Dina Faour, Professor of Advertising at The American University in Dubai, IAAUAE Board Member and MEDEA Vice President

In this article I am offering a realistic insight on the value of awards and award-winning work for students. Whether the awards were granted for professional work or for student work, this value remains unchanged.


As professor of Advertising and ad woman at heart, I rely greatly on my industry experience to drive my teaching methods. This offers an exclusive access to the industry where students can visualize the bigger picture and comprehend their roles within it. Real-life contexts help them engage more willingly in their coursework and practice more deliberately in order to meet the industry’s increasing expectations. One important real-life context that is always quite impactful is that of award festivals.

In our creative industries, awards are ‘big’. This is a fact. We know it.  But how significant are awards for students? Let’s have a closer look:

Inspiration Comes Standard. Chrysler.

Just like this slogan from Chrysler, inspirational work is usually a standard at award festivals.

Education for the creative industries teaches mostly in retrospect: an award winning campaign is naturally a lesson, inspiring masses of creative minds worldwide. Even when they don’t like the work, students still use their critical thinking skills to examine, analyze, evaluate and justify their dislike. Awards build a communal sense of what is best practice, what is creativity and what is good work. These are standards for our students to study, explore and conquer.

With every solution our students generate, they will identify their own unique contribution to expand these standards. Once conquered, standards become redundant and newer, better standards are set. And so, the eternal search for excellence and innovation commences.

Tomorrow’s Classics. Maurice Lacroix.

Once awarded, the work is acknowledged, celebrated and shared, of course. More importantly, though, the work is now timeless. It is documented and remembered forever. It joins an extensive, enriching archive of successful artworks. These are artworks that reflect their own times, their people and their cultures. When we visit these artworks, we witness the impressive evolution in marketing communication and creative problem solving. There is no method more memorable or more effective for our students to learn the history of such a vibrant, dynamic industry.

Hello Tomorrow. Emirates

Awards identify local and global issues and drive the courageous search for braver statements and smarter solutions. Awards have the power – and responsibility – to drive and direct future solutions. This is where our students realize the impact of the industry, where they understand this is no longer about the award. This is about that “change in behavior” we all seek and work for: a positive change in behavior, for the general good, for a better future.

Awards ‘give you wings’. Red Bull

Much like the energy drink – hopefully longer lasting – award-winning work motivates and fortifies student grit. It teaches them to appreciate competition and seek it. It stimulates them to dig deeper, try harder and do better. This is where students come to terms with – and actually enjoy! – the sleepless nights of hard work entailed. That self-validating and empowering sense of accomplishment that comes afterwards is the real reward.

Because you’re worth it. L’Oréal

For students, this is a new experience. This is where they receive acknowledgement from an external party. Neither their professors nor their loved ones could ever offer them the boost of confidence they get from external jurors. Jurors who are usually award-winning creatives themselves are invited to review student work, blindly. They don’t know the student. They don’t know the history. All they seek is creativity, bravery and fresh perspective; all they judge is the work before them. For students, this can be nerve wrecking and at times heart breaking but always rewarding; Even when they lose, they never leave defeated, but rather challenged. By then, you see, they are already hooked and the search for excellence has begun.

Stay sharp. Berocca

Award-winning work builds a strong portfolio.

Even if the student didn’t exactly win; exposure to award-winning work and award festivals helps students comprehend what makes a strong portfolio, what skills to portray from ideation to crafting, what work to include and what presentation techniques to use in order to leave a positive impression.

For weeks to come, after any award festival, this remains the feature of our side talks and I am bombarded with many questions. Here are some that never fail to be asked:

How come we never saw the work before?

This is when I have to uncover the painful reality about our industry and break the news to students that real, everyday work is not always exactly creative or award material. Then, I must explain that whether the work is called ‘scam’ or ‘proactive’ is not the point. The point is that we need to celebrate creativity because it keeps us sane and gets us going.

Can we bridge the gap between award work and real, day-to-day work?

Yes, this is your job. If you read beyond the brief and identify the opportunity, push beyond the required and work beyond the expected. Treat every brief as if it’s the winning job and you will get there.

Will it work?

Not every time, but you will learn a lot and when it does work, it will be immensely rewarding.

We’re loving it! McDonald’s

Love’em or hate’em, award festivals bring us together.

When students participate in workshops, attend the talks, watch the work and also get to meet, greet and discuss current concerns with leading professionals in the industry, they uncover a cult-like community joined by pure passion for innovation and creativity. This usually fortifies students’ intrinsic motives and pushes them to protect their passions and keep the good work coming.

To conclude, awards are a good endorsement that complements the academic learning journey. As long as students and all those who do enter comprehend these statements:

Awards are not just about those beautifully sculpted pieces, towering in your space, demanding immediate attention from those who dare to enter. Nor are they simply about that empowering sense of glory you acquire as you position yourself as ‘award-winner’.

Awards are ALL about the memories of absolute hard work, forever carved, captured and acknowledged in a trophy, small in size, grand in value.