Where the hell do they find these judges?

This question asked every year after the ADDYS. It’s understandable. These four strangers you know only as a headshot in the show book are judging you; rating your work on a scale of 0-100, and scrutinizing your font choices.

Contrary to popular opinion, our judges are not drifters picked up from the Greyhound terminal. We fly in Advertising professionals from around the country to judge all of the work submitted to our show. Choosing the ADDY judges is a pretty intensive process with more requirements than just a free weekend, and the willingness to take an all-expenses paid trip to Buffalo in January.

In order to give a peek into our process, here are some of the considerations that go into selecting judges each year:

urlWhere we start
The AAF provides a list of willing judges for the ADDYS. While this list is a good place to start, many of those names were added during the Carter administration. If they’re still alive, they’re simultaneously being contacted by every other AAF-affiliated Ad Club that’s also putting on a show. Chances are if the Miami Ad Club asked, they’re not returning our emails.

Past that, it’s largely word-of-mouth. We ask past judges and other Ad Clubs for suggestions. This has proven the most successful, and has found our best judges. We try to avoid someone who is a friend of a friend of someone at an agency in town.

urlMadison Avenue or Madison, Wisconsin
One big consideration is where the judges come from. One school of thought is to bring in judges from like markets. These would be ad men and women who work on similar clients, and understand the landscape of industries we have in Buffalo. Places like Cleveland, Baltimore, and Charlotte. To keep some balance, we also shoot for some big markets like New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia.

We have to be careful to avoid some of those intolerable creeps you may have seen on The Pitch. There is the tendency of some view Buffalo like Mayberry, and there have been judges in the past who score things they don’t like as straight zeros, ruin the score balance, and act rather dickish.

So we try to strike a balance. It’s nice to get the opinion from someone in a big market, as well as a place that is similar to Buffalo.


We try to be diverse – TRY.
There are a lot of things to consider when creating a diverse judging panel. We strive for a mix of writers and designers, big to small agencies, traditional and digital, large to medium markets, and ethnicity and gender. Unfortunately, situations arise where we reach out to 25, hear back from 12, and only eight are available. We can’t always cover all of the bases.

It’s not a good thing, but think about the diversity of the Buffalo Advertising industry. You’ll probably struggle to reach two hands counting all the creative directors that aren’t white dudes. This trend is not far off from the pool of possible judges.

They don’t know who Rick Jeanneret is
When submitting to the show, one item to realize is that these people do not know our market. This is intentional. By this, we mean we won’t have a judge who knows the agencies in town well enough to form biases.

Because of that, there is going to be a bit lost in translation. They won’t know if something is part of a long-established campaign in the Buffalo market, and may not get the local references. Think about that next year when you are considering entering a piece that contains a delightful “cheekta-vegas” pun.

url-3Cash money
Another consideration is cost. You may not know this, but the Buffalo ADDYS are not a multi-million dollar endeavor. We keep a pretty lean budget, as this show often funds much of the Club’s activity for the next year. We try to have judges that are a direct flight away. As so, we tend to stick to the east coast. If we can convince someone from Toronto or Cleveland to drive, that’s even better. (Freight hopping is largely discouraged.)


The Final Four
Once we get a handful of candidates who are willing to come, we then assemble our list. We need to have the right balance, so using the criteria above, the ADDY committee collectively picks four to five judges. An alternate judge is wise to secure since weather – and creative directors – can be unpredictable. Locking into the final judges is still a bit of a gamble. You may think you have all the right people, but don’t really know until they show up to judge. Creatives are a strange bunch, finding four of them whom you want to be in a room with for eight hours can be a tall order. The important thing is that we’ve done enough of our homework, so it (usually) works out well.

This Year’s Group
For the 2013 ADDYS, we have four judges. They hail from New York, Roanoke, Charlotte, and Chicago. We’re going to let you get to know them more on this blog in the coming weeks. Hopefully this post has helped provide a little context for when you complain about lousy judging the day after the ADDYs.

Jason Yates is an Ad Club board member, and Co-Chair of the 2013 WNY ADDYs.