Resisting the siren call of the awards industry: when to say no

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Type in ‘digital marketing awards’ on Google and what comes up? About 223,000 results covering all aspects of our industry's award business - from new awards opportunities to announcements of agencies who have won a gong or two.

And as agency owners, we know there is real value in winning awards. Peer recognition for team success, benchmarking the great work we do for our clients, accolades from judges who have scrutinised applications, boosting team morale, and most importantly, building credibility for your agency. The process of applying for awards is a worthwhile exercise in reflecting on achievements, taking the time to document and write up the case studies that form an essential part of your marketing story.

But I suspect most agencies are approached by “prestigious” award opportunities appearing to come from respectable organisations or magazines that at best are clearly part of the “just get an award on your shelf” machine, and at worst a money making ruse.

The awards industry at times has a bit of a dodgy whiff that signals there’s easy money to be made, and where there is money to be made the charlatans will follow.

Whole businesses are devoted to nothing but creating awards and awards dinners, and there is a high growth sector of consultancies cropping up who will help write awards entries, plan awards strategies, and collect evidence for applications.

So the question we need to be ask is whether industry awards are worth it? My own company is the proud winner of industry awards granted by organisations like The Drum and Google. We are proud of these awards and delighted with the recognition from highly reputable bodies; we have worked hard for these accolades. The award wins play an essential part in winning new clients, are key to recruiting new staff and contribute to our version to be the best place to work.

But we are also now on the horns of a dilemma, wanting to add more awards to our trophy case, but also knowing it is time to step away from the awards rat race. I’m sure many agencies like mine have had a wake up call when they review the amount of cash spent on awards: award entries, award dinner tickets, hotels, travel, and above all, time spent out of the office.

Just how valuable are these awards? And how do you decide which ones your business should enter, and which ones you can give a miss?

At Hallam, awards play a major part in our overall marketing strategy, but our process is very strategic - we only enter awards if we know they’re match with our goals.

Why should you enter an award?

There are several reasons why you might choose to enter awards, with the ultimate aim of generating more business.

Being nominated for - and especially winning - a prestigious award can give your brand and your work great visibility, showcasing you as a credible authority in your area of expertise. Alternatively, an award win can also help to position you as one-to-watch in an area that you may not be as well recognised in.

The stats are there to prove this. Research carried out from Shape the Future and Awards List found that industry awards do make a positive difference, with 82% admitting they’re influenced by wins when choosing which products or services to buy. The two sectors that find award wins most important are construction (90%), and financial services (72%).

But that’s not the only reason why you may choose to enter industry awards. There can be great internal benefits too. After all, what could be a better way to celebrate your employees’ achievements than by nominating their hard work and treating them to a lavish dinner at an awards ceremony?

Not only are award nominations and wins great for staff motivation, satisfaction and development, but they can help with your recruitment efforts too. Employees may start speaking positively to family and friends about their workplace, which could be a draw for experienced candidates seeking work in an award-winning company.

How to decide which awards to enter

While there are clear benefits to entering awards, that doesn’t mean you should apply for every one going. Entering awards that are irrelevant or won’t promote your brand in the way you want them to will not provide you with the results you want.

You need to be strategic about it. So, before you start applying, make sure you answer these questions to ensure that the awards you’re entering are really worth it.

Are the categories relevant?

Most awards have lots of categories, and that’s probably down to the sheer number of routes and roles in digital marketing.

It’s important you take the time to look through each and every category, to make sure the ones you choose are relevant. Have some campaigns in mind; don’t shoehorn them into categories just for the sake of it.

If it’s not quite right, or if you don’t think your results are quite as impressive as they could be, then wait until next year to enter.

Who are the previous winners and nominees?

Before deciding whether or not to enter the awards, take a look through last year’s winners and nominees to determine whether or not they’re worth applying for.

If you’re a small business, then you don’t want to enter awards that are dominated by big brands - and vice versa.

You can also head on over to your competitors’ websites and see which awards they’ve been nominated for or won; as they may well be the awards that are worth applying for.

Is the award established?

If the reason you want to enter awards is to either try and win extra business, or increase employee motivation, then it goes without saying that you only want to enter awards that are well-known and established amongst your employees and (potential) customers.

Another way to check if the awards are established, is to see who’s on the judging panel, and whether or not there are any big names in your industry taking part. If not, then those particular awards may not be worth entering.

Is it logistically viable?

Now the boring - but necessary - things to think about. Firstly, consider the location. Can you actually get to it? Should your business be nominated? If you’re based in the UK, then you probably won’t want to attend a ceremony in Seattle! However, that’s not to say you should automatically discount an award because of its location. If it’s extremely prestigious, highly regarded by your employees and customers, and there are lots of relevant categories, then you may well want to go for it.

Costs will also play a big part. The application fee is only a small percentage of this - if you’re invited to the ceremony you’ll need to pay for attendance, in addition to transport and accommodation. No matter how cheap an award may be, it’s not worth it if they’re not relevant for you.

How intense is the application process?

There will always be a level of investment required in terms of time, but for some awards, you’ll need to be more committed than others.

In addition to an application form, some awards may require an in-depth data analysis and supporting evidence for your application. Some may require a video showcasing your work, or your company's information, and others may even require an in-person presentation or testimonials from your clients.

Check the deadline and make sure you can commit to what they’re asking. It’s also worth noting that if a specific award is only asking for a short application form, they may not be the best - or most prestigious - award to apply for.

Final thoughts

We’re not saying that the awards industry is irrelevant - far from it. There’s no denying that a win or a nomination can bring your business great results. In fact, we’ve won clients specifically because of the awards we’ve won (and we’re proud to say that we won six awards at The Drum Recommends Digital Awards 2019).

While you should still incorporate awards into your marketing strategy, make sure you only enter ones that are relevant and will help you to achieve your goals. Otherwise, you could spend a lot of money on awards that don’t mean anything to you, your employees or your customers - and that’s just money wasted.

Susan Hallam MBE, CEO and founder at Hallam.

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