Why Amnesia Razorfish opted out of Hot or Cold.

Post by @eunmac – Founder of Amnesia Razorfish.

Hi, I usually try my best to fly under the radar with contentious issues but felt it time to pop up to explain some stuff, possibly at the risk of sounding like a bit of a t**ser! I’ve noticed there are a lot of questions (and even criticism) around why Amnesia, Deepend, White Agency, Host and Webqem all opted out of Bannerblog and Campaign Brief’s Hot or Cold list. Rather than leave people hanging and wondering why we abstained, I thought I’d put the record straight.


Three reasons Amnesia Razorfish does not want to be involved in the Hot or Cold list:

1. Don’t make others feel bad. These kind of rankings are not like normal awards which only celebrate excellence. Unfortunately one of the long debated issues about the Hot or Cold format is that it allows a select few agencies to feel really good about themselves at the expense of many other hard working agencies who don’t tally up. As an agency we feel things need to be judged on merit and to reward good work, but not at the expense of others that for the most part are trying their best. It may not be their fault they do not perform well. One of the other agencies who also dropped out (left as anonymous) summed it up perfectly below:

image “My fundamental issue with a list is just that, it’s a list; it has someone at the top and by definition it has someone at the bottom. How would you feel today getting into work today to be told the agency you are working for or running or are the creative director of is “cold”. We all work stupidly hard at what ever we do, it is offensive to be labeled cold, below average, uncreative or just plain s**t regardless of who or what body determines that. The reason we have awards are to award those of us that are doing well, not demoralise those of us who are trying. I am not interested in beating my chest at someone else’s expense and making people who work f****g hard feel like s**t.” – (Anonymous quote from one of the other agencies).

2. It’s not just about creative. Seriously, can you judge a digital agency merely by its cover?

image Let’s be 100% clear on what Hot or Cold is judged on: it is based purely on creative. Although creative is one of Amnesia’s core pillars here (see below) and something we’ve won many awards for we fundamentally do not believe creative works in isolation in the digital landscape. In my opinion the assertion that ‘the best digital agency is also the one that is best at creative’ would be grossly misleading. There are a lot of great agencies that I consider to be contenders for ‘excellent’ in digital (but whose strengths are other than creative) for example; The Hallway, Datalicious or Downstream Marketing. Surely they would be mandatory on a comprehensive list or audit of agencies offering digital services, yet this was one of the objectives of Hot or Cold during it’s formulation, something it fails to do in it’s current form. To assert Hot or Cold is somehow an audit of the digital landscape is grossly misleading when great digital specialists in Search, Strategy, Media, Social, Analytics or agencies who provide more than just creative aren’t included. Note: There has been a conversation that the next round of Hot or Cold will tackle ‘technical’ but again this falls way woefully short of the full picture in my view.

“Perhaps if Hot or Cold renamed itself to ‘Is Your Digital Creative Department Hot or Cold’ it would be a little more apt given who’s judging and what is being judged”

The reality for agencies is that the success of their work is judged in real life by the client and the consumer in the form of engagement, measurable results and return on investment /objectives. Hot or Cold is only judged by Creative Directors. I’m a Creative Director by trade and I’ve judged many many awards over the years. To put it bluntly I would simply not feel comfortable judging a whole agency based on their creative output alone when it’s just one facet of the overall output and experience clients and consumers have. Let me be clear though I’m not against judging creative but there are already a ton of awards that do this well, and ones that don’t imply that ones that didn’t win were by default bad companies. Whilst I know most of the judging panel and have deep respect for them, I do not believe it is up to a bunch of CDs to determine the overall rankings of an agency but unfortunately that is what is implied by Hot or Cold and is easily misinterpreted. Headlines do not tell the full story such as posts like this one on Mumbrella. Perhaps if Hot or Cold renamed the list to ‘Is Your Digital Creative Department Hot or Cold’ it would be a little more apt given who’s judging and what is being judged.

