A guide to winning
the most hard to win
award in the world.

(And why any of us should bother)


The fastest and more assured path to winning a pencil is to do the rarest thing in our industry: create something new. If any awards organisation interrogates familiarity more thoroughly than D&AD I have yet to judge it. It’s why, in a cluttered world, D&AD is still the one everyone wants to win.

But D&AD doesn’t stop there. And this is where it hurts. New is not enough. To pocket the yellow or black lead, you must display the energy it takes to truly craft every part of the idea until it is prized from your hands. The entire experience of your idea must be perfect.

A lot of the best ideas these days aren’t big, they’re long. Different shapes and different formats to what has gone before. It’s beautiful, but this sort of work demands a different sort of entry for awards.

Entry films should not be case studies. The best entry films are documentaries, the story of an idea meeting and succeeding in culture. Apply the same craft to the story of the idea that you apply to the idea itself. Voice, pace, the edit, the titles, music and the simplicity of the script or story itself are all things to bear in mind.

Never speak about yourselves. Never talk about things only the client or the agency would care about. Most juries want to turn them off straight away to save time, so imagine, like a great novel, what your opening lines will be. If you want to show benchmarks of cultural success avoid YouTube hits and the obvious unless you really have broken the internet.


When all else fails, imagine you’re lucky enough to be on the D&AD jury.

You’ve been in a room watching films like this for three hours and the worst piece of music, on a film voiced by a nasal junior creative rolls on opening with the line ‘We didn’t want to just sell cheese in Dortmund. We wanted to reinvent the role of cheese in life, so we…’


But why do we do all this?

Awards can be a distraction. They can stop people focusing on what’s really important. And awards have a lot to answer for. They can raise the age old, unimportant issues around who takes ownership of an idea (like you can’t smell in a second when someone has an idea on their site that isn’t theirs). And they can highlight the consistent problem of not crediting the names of everyone who made something brilliant happen — my friends in design, project management and production will breathe deep here. And at their worst, awards can have children, the monsters with dusty gold on a high shelf. The ‘You see those up there, that’s why I’m…’ ego driven dickheads. We all know one.

But awards can help an agency grow its reputation and change its fortunes. Awards can help an agency hire better people. Because not everybody wants to build success, some people want to join it.

Not every award matters. And you have to make your own mind up as a creative what award you think represents your take on the world and the future of your craft. But if there has been one award that has consistently pushed and rewarded the truly original, that has awarded things the other shows didn’t understand, that no matter what anybody says, puts a tingle in the tummy of those who really love what they do, it is the stumpy yellow pencil. A stumpy yellow pencil that has the power to, and consistently does, provoke creative individuals to work harder. To ask themselves if what they have done is good enough, new enough.

In many different forms, there is only one dream. It’s the one where, for a brief second, we are saluted by the world as the best at something. Never mind advertising. Or design. Ultimately, if you want an award that moves past your own industry and into culture, then there is only one to choose from.

Win at D&AD and you are not just awarded before your industry peers, you are celebrated amongst the best in the world.

Your name doesn’t just adorn a dusty trophy on an ad agency shelf, it takes its place in history alongside Jonathan Ive, Norman Foster, Marion Deuchars, David Carson, Stefan Sagmeister, the excellent Alexandra Taylor, Ridley Scott, Mary Lewis and the other artists and creatives that have made our world a more beautiful place.

Work hard. Win one. Just please don’t become a tool.

Enter by 18 February 23:59 GMT, 2015

Nils Leonard is CCO and Chairman of Grey LDN.

The third most awarded agency in the world last year at D&AD. Told you it was hard.