Caples Awards Struggles to Reach Judge Candidates

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The John Caples International Awards, a nonprofit that recognizes creative excellence in direct marketing agencies and advertisers, is facing a tough time finding an accurate database for recruiting judges.

Lists with agency creative executives' names are not only difficult to find, but the few out there are unreliable because of job switches or cuts. Even more galling, many creative executives do not read industry publications, so they are not on those subscriber lists.

"Last year's judges came from all over the world. But this year, nearly half the e-mails came back as undeliverable," said Holly Pavlika, who heads the Caples judging committee and is executive vice president and executive creative director at Grey Direct, New York. "This happened even though our judging list includes over 80 senior creatives, virtually all executive creative director-level and above."

Most of the undeliverable e-mail addresses came from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. These states bore the brunt of changes as the economy slowed.

"We believe this result is a direct correlation to the industry upheaval -- mergers, acquisitions and downsizing," said Pavlika, who sent e-mails to 75 potential judges last year. "Apparently, even senior-level people are leaving the industry and choosing new career paths."

So, an appeal was sent on this, the 25th anniversary of the Caples, founded in 1978 by Andi Emerson and named for the famed copywriter who worked 56 years at advertising agency BBDO. In that appeal, agency creative executives, freelancers and in-house creatives were informed of the problem and asked for the names and active e-mail addresses of their peers. Responses have poured in.

"Many agencies have generously provided names and contact information for their entire agency network," Pavlika said. "We already have lists of possible judges from Belgium, Mexico, Australia, Germany and Nigeria, and so far I've gathered about 130 names of senior-level creatives. One West Coast agency is going to the associations on behalf of Caples."

Recruiting for judges typically starts in June. E-mail recruiting began about five years ago. Before that, it was via hard copy mail and the telephone. Another way Caples recruits judges is through its Web site.

Of course, the organization can always resort to direct mail to recruit judges. But the money it raises is earmarked for postage, the costs of staging the event in New York and the awards themselves. This leaves no money for list rentals.

Besides, mail has its own issues.

"If they're using snail mail, the mail can be delivered to the agency and then thrown in the circular file without the sender knowing that they're no longer at that company," Pavlika said.

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