The One Show Student Competition:
Even If You Lose, You Win.
Constantin G. Cotzias
Department of Advertising
S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications
215 University Place
Syracuse, NY 13244-2100
The One Show Student Competition:
Even If You Lose, You Win.
Even with a limited number of creative courses, an academic institution
can teach almost as much as a trade school by competing in The One Show
Student Competition. Students learn how produced their ads have to
how conceptual, even how witty. Any student can compete against the
best kid in the class, but how do you compete against the best kids in
the country? No method currently available sets a better standard.
For a kid who's out to become an Advertising Creative, no show compares
to The One Show.
No other student competition is judged by the very people kids would
kill to get a job with. No other student competition actually gets
jobs, period. And no other student competition is taken as
creative directors across the country. In fact, many creative
use The One Show to find and hire new talent.
In this past year alone, there were 600-700 entries to The One Show
Student Competition nationwide. Clearly, colleges are aware of The
Show's presence. But just as clearly, some take it more seriously
The schools that take it the most seriously seem to be the Trade
Schools. Portfolio Center, for example, not only emphasizes it, but
also puts resources behind it.
Communication schools, on the other hand, seem to give it the least
emphasis. Probably, because so much has to be accomplished in so few
courses, most instructors feel not enough time can be devoted to it.
Ironically, the limitations in most curricula are exactly the reasons
why they should.
The school the author of this paper teaches at prides itself on being
the only communications school in the country that offers an
creative sequence. A sequence that consists of an introductory, an
advanced and a portfolio course. However, in comparison to the 24
concept classes Portfolio Center requires, the three concept classes I
teach hardly put my students in a position to get the kind of
together that will effectively compete on the street.
Obviously, I've had to find a way to cut to the chase. I've had to
find some means of making my students understand the caliber of
thinking, the produced quality, and the wit that their books need to
Pushing kids to do better work on class assignments is one thing.
Getting them to do work as good as those they'll be competing with on
the street is another.
Students seem to try to do work as good as the best kid in the class,
not the best kids in the country. Question is, how can you see the
kid in the country's work? Fortunately, The One Show publishes some
it once a year in their annual.
The winners of The One Show do end up at Fallon, Martin, Weiden, or the
other great shops in the country. Coincidentally, Portfolio Center
dominated The One Show, and has also dominated the job openings in
It's a forgone conclusion that a student will have to continue working
on his or her book after finishing with me. Therefore, my task
to at least help them get a couple of campaigns together that are
enough to give them a start.
Enter The One Show. Each year The One Show selects products or
services for their student competition that are worthy of putting in a
kid's portfolio. Last year it was NASA. This year it was soap.
Students had to choose to do an ad on Dove, Camay, Dial, Safeguard or
I structured the class efforts the same way an agency would a new
business pitch. First came the research. Each student picked a soap
of their choice and hit the library, Lexis Nexis, and the
to find out anything and everything an each brand.
Second came research on The One Show Student Competition. After doing
a careful analysis of what won, and who won in the past, a
approach on soap was urged upon the students.
Having worked as a writer at such agencies as Scali, Ammirati, BBDO,
Mesner and even Levine, I know the short comings of most school's
portfolios. While Who's Who in advertising hires from Portfolio Center,
I've heard most of them grumble about the "lightness" in their
What has impressed them most is the quality of production and art
direction of even junior writer's portfolios. Quite simply, each of
their ads looks like it ran. If my kids can do ads that looked as
as theirs, with slightly better thinking, then they have a shot in
show and on the street.
Also, I knew that last year's assignment required an enormous amount of
research to do good ads. Therefore, last year's participants would
probably go glib on this year's assignment since its just soap.
The next step was to understand our target audience. The market
segment was targeted as follows:
Market: The One Show Judges. Creative Directors of the nation's top
Psychological Profile: Cynical, rushed, but a quick decision maker.
On the lookout for wit that sells.
Objective: To get them to drop a chip into a paper cup next to each of
Reach and Frequency: One four second shot while the judge walks by
each of 700 ads.
Tone Of Advertising: Provocative, edgy, in-your-face (in order to cut
through a ridiculous amount of clutter).
Advertising Differentiation: A smart piece of communication in an
anticipated sea of vapid, glib ones.
Now it was time to get to work. The biggest problem these kids faced
was being unaccustomed to doing re-do's. "I can't think anymore,"
the most common whine heard. In thinking back to the most successful
new business pitches I participated in, I noted that a good creative
director would hit-and-run the assignment. Each wave of work was
alternated with spicy assignments on other accounts in order to prevent
I implemented the same technique here, choosing interim assignments
that were juicier in order to keep them creatively "up".
Soon, the whining was replaced with enthusiasm to do better work than
they had previously. The kids became less precious about their ads
went through the requisite catharsis of falling out of love with
A synergy developed in the class where the better students helped the
weaker ones. They were able to maintain a healthy level of
competition, but they still wanted to see their "agency" win the
Even statements I had made in lectures and critiques now started to
make sense. Words like "emotion", "dig deeper" and "great facts make
great ads" took on a brand new meaning.
As a teacher, the benefits were many. The stress of the competition on
the students showed me the weak spots in each. Some needed help
focusing on their ideas. Some had great ideas, but couldn't execute
their way out of a wet paper bag. Others had to learn to build their
The final stage of this push became the most crucial. Making their
ideas look as good as Portfolio Center's.
Fortunately, in anticipation of this, I had scheduled my class to be at
the same time as the Advanced Commercial Photography class. Their
professor was more than willing to participate in our venture. Even if
nothing got into The One Show, the photography and advertising
students got pieces for their books.
Each ad was assigned to a photographer and each of my kids was assigned
to help them in anyway possible. This became the very first shoot
kids ever went to. As "agency" representatives, my kids made sure
got the shot, while the photographers pushed them to get the most
graphic one possible.
The result was learning to negotiate without compromising their
standards. The value of kids learning to professionally handle the
"agency/vendor" relationship can't be emphasized enough.
Besides the photographers, students also had to deal with a graphics
house to get the prints they needed. In the era of Power Mac's,
SyQuests and digital printers, this became no small endeavor. While
today's student is computer literate in Quark and Photoshop, they
have the experience of interfacing with a user-unfriendly computer
Those students whose visuals were too complicated to shoot learned the
most valuable trait of a first class advertising person:
resourcefulness. For them, finding stock photos was no simple
Most were composites of various photographs. Interestingly, these
often the kids who were the least computer literate, so they drafted
someone who was.
Very few kids had a good feel for type styles and how to manipulate a
variety of graphic elements. Therefore, I assigned the most
astute students as Art Supervisors to help the ones that were
My role during the entire process was that of Creative Director. And
unlike most of the creative directors I've ever worked for, I tried
direct their work without meddling in it.
In total, 36 ads were entered. It's ironic that the judging is taking
place exactly when this paper is due. But even if we don't get a
ad into the show, we've won.
These students now know how much work they've got left to do on their
books. Several have asked to work with me over the summer so they
leave with a book that's worthy of the competition they'll face on
The kids termed the experience a "wake up call". One student who was
nick named "Coma" has become so prolific he's been renamed "Coma On
If nothing else, the kids learned a standard, and they learned that
they have it within themselves to reach it.
The word "can't" has been eliminated from most of their vocabularies.
There's been a huge jump in the level of the work I'm seeing in my
class since The One Show entry deadline. At least half of them have
completed a book level campaign. All of them are trying to turn their
soap one shots into campaigns.
What The One Show Competition taught these students, few teachers ever
could. They've learned something that will not only help them
their books, but will help them throughout their careers.
They've learned what it is to be hungry.