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Hello Clio, What's New? : Advertising Executives Slow to Welcome Reincarnated Award Ceremony

September 04, 1992|BRUCE HOROVITZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Clio Awards, the ad industry's most familiar--and most humiliated--competition, is about to give Madison Avenue a dose of, well, Madison Avenue.

Clio, with the help of two ad women, is desperately trying to resell itself in a new and improved package and repair an image tattered last year when one gathering erupted in a statue-grabbing ruckus and another ceremony was canceled because the Clio Awards owner couldn't pay his bills.

The 1992 awards ceremony is scheduled for Sept. 15 under a new Clio owner in New York City's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The real news won't be who wins the top awards--but that the event takes place at all.

No one in the industry has forgotten the fiasco nearly 15 months ago. The Clio ceremony to honor winners for print and radio ads ended when ad executives raided the stage and ran off with awards. The rush began when an impatient audience was told by the event's caterer--who was doubling as a stand-in master of ceremonies--that the winners list had been lost.

The ensuing ceremony to celebrate the year's best TV ads was canceled when then-owner Bill Evans couldn't produce funds to pay bills.

Evans, who 20 years ago purchased the little-known Clio Awards for $150,000 and worked doggedly to turn Clio into a household name, left a trail of unpaid bills. Staff members who were among the creditors--including Evans' daughter--have been quoted in newspapers, magazines and in police reports openly discussing Evans' drug addiction. New York tabloids have reported police visits to Evans' Manhattan townhouse--summoned by neighbors and occasionally by Evans himself.

Clio was quickly pronounced dead by most ad industry honchos. For many outside the ad business, the Clio shenanigans only confirmed the notion that hucksterism had gone haywire.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the graveyard. No substitute event came along to take the Clios' place. While Hollywood has its Oscars, television has its Emmys and Broadway has its Tonys--it seems the ad world is basically stuck with its Clios.

"If you told your mother you'd won a Clio, she'd know what you were talking about," said Murray Kalis, a 1992 Clio judge and president of the Los Angeles agency Coen/Kalis. "No other ad competition is so familiar to the general public."

Attempting to put the pieces back together are two women--one from Chicago and the other from Los Angeles--whose national advertising credentials may be rather lean, but who have shown an intense desire to save the Clios.

"This is a tremendous risk," said Ruth L. Ratny, president of the New Clio Awards and owner of Screen magazine, a film industry trade publication that is regarded as the Hollywood Reporter of Chicago. "Some mornings I wake up totally daunted by all this."

She renamed the awards the "New" Clios to try to persuade ad industry skeptics that it wasn't going to be another sham. Still, the trade publication Advertising Age has reported that the contest received just 6,000 entries this year--a fraction of the 27,000 entries it received two years ago. (Ratny refuses to verify that figure.)

The number of awards categories has also been sharply reduced to 169 from 250.

And to appease last year's entrants who never received their awards--or who were reluctant to enter this year's competition--Ratny has offered a limited number of free contest entries.

In fact, the agency BBDO Worldwide, whose New York office won the most Clios in last years nightmare of a competition, "didn't pay a dime" in entry fees this year, said Philip B. Dusenberry, chairman of the office. "If it had cost us any money," said Dusenberry, whose clients include Pepsi-Cola and Du Pont, "we wouldn't have entered."

Many agencies snubbed this year's competition completely, including Wieden & Kennedy, the Portland agency that creates Nike ads. And the Los Angeles agency Asher/Gould Advertising also skipped the competition--significant because agency president Bruce Silverman is a Clio judge.

"We didn't enter because of the fiasco last year," said Silverman, whose agency creates ads for American Suzuki and Baskin-Robbins. "Then, I was asked to be a Clio judge, and I regretted that I hadn't entered."

Only 500 are expected to attend the New Clio Awards, compared to as many as 1,800 attending during Clio's stellar days at the Lincoln Center.

Exactly what Ratny paid for the Clios is a closely guarded secret. The trade press has reported that she paid a paltry $10,000 for the use of the Clio name. She insists that figure is low, but won't reveal what she did pay. At one point last year, Evans was calling ad industry executives and asking $2 million for the rights to the Clio mantel.

Evans, who has remained in seclusion since last year's Clio failure, could not be reached for comment.

To produce the show, Ratny has turned to Los Angeles ad woman Sandra Inbody-Brick. Inbody-Brick is president of the tiny agency Inbody-Brick & Co and is best-known for producing the last 10 Belding Awards shows, the West Coast's top advertising competition.

Inbody-Brick implemented new standards for judging the competition. In the past, the judging was loosely run and frequently criticized for its lack of organization.

"If the Clios falls flat on its face this year, I know it's my face that will be flattened," Inbody-Brick said.

Executives who took part in the Clio judging in Chicago earlier this summer say that last year's debacle was constantly discussed. "It was sort of a running gag," Kalis said. "Any time even small things went wrong during the judging someone would say, 'Here we go again.' "

Most ad executives say they expect that the Clios will survive. But if the Clio Awards is another flop again this year, said adman Dusenberry, "you can kiss it good-by, forever."

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