Industry Awards: The good, the Bad, and the Spin
And the winner is . . .
Not you if you haven’t entered anything. No thanking the Academy, no trophy to carry around at the post-awards show reception to feel like a big shot, no sparkling hardware to show off in your office or reception area.
And, most importantly, nothing to market yourself or your company to your client or boss as tops in your field. Because, lest we forget, industry awards are not established to recognize the best work in a given field. They are established to market the industry to the end user.
Before you yell at me for tearing off Tinkerbell’s wings, just look at the Academy Awards, which were created to market the movie industry. In addition to the broad promotion the awards generate, individual movies use nominations to heavily market their films. If they win, even more so.
We could all take a page out of Hollywood’s playbook in this regard, and do a better job of shouting from the mountaintops when we get nominated or win. A common complaint among in-house planners has been the concern (annoyance is probably a better word) over management giving event planning duties to admins instead of themselves. What better way to show your company the huge difference in planning skills than by letting them know you’re among the best at what you do. Award recognitions are perfect third party validations of your value to your bosses.
I know at my old event firm, we put nominations and wins in our email signatures, sent out email blasts and newsletters announcing them, put it on our website, etc. But the absolute best was in pitching a client and discussing a case study or showing it in a powerpoint deck, and adding the wonderful “we won an award for that event, by the way.” [If you’re feeling really ambitious, develop a comprehensive marketing plan around the awards, or hire a PR/communications consultant to help you with it, such as Liese Gardner of Mecca.]
“Nah, I won’t bother,” you say, because . . .
1. “I’ll never win.” First of all, you don’t have to win. You can get plenty of mileage out of just being nominated as a finalist. Second, you might be surprised. I used to be in this camp, until 2004 when I joined the Advisory Board of Special Events Magazine and judged their Gala Awards. During a break I was editing a video of a recent event we’d produced when my judging colleague, Colja Dams of Vok Dams, Germany’s largest event agency, saw it and said, “you should have entered that event. It would have gotten a nomination in the last category I judged.” That was all the push I needed; we went on an awards-submission binge as soon as I got back to my office, and never looked back.
2. “It’s too much work.” Yes, and no. It does take some time, but the good news is:
- Awards organizations have heard the complaints and most have been steadily minimizing the submission requirements to make it easier and easier.
- There are a handful of great freelance writers who can help you with the writing. I recommend Ruth Moyte of Red Dandelion Creative, who has experience in writing award-winning entries.
- The more you do, the easier they get.
- The judges don’t read every word. There, I said it. They should, and some do, but most don’t. They look at the visuals (photos, video, collateral, etc.), and read enough of the written material to get their arms around the event and what you accomplished, and they make their evaluations from that. Do not confuse this to mean they don’t make accurate judgments, rather, that you shouldn’t agonize over the written portion. It doesn’t have to be a term paper.
3. “The same companies win all the time.” Yes, that’s often true. Wanna know why? Because they enter a lot. Andrea Michaels’ agency, Extraordinary Events is a case in point. She’s probably won more industry awards than any other firm, in part because she’s made a priority of it. If she has a strong event, she’ll enter it into multiple categories. She has photographers shoot every event in great detail. And, her submissions are meticulously prepared.
That said, after a while it becomes harder for people like her to win. Judges subconsciously know EE has plenty of hardware, and, while they are not supposed to, they tend to favor newcomers; they don’t want to be seen as playing to the usual favorites. So actually, you have a better chance than the industry heavyweights. [NOTE: some contests are judged blind, meaning all identifying information of a company is removed from the submission before judges see it, so they don’t know whose work they are judging.]
4. “The biggest events aren’t always entered, so the award doesn’t carry as much weight.” To quote Danny DeVito in Other People’s Money, “I have two words for you: who cares.” If the guys behind the Superbowl halftime show chose not to enter, that’s their problem. Your client or boss doesn’t care, I’ll tell you that much. They think if you won an award or were nominated that your work is best in class. And it very well may be anyway. We once entered an awards contest for the launch of Mariah Carey’s fragrance, M, and you know what? We were the only ones who entered that particular category. Think I care? That was a killer event and I’m convinced we would have beaten anyone out for that award. Not my fault people didn’t enter.
So get your butt off the couch, and show off your work. Start with local competitions if you are gun shy, and then move up to national ones. But get in the game. And when you start working on that acceptance speech, remember to include all those inspirational bloggers that encouraged you along the way!