The Complex Nature of Awards & Recognition

Written by: Brady Drake

On February 24th, 2023, the American Advertising Federation of North Dakota will host its annual American Advertising Awards Ceremony at The Avalon in Fargo. For the past four years, I’ve played a role in hosting the event and helping our Board of Directors provide a great experience for the advertising community in North Dakota. I’ve also grappled with the complex nature of awards and recognition, and how our work should be evaluated based on their presence or absence.

When I submitted my first entry for the American Advertising Awards in 2016, I was greeted with rejection. “We’re sorry to say that your entry will not be receiving an ADDY Award this year.” New to the corporate recognition world, I took this rejection as an affront.

My mind jumped into thoughts such as well, what’s this even based on? Isn’t design subjective? We had good results from this piece of marketing, so how are the judges to say it isn’t deserving?

I held onto some resentment towards the judging process until the next year when I had a submission that was recognized with an ADDY win. The year after that, I was able to see the judging process for myself and had an even deeper understanding for the process which ended up changing my perspective entirely.

I learned that AAF-ND flies in 3 judges from across the country who enter the judging competition with no knowledge of our local agencies and marketers. I also learned that only ~25% of total entries were recognized with an award in the first place— and only ~10% of the entries would receive “Gold” honors. I also saw some incredibly strong pieces of marketing work that weren’t able to receive an award, and realized the most important lesson of them all:

A lot of great work is not recognized with an award.

On the flipside, a lot of great work is recognized. And that recognition helps open doors including:

  • Creating job opportunities by boosting individual’s resumes
  • Creating new business opportunities for organizations that are award recipients
  • Strengthening client relationships and improving employee morale (who doesn’t love getting recognized?)

Herein lies the complex nature of awards and recognition: we need them to help our business grow, but can’t use them as the exclusive criteria to gauge whether our work was successful. So, how do we balance expectation management with the thrill of receiving an award? I can’t provide anything other than my personal experience which is this:

Celebrate when you win, and celebrate others when they win.

My favorite part of the American Advertising Awards experience has transitioned from walking up to the award stand to pick up my own work to now watching the elated faces of first-time winners as they accept their awards. Ultimately, any recognition in our field is a win for the advertising and marketing community as a whole—and the more we can raise each other up, the better we all are because of it.

I hope you’ll join me in celebrating some first-time wins at the ceremony this year.

To claim your tickets to our American Advertising Awards event in February, visit

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Brady is the Editorial Director at Spotlight Media in Fargo, ND.