CCC winners, including Best in Show.

After much controversy, criticism and concern, the Chicago Creative Club awards was resurrected last night in the United Club at Soldier Field. While it was by no means a flawless affair, it was a far sight better than the debacle some 15 months ago. Without going into it, the previous show had degraded into a one-sided and ugly contest right before many of our eyes. Participants left drunk and/or dismayed and certainly disenchanted. We woke up to beastly reviews from the local press. Most felt the show had been ruined beyond repair.

We pointed fingers at one another, pissed and moaned about Chicago’s deteriorated creative community, and then, well, went back to our business. There were ads to make. Websites to build. Pitches to win.

Something happened, however, on the way to the funeral. A small group of decent creative persons decided not to let the thing die. Chief among them the Chief Creative Officer of Two by Four, David Stevenson. He came to consultant, Ann Brown’s side when few others would and set up to rebuild our beleaguered award show into something we could all be proud of. Others scoffed. Many more were indifferent. But the coalition of the willing grew. By the time I was asked to help it was “on” again, even if many big questions remained.

We decided to use preeminent local judges, not flown in “stars” from other agencies. The idea here was simple. We made the mess. We had to fix it. Fostering real community was critical. Having a judge from every participating agency meant that participation was certain. Beyond our ads, we now all had skin in the game, literally.

And so, on a Saturday in August two dozen of Chicago’s best creative talents convened at Euro RSCG and made their selections from a previously culled shortlist. My creative partner and ECD of Euro RSCG, Blake Ebel was among them. His quote, caught on camera, summed it up. “This is pretty awesome, guys, all of us together, judging each other’s work.”

Indeed, a jury of our peers. Then and there, Chicago’s creative community was reborn. And from what I could tell, that corp d’esprit carried right over into the show. The best pieces won and, more importantly, we were able to congratulate each other for doing them. Gone was the rude peanut gallery and with it, the copious amounts of Schadenfreud that polluted shows previous. In addition to good ads and good people, the much-maligned venue (too far, no cabs, etc) shined for us that night. After the ceremony, cocktails and light dinner were had out of doors beneath the mighty pillars of Soldier Field. We were even graced by a late evening fireworks show, probably courtesy of some rich couple’s wedding at the Yacht club nearby!

But for me the highpoint came at the end of the awards presentation. Best of show had been given to BBDO, for its ripping Canadian Club campaign: “Damn Right Your Dad Drank It.” Everyone cheered. And cheered. And cheered some more. A deserving campaign, but the applause was bigger. It felt like the biggest winner of all was… us.

A final note: Beware smugness. The CCC may be out of the weeds but hardly in safe harbor. More improvement is necessary. While turnout was a pleasant surprise, there should have been more people, especially newcomers and students. Somehow, ticket prices will have to come down. And where was Cramer Krasselt? As a leading creative agency in town, their seeming boycott was a blot.

A complete list of winners was not available as of this writing. Please check the CCC website for updates. The awards show book comes out this Fall.

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