RSVPs evolve

As the Canadian Marketing Association has evolved, so have its annual awards. The RSVP Awards show has taken on a new moniker - the CMA Awards - and, like its parent organization, is ushering in a wider range of marketing communication disciplines.

As the Canadian Marketing Association has evolved, so have its annual awards. The RSVP Awards show has taken on a new moniker – the CMA Awards – and, like its parent organization, is ushering in a wider range of marketing communication disciplines.

John Gustavson, president and CEO of the CMA, says since the group is no longer only a direct marketing association, it was important to reflect that in its awards show, slated for Nov. 15.

‘With the blurring of the silos, [our members] are working on all sorts of campaigns that involve other elements. [The CMA Awards] are designed to allow them to enter more of their work. It expands eligibility but everything that was eligible before can be entered now.’

Gustavson stresses that proof of results will continue to be the touchstone for the CMA Awards, a quality that sets it apart from other annual Canadian industry shows. ‘The one thing that has made this unique over the years is [the CMA Awards] are based on results. That stays.’

While the name of the show has changed, the name of the actual award – the RSVP – stays to reflect the heritage of the awards that have been a fixture for more than 30 years.

The CMA Awards are still divided into three sections: Group A – Primary Area of Business (the product and service category section – for example, automotive, leisure/travel or retailing); Group B – Marketing Communication Disciplines; and Group C – Specialty, which includes Creative, International Programs and Resource Partners’ Innovation (previously Supplier category). Entries into every category except Creative are to be supported by proof of results.

Three new categories have been added to Group B: Brand Advertising, Public Relations and Sales Promotion. Rather than lead generation, database building, retention or acquisition being the measures of success, these new categories will be judged in terms of lift in sales (or mentions, in the case of PR/product volume for promotions), awareness levels, and share of market as well as store traffic and coupon redemption for promotions.

The Group B section has been refined to be less focused on the channel as on the marketing and communication disciplines used. Direct Mail and Broadcast disappear as stand-alones to now fall under Direct Response (direct mail and DRTV) or Integrated Multi-Media. In addition, Contact Centre, Customer Service and Customer Loyalty Programs now fall under the Customer Management umbrella.

Proof of results would be garnered by research done quite often by agencies and clients after campaigns – things like awareness testing and focus groups with consumers. Clients would be tracking any increases in market share, sales or coupon redemption as a matter of course.

‘It’s the same way [an agency] would prove to a client that [their] campaign was being effective. There are various techniques for measuring brand awareness, for example, if that’s what you were trying to achieve,’ says Gustavson.

Sylvain Marcoux, marketing manager for savings products and electronic services at the National Bank of Canada, says the changes in the awards show go hand in hand with where CMA wants to go as an association.

National Bank won the Best of the Best at last year’s RSVPs. Marcoux sees the changes as being very positive because ‘direct’ thinking is crossing all channels of communication and all types of agencies and marketers insist on consistency of message and image as well as accountability.

‘I don’t think [the changes to the RSVPs] are going to diminish the chances of a pure direct marketing agency to win an award but it might open things up to more traditional agencies,’ says Marcoux. ‘Even traditional agencies have to quantify results nowadays and I think that is something that will increase over the next few years.’

The CMA’s core membership, direct marketing clients and agencies, are supportive of the evolution of the association and the awards, although some worry the direct marketing discipline is being overshadowed.

Peter Coish, president of Lowe RMP of Toronto, understands and supports the overall direction in which the CMA is headed – the promotion of integration across all marketing disciplines. And while he was involved in early discussions on the evolution of the RSVPs, Coish does have some reservations about the changes.

‘I worry that we are losing our direct marketing award show; that there is no longer a pure direct marketing award show. My agency, and a lot of people out there in similar agencies, work in direct marketing and still call it that. We have staff and clients who enjoy the recognition that comes with winning direct marketing awards. I think the opportunities to win these awards have been diminished. This is in fact no longer a direct marketing award show. I am concerned about that.’

Coish adds, ‘I do not believe that pitting direct marketing media against general advertising media is a fair match. No matter how objective the measurement, the metric, I think there are some disciplines in general advertising and public relations where the metrics are soft and malleable and subject to great interpretation. That is why direct marketing exists and why we have grown.’

Many say that the revamped awards validate the fact that direct marketing is not limited to direct mail and will offer more opportunities for entry.

Trish Wheaton, president of Wunderman in Toronto, says that much of what direct marketers do today is integrated marketing. Under the previous RSVP criteria, many of the activities direct marketers were engaged in were not reflected. The new guidelines will allow for campaigns that increase overall volume, market share or ROI.

‘It’s not as if [the CMA] has thrown the baby out with the bath water – it’s still about being accountable and creating meaningful results for clients,’ says Wheaton. ‘We’ve always been accountable but that discipline of accountability has really permeated the way all clients and marketers work today. No matter what discipline you’re working in, you are really doing the client a disservice if you can’t produce results for the activities they’re funding.’

Marie-Josee Vinet, vice-president and managing director of FCB Direct in Toronto, agrees the CMA Awards reflect that direct marketers are no longer just involved with Canada Post but work in converging media. ‘Brand advertising and direct marketing are absolutely inclusive of one another. It’s obvious that those [campaigns] that win [RSVPs] are those that are successful. They respect the brand and are strong advertising – but they have to be both. You have to drive response in a very personalized way but support it with responsive advertising in general media.’

The revisions have done a good job of reflecting the broader mandate of the CMA, says Bryan Tenenhouse, senior vice-president, creative director at VBDI in Toronto. ‘Brand plays such a role in direct marketing now and all the other channels – they’re all viable and important parts of the mix.

‘We had one campaign that used outdoor as an awareness vehicle within the integrated campaign with an FSI in newspaper as well as on-page advertising. The campaign may fall under an awareness category, a brand category, and share of voice or market, or the outdoor part of the campaign might get entered into the awareness category alone, where it might not have before.’

Tenenhouse adds, ‘It’s still all about results. I think direct marketing is still the focus but there is a broader mandate to reflect the realities of the marketplace today.’

With the advertising industry’s well-known thirst for awards, the CMA is hoping that general advertising agencies – willing to prove their advertising works – will be attracted to the CMA Awards.

Andy Macaulay, partner and planner at Zig in Toronto, says big agencies in particular have ‘scads of money and seem to enter everything with vim and vigor.’ General agencies will be attracted as long as the judging criteria are clear and applied fairly, he says, but he cautions that general advertising is much harder to measure and the proof takes much more effort to compile.

‘Shift in brand attitudes can be somewhat subtle. I think given the nature of the objective of advertising, it always sets out to have a measurable objective but that objective isn’t always as direct as somebody inquiring or buying.

‘I would suspect the CMA would have some challenges in that regard, given what advertising is trying to accomplish at times. I think those challenges have been dealt with well by the CASSIES, for example, because they require the depth of analysis to be able to demonstrate the positive impact of an ad campaign – [impact] due directly to the advertising and not environmental factors.’

The categories and criteria are up on, and the call for entries will be made shortly.