3. No more feeding the agency BS, thanks very much.

image The one thing I’ve always liked about the digital industry is for the vast majority of the time we all get on very well. Personally I cannot stand agency politics, the pulling of rugs from under others feet, the one-upmanship, the backstabbing. I’ve seen it first hand and I just can’t bear it. Maybe I’m dreaming, but at least let me dream. That said, I’m no hippy and I like to win pitches, but under it all we need to get on. The future of digital means we have to collaborate to make the best of an evolving landscape. I hang out with many of the other owners of digital agencies, we socialise and we are open and honest with each other about how we all get better at what we do. We sometimes share different views but we handle them in good spirit. I view Hot or Cold as ‘part of the old world of advertising’, not the new one. We don’t need to inherit the old ways. Sure, Hot or Cold makes an interesting headline and gets people talking but for me it’s too shallow, and creates unnecessary tension between agencies. So although I do respect Ash and his intention to see it become more productive, it’s not something we want to be part of as it stands.

Disclaimer ahead: Nothing to hide regarding Amnesia’s creativity:

Above: Some of our work from the last 12 months. A couple of people have questioned whether the missing agencies were hiding the fact they were not creative enough to score well. Let me address this through another set of awards which also judges creative output. Amnesia (along with Soap, Deepend, TribalDDB) are all finalists for AdNews Digital Agency of the Year. The fact is you don’t make the cut in these awards unless your creative is outstanding.

Wrapping up.
At the end of the day everything above is of course my humble opinion. I respect the views of others and their desire to see the list happen. It should not mean we (Amnesia) has to enter.

I’m not trying to stop Hot or Cold. The agencies that like it, want it and agree with it should of course be allowed to continue. The ones that don’t should be allowed to abstain without question. If an audit or useful chart needs to be produced to better paint agency skills and capabilities there are better ways to do this. Unfortunately there are forces who want to force us to participate in the future. This has been accompanied by a thinly veiled threat that Amnesia will be judged and plotted on a table even if the judges do not have any real view or knowledge of its creative output. I hope it does not come down to that.

Finally, I do not want to take the shine away from those who did well. So… in the best spirit possible congratulations to Soap, a great digital outfit that does super creative work, worth a title or two and more than deserves a place on the medals table.

Thanks for listening. Of course I don’t expect everyone to agree, yep that’s part of the fun so as always …comments and feedback welcome 😉


6 Responses to Why Amnesia Razorfish opted out of Hot or Cold.

  1. fair points so does it mean that i’m in with a better chance now? Is the focus back on clients mean a reduced satisfaction from agency backslapping?

    I mean if a bottle of wine has an award/medal on the label does that always means it a perfect wine for everyone or every situation? as we can easily disregard what the award was actually awarded for because awards must mean something was good enough…

    For the smaller agencies and consultants you can mostly assume that you will be lucky if you get a mention, so less I agree less awards and more focus on clients!

  2. Adrian says:

    I’d love to see digital agencies go beyond the regular banner builds, microsites and twitter strategies for brands we don’t care about more often. It’s great to see agencies do something for the community once in a while. Amnesia are one of my favourites based solely on the student talks you put on once a year. Still, I think more could be done.

    Ashley from Soap has put in the initiative to organise something bigger, and with the help from other CDs, created something fantastic. This hot and cold list is a great tool for freelancers, clients and candidates who wish to learn more about the enigmatic digital industry quickly and efficiently.

    As a freelancer, there was no easy way to find out how digital agencies compare to each other. The only way I could find information such as the size of their agency or their current portfolio was to schedule an interview with their CD and ask them in person. This list helps me not worry about that and bypasses most of that process. To see agencies such as amenesia, white and deepend opting out of this list is disappointing. This list is something that ought to be celebrated in this industry, not hidden away from.

    I think your reasonings are unjustified. It’s difficult for outsiders to get a glimpse of how well agencies do their creative work. Being ranked and criticised is a healthy element in achieving excellence. I’m sure you do the same – you rank your internal team, you rank your clients and you rank your own work. If agencies are not performing up to par, it’s better to acknowledge that and work harder and/or smarter for better results. I don’t expect poor restaurants to get good reviews on the grounds that they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, this shouldn’t be the same.

    Perhaps it would help to think of this project as something that goes beyond digital agencies. If I may be presumptuous, there’s a world outside of petty digital agency politics that most of us live in. I’m sure this list wasn’t created just so soap could rub their nose at everyone. To my knowledge, nothing like this has ever been attempted before. It’s unique and informational, and to see large and influential agencies not partaking is not something I can respect.

