Awards highlight thriving regional diversity

It is a bit bizarre to find Alan Whicker twinned with happy dogs wolfing down their dinners.

But that is precisely what happened when the website Travelocity, which Whicker brilliantly popularised, and Bakers Complete Dry Dog Food, were named as joint winners of the Grand Prix in last week's IPA Effectiveness Awards. It's the first time there's been a tie.

We live in a world of prizes for everyone, and it is easy to become cynical about awards ceremonies. But the IPA deserves a big pat on the back, as it strives to champion the objective value of advertising in a rapidly changing media landscape.

Last week's event was an initiative to adapt a respected and muscular competition to medium to small agencies - with revenues of up to £20m a year - and, in this, it has succeeded. As such, it was technically replacing the area awards, which never achieved the standing and profile of the traditional biennial Effectiveness Awards.

The key to success, for what is now to be a regular event, is that it was organised along the same procedures, with two sets of high-profile judges, and rigorous papers concentrating on ROI and brand awareness.

The competition has thrown up some fascinating case studies for some impressive clients - from the Inland Revenue to Tizer.

Of course, one reason for the change was to find a way to focus on the buzzy operators, many based in London, whose impact and creative thinking outweighs sheer billings. Walker Media, winner of a bronze for First Choice's sponsorship of I'm A Celebrity, is a case in point. Another London agency, Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy, was the biggest winner of the night.

But a further reason for the event being a breath of fresh air is that it is proof of thriving regional diversity. Of the 48 entries, 15 were from Belfast, where the event was staged in the marvellously grand City Hall. For sure, London agencies were next, with nine entries, but then came Manchester (eight), Edinburgh (seven) and Glasgow with five.

It was a reminder, in a world where Sir Martin Sorrell's word is gospel, that being local and thinking local, or regionally, can be a key asset. Many papers were submitted for public bodies. As Government policy drives a move of agencies outside of the south-east, this offers rich opportunities.

For public-sector clients, from the Northern Ireland office to the oral-cancer health campaign, this competition is clearly a great help. By submitting an award-winning paper, it helps demonstrate that they are spending money wisely. It is a form of independent peer group audit. But there are a lot of other examples from this competition of how you don't have to have massive budgets to effect a real change to your brand position and standing. Seventeen of the 23 winners used television, as sponsor Thinkbox revealed, but six didn't.

I'm intrigued by the unusual publicity campain waged by the University of Dundee through Frame C, called University Challenge - serious fun, which created a strong demand for its places, by advertising to teenagers within Scotland. It led to an 83% increase in applications, driving the university into the top segment of the market.

Finally, I'm glad that the judges side-stepped political correctness and gave "Tizer turns teenage, but won't change its colour" - red - an award. It shows the judges are in no one's pockets. That made me smile.

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