning all the Gongs. That’s something to be proud of. Singapore’s expertise in print—especially in print— has been recognised at home and internationally, its great foundation being laid down in the 1980’s by creative guru Neil French.

I also believe that unless there is a positive attitude shift to winning awards at home and to renewed support for the CCA by the local creative community, Singapore could lose its importance as a creative centre in the eyes of its international peers and regional brand marketers.

Our business is really all about people. And ideas. So let’s not lose sight of what drives our industry at home—that very product we call creativity. It’s the very reason behind the CCA’s and Tay Guan Hin’s mission. By returning the CCA to prominence, Singapore creatives can compare their work to the very best from around the world and find out the truth about how good they are at what they do. Of course, they are no longer competing amongst themselves, but with the rest of the world. So the standard of work at home is going to decide how much work Singapore will get, and how much of it will be taken by regional clients to other Asian countries.

Centre of creative excellence

Singapore has always been a centre for creative excellence and I have no doubt that the CCA has been a key factor in some international brands making Singapore their regional base thus enabling the export of some remarkable campaigns and super-talented creative people.

As a past Chairman of the CCA, I continue to believe there is something special about being part of this incredible tradition of judging and selecting the best of Singapore advertising. And when the work is featured in an awards show book it becomes a reference and a source of inspiration used by other advertising people, and by students of advertising.

The Gongs are about the stimulation of higher standards—and that’s really all its about. Raising standards makes working in advertising more enjoyable.

I remember the CCA awards nights—those few glorious hours when the faces of all those stars lit up as they held their Gongs high. The awards they won were proof that their job had values that are not merely financial. To all the attendees on the night, the Gongs had enormous significance. The winning work was powerful, and it was going to be seen by everybody. The Gongs, after all,  are about the stimulation of higher standards—and that’s really all its about. Raising standards makes working in advertising more enjoyable.

Mike Fromowitz



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