The following is a guest blog post from Chet Dalzell, Senior Director, Communications & Industry Relations for DAA and a member of the ECHO Board of Governors. It also appeared in Target Marketing.

In an era not so long ago, creative directors lived in a world where the big idea was the champion – and that champion came from highly compensated (more or less) idea makers, both themselves and their creative teams, and the big idea was put to the advertising test. If the big idea was provocative enough, then it might win creative awards at a global creative festival. Other creatives would fawn, congratulate each other, and champagne would flow. Not a bad outcome, if you’re a creative director.

But did the advertising work? Did it achieve a client business objective? Did it engage customers and produce sales, orders, leads…? Perhaps, or perhaps not. Back then, only direct marketers cared about measurement.

Enter data. Well, data entered the advertising marketplace when direct mail and direct selling made its debut… but let’s fast forward — not to discount direct mail pioneers and their cousins in direct-response print and broadcast and telemarketing – to the digital era. Wow, today, do we have data!

Combine that creative genius, with a heavy dose of data insights and strategy, and now we have data-driven creative – where creative effort is measured against action. No more gut instincts and guesswork. Agencies and in-house marketing departments can prove that their creative ideation works, and in fact, can use prospect and customer data to drive the creative ideation to predict and produce defined business outcomes.

Is there still a role for the big idea? Of course! In fact, breakthrough creative is indeed a mechanism for breaking clutter. But now, we have the means for one more de-clutter breakthrough: relevance. Using data insights to drive strategy, combined with compelling creative and storytelling, and now we’re proving our c-suite mettle.

There’s a role for creative festivals.

But how about a data festival… or a data-driven storytelling festival? Well, we may just have one, and it’s been around for a while, the International ECHO Award Competition, with its call for entries now underway. [I’m a member of the Data & Marketing Association ECHO Board of Governors.]

If an agency today is not proving its command of creative, data and relevance, then it’s not proving its presence as a business driver — no matter how many creative trophies are in the case. Winning an ECHO is different. It’s always been about data-driven storytelling, and it’s always been about strategy, creative AND results, more or less in equal measure. ECHOs serve as proof points for agencies, and in-house marketing teams, that they have data chops. They serve as signals to c-suites, that ECHO winners are trusted business partners who know ad tech, mar tech, data management platforms, analytics prowess and a discipline to test and measure – all in equal faith to the creative big idea.

Left brain, right brain. Yes there’s still necessary discussion today about data, measurement and unfettered creative. But in today’s world, we can have both creative and relevance through data. In fact we must have both to capture elusive consumer attention, and to produce action… to prove our worth.

This roster of agencies – and their agency groups – have been named ECHO Award finalists, and Diamond, Gold, Silver and Bronze ECHO trophy winners in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Who will be joining them in 2018? In October, in Las Vegas, we’ll find out.