How to win and capitalise on industry awards
While there is immense pride and pleasure for industry award winners, does receiving an industry gong deliver lasting, tangible benefit to the winning business? Jane Day and Sandra Paul, Directors of Loco Communications, provide practical advice on entering awards and exploiting them for your business
Today, there are more than 110 separate awards, typically offering around 20 categories that cater for most specialisms across our profession. Gongs galore you might think. Except the business of winning awards is such a ruthlessly commercial exercise that hosts go to great lengths to ensure rigorous assessment by independent peer group judges, using a credible qualitative or quantitative evaluation methodology.
The integrity of the awards matters because the hosts, the sponsors and the entrants will invest heavily in the process to achieve their own business objectives.
• Hosts are looking to generate additional revenue from sponsorship as well as content for the media partner.
• Sponsors are seeking to benefit from association with a best of breed award that reflects on their own achievements.
• And entrants recognise the longer term benefits of winning – after all, investments have been made, top talent recruited and contracts have been won as a result of the attention focused on successful award entries.
The judging metrics of awards are deliberately opaque, allowing award hosts to maintain the credibility of the process. Not so much Dark Arts, more on a par with SEO – after all, if everyone knew what Google was looking for, we would all be top of the rankings and what would be the point of that.
Daniel Grote, New Model Adviser editor, told us: “At New Model Adviser we are really proud of our awards and the process behind it. We get increasing numbers applying each year, and every year there are new firms that haven’t previously applied entering for the awards.
“Firms who win have secured new clients off the back of their victories, and as a publication we give the awards a big push. Unlike some other industry awards, they don’t feature a judging panel; instead they are based on an assessment of the business data we ask firms to provide us with, together with interviews with shortlisted candidates. We look to assess professionalism, qualifications and a commitment to new model advice with our awards, although we keep the precise details of the calculations a closely- guarded secret!”
There has been a constant mantra from those who don’t enter awards that there is no point as the same names win year after year. Is it because they really are best of breed, or because they are the best of those who can be bothered to enter? Self-selection plays a part, because in the inevitable cost benefit analysis that dictates our business priorities, despite awards entries being on the increase, surprisingly few make the commercial decision to invest several hours in crafting a credible award submission. Which, of course, is good news for those talented entrepreneurs, ambitious executives and robust corporates seeking to raise their profile, measure their performance against their peers and enhance the reputation of their business by adding to the trophy cabinet.
Hal Austin, editor of Financial Adviser says: “For us, the quantity and quality of award entrants increases year on year as providers increasingly seek to identify independent metrics to measure their performance versus their peers.”
Creating the best entry
Creating a successful award entry needs to be an extremely thorough exercise. Long listing is typically achieved with a questionnaire, case study or essay. And an assessment or second interview stage determines the winner.
In the long listing phase, you are taking the judges on your journey, and should use a simple narrative to demonstrate that you punch above your weight in your market.
Experienced awards judge Ian Shipway, a Director of Succession Advisory Services, says: “Some award submissions are written by people who clearly know what they are doing and understand the nature of the award. Others are almost incomprehensible and may not even answer the questions asked.”
Ian’s experience is of serial enterers of awards. He told us: “Each year there are always a few new entrants. If you are new to entering for awards don’t get disheartened if you don’t succeed at the first go. The whole process will be a valuable learning exercise and future entries will improve.”
The entries that stand out are produced by those that have given thought to what is required, have provided the detail requested, considered what might interest anybody reading their submission, and that have avoided jargon and boasting. Many judges point out how boring submissions can be and that entrants will exaggerate their achievements in the written submission only to find themselves having hard time explaining their OTT claims when put on the spot in the shortlisting interview stage.
Judges unanimously agree that there is a real failure to prepare for the interview stage. Some shortlisted candidates turn up not even knowing who will be on the judging panel, let alone having considered each individual’s specialism to anticipate the questions they may ask. Your time to shine is a finite window of opportunity so some rehearsal is essential to communicate your winning message quickly and succinctly.
7 STEPS TO EXPLOITING YOUR AWARD OR SHORTLISTING
1. Take two bites of the cherry. Or even three. Don’t wait for a win – flag your winning mindset at the nomination or shortlisting stage, then again on the day of the award announcements. Even if you don’t win, you have reminded your stakeholders that that you are in a peer group of industry excellence. Feed back judges’ comments in lieu of the winning celebrations.
2. Most awards are run by media houses or have exclusive media partners so some coverage is guaranteed. It is up to you to ensure the fruits of the media relationships you make in the heady aftermath of the win last much longer than the initial PR flourish, offering comment or acting as a local spokesperson on topical and relevant subjects. Local papers and radio will often feature industry award winners (try local TV news but it is a long shot unless your award is significant).
3. It is a given that you will splash the winning award logos across your website and marketing material.
4. An untapped resource is linking to the award sponsors’ website. Hopefully they will have a page dedicated to their sponsorship and it should positively impact your SEO to link to their website.
5. Don’t be a wallflower at the awards ceremony. Even before the winners are announced, there are impressive networking opportunities. For a start, your own table of guests could either be staff - recognising their contribution and boosting staff morale as well as ensuring you have a team to work the room – or it might be prefer- able to host some of your clients to let them see you shoulder to shoulder with your peers. Lists of attendees are not usually provided in advance so get to the awards ceremony early and study the table plan to identify those you want to meet and avoid.
6. Tailor your messaging to your various stakeholder groups and explain why your win reflects well on them as professional connections, clients or influencers. Use your award entry as a case study for clients.
7. Compile the coverage you achieve as a result of your win and use it as part of your prospecting as well as sending to existing stake- holders to remind them of your achievements.