Who are they to judge?

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It was 8:30 am on Monday, July 13, at the Warwick Hotel in the heart of the Big Apple and most of the 41 healthcare marketing and media execs that made up the MM&M Awards 2009 judging panel were already assembled, awakening their senses with coffee, cleansing their minds with vitamin C and sharpening their teeth on bagels.

Most of them had already battled airport security, outlasted long lines for the Acela train, or, at the very least, edged through the Lincoln Tunnel at a pace barely quick enough to track with the naked eye. But you wouldn't know it. No one was complaining. In fact, there was quite a buzz about the room. (Well, for 8:30 am on a Monday.)
Around two-thirds of this year's judges were first-timers, and as yours truly addresses the breakfast assembly with a few house rules, all appeared attentive, focused and ready to roll with an enthusiasm that belied their busy schedules.

And so the judging began. To give all of the nearly 700 submissions the attention they deserved, the panel was divided into 10 groups, each responsible for reviewing and scoring different categories.

But the MM&M Awards are not just about creatives judging, well, creative. Far from it. Every group (bar the purely creative categories) contains at least one, usually two—and sometimes three—senior execs from the pharmaceutical/client side. You don't win an MM&M Award for great-looking work alone.

“How big was their budget?” “What was the ROI?” “Who were the target audience?” “Where was it placed?” “How did they measure it?” “Was there an online strategy?” “Did this go to physicians, too?” These are the types of questions our 18 client-side experts asked of every submission.

What each of them was trying to figure out was: “If I'd paid for this campaign, would I have been happy with the results?”
This approach is key to the unique relevance and stature of the MM&M Awards. Not only are entries judged with independence and authority, but pharma execs—whose own reputations can live and die by the success or failure of similar campaigns they themselves commission—also have a say in the scoring.

What also stands out is the dedication and professionalism of the panel, not to mention the spirit and camaraderie. Wyeth's Joe Shields, one foot in plaster, was forced to travel to New York a day early to allow for additional hobbling time, induced by a recent foot surgery. Genentech's Ben Lei conveyed the difficulty of keeping this appointment while his company was in the middle of a merger (although his face said, “I wouldn't have missed it for the world.”) Meanwhile, at least two of the team were pregnant.

Among the more light-hearted moments, J&J's Peter Justason, Merck's Sumana Rajagopal, Digitas Health's Graham Mills and WEGO Health's Jack Barrette erupted into giggles, not for the first time that day, while taking turns to sport a pair of 3D glasses required for viewing one particular piece of work. (Look out for the photos in the September issue.)

Of course, not even the judges know the identity of the overall winners—those will be revealed for the first time at the big event in New York on October 29. But for now you can check out the finalists at mmm-online.com/awards. And you can be sure that every piece of work on the shortlist was rigorously reviewed for both its beauty and its brains.

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