    I hope you and other change their minds in the future when this thing gets updated. I think it would be more beneficial than dangerous.

  3. […] In his posting McDonald said the agency stayed out because he did not approve of a format that not o…. […]

  4. James Duthie says:

    Completely in agreement. Judging a project/agency based purely on creative is crazy when we’ve sold ourselves as the “accountable” medium for over a decade. Forgive the link drop, but I wrote a piece with very similar sentiments a few weeks ago (albeit motivated by a separate awards process):


    Yes, creative is important to the success of a campaign. But other factors such must be factored in as well; most importantly – tangible results.

    The sooner we can separate ourselves from the advertising legacy, the better.

  5. Kevin Ferry says:

    I think what we have here Sir is a miscommunication and considering we are in the communication industry I find that ironic in that we have all got so hung up about the word ‘creativity’.
    I personally agree with doing this every 3 months as the intention of doing this was to map out where companies sat within the digital space from full service, pure digital and production houses.
    I agree with some of the comments from the guy’s from Deepend and Amnesia that some of the agencies who are in the cold area that it’s unfair and they would come in for a beating but this is a competitive business we are in, so why not? I agree that from now on we don’t judge anyone who hasn’t entered and those that we’re judged that didn’t enter, at least you now know what your peers think of your agency.
    And for the record I was on the judging panel and as an agency we didn’t enter not because of not wanting to but the initial brief was very awards focussed with how many awards you got this year and on some awards juries you know sometimes it’s a lottery (oh bugger have I started another sh#t fight?)
    Yes we are creative and we have won at AMIA and ADMA’s for Blackmores, but I would hardly call it a gold rush, so we decided not to enter.
    They judged us regardless because they thought as a company who are prominent in the digital space we needed to be entered just as the others were, I didn’t have a problem with that, we were ranked on assumptions and judges viewed our website hardly fair? No, and I still haven’t a problem with that because next time I’ll bloody enter!
    Because I want to beat as many of my competitors as possible and as much as I love you all (and yes we all have tremendous respect for everyone) it’s a brutal business we are in. If you think otherwise I suggest you think of a new career path.
    It’s also nonsense to suggest this was purely based on ‘creative’. Creative as was suggested can fall into so many guises especially in digital.
    Creativity isn’t just about cool design or an interface etc. Creativity in my mind is, firstly how strong is the idea? How well is it executed? And how technically was it implemented? Creativity or smart thinking could be just down to a smart piece of media placement,that gets my vote.
    I didn’t judge the work on just pretty pictures or on just results– I tried to look at the whole piece and judged it on that, for the record my vote was very different from some of my peers and I certainly would not have had some of the agencies in the dizzy heights they reached and some ‘colder’ outfits would in my mind been much ‘hotter’ but as part of the judging panel I had to respect the overall opinion of the judges.
    I know also Soap have come in for a bit of a bashing which is a shame because the agency was judged by the selected judges and not by Ash, if the work didn’t stack up none of the judges would have voted for them .Simple.
    Moving forward if the agencies like Deepend and Amnesia decide not to enter then let’s not judge them, it’s a shame because they are players in the space but let us respect their wishes and let the friendly battle commence regardless and long may it continue, as competition is good for business.

  6. Adam Good says:

    Award shows and creative rankings are never perfect because in the end people judge them. Every award event has a criteria but they all have judges and they have their own opinions and interpretations of the criteria. Look at the Oscars for example as a good show to create debate. What Creative Brief and Banner Blog have attempted to do with the Hot+ Cold digital agency ranking is wonderful for the digital industry as a whole. Creating a digital agency ranking is something the industry should get involved in, make suggestions and recommendations to continue to improve how it’s structured. Sure if in a 12 month period an agency doesn’t win or enter awards it makes it hard to push for a high ranking under the current criteria. But if we didn’t use awards as a criteria what should we use? How else should it be judged to get a true ranking? The awards can be for effectiveness, creative and technical. It was surprising to me not to see Amnesia, HOST, Deepend, The White Agency, Ogilvy, Three Drunk Monkeys and One Digital. They are all strong digital players doing great work and not being involved in this doesn’t make sense to me.

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