Once upon a time, we took a “spray & pray” approach with our limited award show budget. Enter a bunch of different shows. Hope for the best. Repeat.

We won our fair share – and we’re proud of ‘em all – but I had a moment of clarity after stepping back to evaluate which of the many award shows out there actually mean something to clients. Which ones can actually help drive growth – for them and for us?

That moment came while listening to an exec from Bailey Lauerman, an agency based in Omaha, speak at a seminar in my hometown of Rochester, NY. Bailey Lauerman and its clients were growing as a result of building an Effie culture. That’s all I needed to hear. I didn’t just drink the Kool-Aid, I pounded it. And poured a tall glass for everyone back at our shop too.  

We’d always been a results-driven agency but now we started to apply the additional rigor Effie demands when it comes to creating, measuring and validating our work. Does an idea have the legs to go the Effie distance? If not, we need to think more. We need to try harder.

In the meantime, I stepped up my personal Effie game as a judge in both the preliminary and final rounds – and look forward to doing the same for the College Effies which help get future industry leaders off on the right foot.

I cannot overstate how valuable Effie judging has been for me and others at our shop. When you get a bunch of opinionated, Type-A, hyper-competitive, extremely passionate, and keenly creative ad and marketing folk in the same room, there’s no time for bullshit. These people keep standards high. We make each other better.  And we keep each other honest, which benefits the industry overall.

This is a good place to give a shout-out to Neal Davies, who recently stepped down after three years as CEO of Effie Worldwide.  At this year’s judging I witnessed Neal extol the virtues of creating an Effie culture to all judges in attendance – many on the client side – as it’s the fastest path to growth for agencies and their clients.  Neal and I apparently like the same Kool-Aid.

So how’s this new culture working out for us? A year and a half ago we set winning an Effie as a big, hairy audacious goal. A few months later, I experienced one of my biggest career thrills when I told the agency that we had won our first – literally the first time out of the gate. The place went wild.

This year, we tripled that thrill, winning two Effies and a finalist certificate. Our sights are already set on 2018.

Don’t get me wrong. Building business for our clients is still our #1 priority. Always will be. It’s just that now our Effie Culture is helping us do even more of that. Most importantly, talking about Effie wins to clients doesn’t elicit a “here goes the agency beating its chest” eye-roll. It makes them lean in and really listen. Because winning that metal means you know how to do best-in-class work that drives business. And at the end of the day, that’s why they’re sitting at your conference room table. 

This post originally appeared in MediaPost