Alokananda Chakraborty

Abby Awards 2004: Awards are here to encourage the industry, not discourage it: Bal Palekar

Eureka Forbes’ Bal Palekar, chairperson of this year’s Abby Awards Judging Committee, speaks about how the scrutiny and judging processes were kept transparent

With the judging for the 37th Abby Awards coming to a close earlier this week, the stage has been set for the final act - the actual award ceremony, that is - to unfold at the Abby Awards 2004. But while there is still time for the celebrated annual denouement, one of the more remarkable aspects of this year's awards has been the noticeable (and welcome) absence of any controversy or rabblerousing, either in the lead-up to the judging, or during the judging process itself. While Abby judging has, in the past, attracted attention for the wrong reasons, so far, this year, no agency or ad professional appears to have any grouse with the judging.

Which, according to MG ‘Ambi' Parameswaran, executive director, FCB-Ulka, and president of The Advertising Club Bombay, isn't surprising, considering the Awards Judging Committee had left little scope for debate or controversy. "We had requested Mr Bal Palekar (of Eureka Forbes) to be the chairperson of the Awards Judging Committee because we wanted a senior and respected professional of his caliber to bring transparency, maturity and integrity into the judging process," explains Parameswaran. "That is precisely what he has managed doing, and we are happy that the judging has gone off without a hitch, with the total cooperation of the participating agencies and jury members." Interestingly, Parameswaran reveals that this year, the Ad Club saw a 30-per cent jump in entries over last year. "The increase in the number of entries meant that the judging was a monumental task, but I think the jury members have done a very good job, aided by the guidelines laid down by Mr Palekar."

Palekar self-depreciatingly waves off the credit coming his way. All the same, he concedes that it was the element of transparency that not only allowed the judging to be fair, but also allowed it to be seen as being fair. "My thinking is that if we involve people while doing something, they will understand why we are doing such a thing," he says. "That is why we made a conscious bid for transparency even at the scrutiny stage. We debated what kind of work could get a clearance from the scrutiny committee and what would not get clearance. We specified the criteria under which an entry would become suspect. And all this was made part of the application form, so that people were aware of the rules before the game started. We also gave agencies the option of having an agency representative present at the scrutiny stage, so that they were satisfied with what was happening. We took the view that awards are here to encourage the industry, not discourage it, so let us do everything in our capacity to encourage healthy participation."

The steps have worked in keeping a check on ‘scam ads', or so it appears. "This year, the number of suspect entries was small when compared to previous years," says Palekar. (As an aside, agencyfaqs! has learnt that a little over a dozen entries failed to make it past the scrutiny committee.) "Everybody expressed satisfaction at the scrutiny stage, so there was no dispute at the judging stage." Palekar also feels that the ‘secret ballot' scoring format that has been in use at the Abbys for the last couple of years is "working well".

Palekar was also responsible for streamlining some of the categories at this year's awards. For instance, ‘Foods' was delinked from ‘Beverages and Tobacco' and became a standalone category. Similarly, ‘Toiletries' - which used to be clubbed with ‘Pharmaceutical & Healthcare Products' - was placed with ‘Household care' for the first time this year. Some categories were scrapped altogether, while many others were merged with existing categories. Explaining the thinking behind the rationalization of categories, Palekar says, "After studying the entry pattern for the last Abby, I saw that there are some categories that draw a lot of entries, while some get very few. Applying logic, I either split or merged categories to create some balance between categories." He adds that in retrospect, he feels that he should have retained ‘Corporate' as a category. "I shall certainly revive that category if the Ad Club deems me worthy of chairing the Judging Committee next year also," he assures, smiling.

There's still time for next year. For now, it is next month's ceremony that the industry is gearing up for. That, and of course the special ‘Brand India' category, entries for which close in three days' time. Now that is something that at least four Top 10 agencies are furiously working on… © 2004 agencyfaqs!

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