Clio Awards Rethink Format Again, Shorten Ceremony to One Formal Night

By Anna Sekula May 25, 2011, 1:15 PM EDT

Photo: Jason Lewis

2011 Clio Awards
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When Prometheus Global Media acquired the Clio Awards and brought the ad industry honors back to New York last year, C.E.O. Richard Beckman pledged to make the event “something people really enjoy attending.” And that was the directive the affair's planning team, overseen by director Karl Vontz, looked to achieve Thursday, revamping the format and look of the 52-year-old ceremony once again in a bid to engage the audience and appropriately recognize the year's top talent. Moving from downtown locale Skylight Soho to the Upper West Side's American Museum of Natural History, the Clios shrunk to a one-night gathering—as opposed to the 2010 awards, which were spread over two nights—and presented only 14 winners with trophies onstage.

“I've done a lot of awards and been introduced to everybody else that does awards, and what I've found is that there are two extremes. On the one side, there's putting up every award and having everyone come up and do an acceptance speech. That is very '80s, it is self-indulgent, it's long and boring, and people don't want that any more,” Vontz explained. “On the other side, there's a little bit of a hipper thing where you go out and celebrate the winners with no sit-down show. With that, people say, 'It was a great party, but I don't know who won,' and it really wasn't about the work.”

So Vontz sought to find the middle ground between the two by employing social media to build buzz in the weeks leading up to the event and, for the first time, posted the winners on the Clios site two days ahead of the ceremony. The gathering at the museum thus became a more formal event, presenting the most prestigious honors—the Lifetime Achievement, Hall of Fame, and Advertiser of the Year awards among others—and handing out the rest at the after-party.

Aptly, the evening's motif was the “golden age of advertising,” a nod to the relationship between the awards and AMC series Mad Men and a recent episode of the show. (However, Vontz contends the 21st century is really the most innovative time for the industry. “Was the golden age of advertising when Don Draper was having a three-martini lunch or is it now, when you can have an honest dialogue with a consumer through social media?") Visual cues to this theme from event designer Shiraz Events included gold-colored trees of orchids atop simple black stands, golden drapes hung in the museum's Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda for the reception, large versions of the gold Clio, and panels shaped after the award statuette on the stage in the LeFrak Theater.

Comedian Lewis Black hosted the ceremony, which lasted just a little more than 90 minutes and brought American Express vice president of social media Leslie Berland to the stage to accept a Grand Clio for that company's “Small Business Saturday” campaign, among others. Stand Up to Cancer also announced the Clio Awards Dream Team, a collaborative initiative that brings high-level ad executives together to create effective messaging for the charity program. At the after-party that followed in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, other Clio winners picked up their trophies from a dedicated display, watched video of the winning entries, and mingled in a black, white, and purple lounge.

“I think next year we'll refine this model even more—dribbling out details and creating conversation about the work beforehand, and making [the ceremony] more of a big celebration,” Vontz said.“It's more upscale, it's more entertaining, and I think we're spending the right amount of time not tonight, not today, but over the last two weeks, celebrating the winners. My mantra is 'Honor the work, honor the winners.'”

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