Awards Aren’t Everything

The Cannes Young Lions award got her noticed. It turned heads. It changed her life. Patrice Pollack reflects on how awards in our industry changed her career journey. 

I had two degrees, a scholarship and an internship under my belt and still couldn’t land a job in advertising. In my mind, being blown off, ignored and “unknown” clearly meant I wasn’t good enough. Not true, but I couldn’t help feeling that way.

I remember the email like it was yesterday. It wasn’t a job offer, or even an interview. It was an email from my best friend Alex (who I went to OCAD with) asking if I wanted to go to France with a link to the Cannes Young Lions Competition. It was an email that changed the course of my career path, but also, my life.

cannes_fusecreateWe entered the digital category, and in 24 hours, we had to crack a brief for the Stephen Lewis Foundation – a grassroots charitable organization that addresses the challenges of the AIDS pandemic in Africa. We won. I remember crying when I got the phone call. Crying because we won and were going to Cannes, but also because I felt validated.

Cannes was everything people said it would be. A magical place filled with opportunity, creativity and lots of Rosé 😉 Being there, surrounded by the most talented people in the industry felt like we had already won. So, competing against winners from 36 countries weirdly felt less intimidating then “all of Canada”. With another brief, (but this time for the Planet Earth Institute) and another 24 hours (but this time, in Cannes) we hunkered down (but this time, on the beach).

We won. A first for Canada. It was epic in every way. All of the sudden, an industry we were trying to break into, was wide open. Literally. We moved to New York City two weeks later signing a contract with J. Walter Thompson under the helm of Jeff Benjamin and Ryan Kutscher.


The Cannes Young Lions award got us noticed. It turned heads. It changed my life. Awards in our industry can do that.

But in ten years since winning, I’ve grown to understand the role awards play in our world. They are undoubtedly a symbol of creative excellence and of credibility. They undoubtedly can lead to industry fame. But often times, the only people who care about them are, well, us. The folks making the work. When awards become self-indulgent, and when our motivation is the award for the sake of the award, then I don’t believe we’ve won anything at all.

As our industry continues to morph, maybe the perception of awards will morph with it. In the meantime, I’ll continue to push the work, and be the partner with a great track record for success – building business, busting KPIs, changing perceptions, creating meaningful, breakthrough, real work for brands that move the needle. And hey, the work might just win some awards in the process.

It’s those results that matter. And the awards will be for the right reasons. Because in the end, it’s about creating work that works.

Awards aren’t everything. But don’t get me wrong, they sure are something 😉