City Showcases










Agency Contest

You be the judge.

Esparza Advertising

Client: Cake Fetish Cupcakes

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Oliver Russell

Client: Woodland Empire Ailcraft

Boise, Idaho

AAB Showcase Awards

Podcast Transcript

Janet Carlson

This is Off-Road Marketing, the podcast that highlights brands and marketers that dare to travel the road not taken by others. I'm Janet Carlson. And I'll be your host. Today's guest is Greg Clow. He's Executive Director of The Agency Contest. I'm so happy to have you on this show, Greg.

Greg Clow

Glad to be here Janet. Thanks for asking me.

Janet Carlson

Of course. So you started an advertising award show that is interestingly judged by both creatives and clients. That was in 2015, showcasing advertising creative. I'm just curious where you came up with the idea and how does that business model work?  

Greg Clow

I'll start from the beginning. I started my advertising creative career in New York and then moved to Boston and then San Francisco. And then I decided, when the kids were old enough and they were out of school, it was time to move to Boise, Idaho. When I got here, I found that there were a number of high quality creative ad agencies. However, no one had ever heard of them because they were local. So I did an analysis of each agency and I created what I called the Boise Ad Book.

I used that concept to talk to a lot of clients and agencies to find out more about what was going on in the area. During an interview with one of the agency heads, they said what agencies really want is a way to expand into the rest of the country.

From there I moved to Seattle and Portland, creating Ad Books for them as well. It became clear to me that this concept had legs and could be built out nationally. Ad Books had the potential to become a way for people to interact, and learn about different agencies as well as creative directors, photographers, and illustrators.

That's when the idea of a series of creative contests came from. The Agency Contest would be a way for creatives and clients to judge creative work in a contest format, while learning about our community at the same time. So we transitioned our book into a contest.

Greg Clow

One of the wonderful things about having my background as a graphic artist in the technology age is that I was able to build out The Agency Contest website myself. I used the contacts I'd made through Linked In over the years and continued to build upon them. Over the last years over 23,000 members of the marketing and advertising community have connected.

Janet Carlson

Wow. That’s impressive.

So I'm curious, Greg, what percentage of your members are freelancers versus agency people? See, I was wondering about that because when I've looked through your City Showcases, I've seen a lot of freelancers. You know that I partner with a lot of freelancers.

Greg Clow

It really depends on the contest. If I put out the word for freelance creative directors, photographers or illustrators, I immediately get a lot of interest. If I choose to do a contest with ad agency 30 second TV commercials, I've got 23,000 people to ask. I just ask until I fill up the number of slots that are needed to run the competition. Each contest has 5 competitors. Originally we started out with 9. That's a lot to ask our judges to consider, and it turned out that that was too many.

Janet Carlson

Yeah. It's hard to review 9. I've judged the competition before for you, and it is hard to dive into each person and their work and then by the end, you're like, okay, crap, what was the first one? However something usually sticks out.

Greg Clow

That's true. And when we started to do the 5 entries, there was a rush of judge participation. At that point running the contest became easier.

The whole process, the process of running The Agency Contest has really been eye-opening for me. The whole idea of creating leader boards and standings for all the judges. That's something that's only been around since 2021 and it's really fun to watch how the judges react to how they're doing on the leader board.

Janet Carlson

I mean, what did you expect? Ad people are competitive people, and some east coasters will eat their best friend for lunch. Of course we're going to want to move up the leader board. I get it.

Greg Clow

It's a lot of fun. We give one point for participation and a second point for getting your selection to match the current vote leader. Using this process, we're able to figure out who has the best creative eye.

I have also had a chance to do some judging in some of the big shows. And I have to tell you, I was really disheartened because I saw how the judges treated a lot of the entries. I was really upset. People put a lot of time and effort into their presentations for these shows. And the presentations were not being given even five seconds of time.

Janet Carlson

That's where your tagline comes in. Democratize the advertising creative contest.

Greg Clow

Yes. I wanted to make the contest in the image of the Academy Awards, where the people that did the work got to judge the work.

Greg Clow

I wanted judges to get a chance to spend more time with it, if they wanted to. And if they wanted to get deeper into an agency or a person, they had the ability to do that. In The Agency Contests, there are always portfolio and contact links.

It has been important to take advantage of today’s technology. 10 years ago you would go to an award show and you'd have no way to contact a person that did the work. The Agency Contest has changed that.

Through my work with our 77 metro areas, I have found that many of the small agencies around the country don’t have the money or the time to enter shows. Understanding this fundamental hurdle comes from a basic understanding of how agencies work.  There is a pyramid shape for creative management. As great creatives move up the levels of the pyramid, there are fewer and fewer spots. Even though they are top notch creatives, they end up being forced out.

Janet Carlson


Greg Clow

Where do they go? They start their own small agencies.

But when they start their own agency, there's usually only a few employees, very small. They get their start locally, but you know what? They have the same brain they had when they were at their large, multinational agency. They're doing great work, but nobody's seeing it.

And so one of the things that I wanted to help with was to allow these creatives to show their work.

One of The Agency Contest's innovations is to remove the timing pressure and the entry pressure. We do all the entry work and we charge no entry fee for members. All the agency or professional creative needs to do is send us the URL for the entry from their portfolio, and they are good to go.  

There's no work to be done by the agency, or by the staff. And because The Agency Contest accepts entries year round, there is no deadline. Agencies love what we do.

Janet Carlson

Of course, who wouldn't. I mean, you’re like a guardian angel. I think it's amazing.

Greg Clow

And it's fun. I think it's a really fun to do too.

Janet Carlson

Well, we'll have to talk about that because I find it fascinating.

I'm curious which verticals had the most creative work. Like healthcare or finance or education or tourism. Do you have an opinion there?

Greg Clow

The creative we show is largely determined by what shows best in our contest template. For instance, there are a lot of entries which won’t show at all. There are some great 60 second TV commercials out there, but our judges won’t take the time to look at those. There are some fabulous campaigns, but there's no way to show a campaign in a fast contest.

I've found some ways around that to try and help. The ultimate goal is to help the agency, help the creative, and help the client.

Janet Carlson

I think that's, that's amazing.

Greg, I think we're gonna go to a two parter. How do you feel about that?

Greg Clow

Happy to do it.

A 16 minute interview with Greg Clow about The Agency Contest.




Transcript Part 2