Everything to play for: how to win the awards you want

In the first of a two-part look at industry awards, we examine how preparation, attention to detail and avoiding ‘pay to play’ are critical if you’re serious about scooping credible industry awards that will give you a competitive edge

It’s late at night and the poor souls writing this year’s corporate award entries are up against the clock again. Seasoned campaigners will testify that awards stir up mixed emotions in many organisations; bosses love to win them, but planning for entries is often patchy and late, and frequently lands on staff with full agendas and heaving day-to-day responsibilities.

As a result, it’s a really loaded task; tons of extra work with the chance of displeasing your seniors if no gongs are gained. And the submission process invariably feels like applying to be head of Nasa, from endless digging up of data to impeccable proof points and numerous, long testimonials.

But – and it’s a big but – the right award can provide much-needed kudos way beyond the cheap bit of plastic tat in the corner office. Businesses tout their awards as an edge over the competition and there’s no doubt that potential customers and employees are drawn to third-party validation of your work.

We’ve spoken to award-submission experts in an effort to make this process streamlined and manageable. Their resounding advice? Do your groundwork.

Be selective

There are thousands of professional awards in the UK and they’re big business for the organisations behind them. With squeezed margins and waning subscriptions, many media groups are putting on live events in a bid to hike up circulation and returns. Their strategies are paying off, with award ceremonies repeatedly selling out as industry professionals flock for a night of networking and rubber chicken with the hope of bagging a trophy.

But winning is not always good news. Some media groups have become too commercially minded, loading new categories on to their already-toppy award line-up to draw more sponsors. As well as diluting their focus on the merits that should underpin the categories in hand, this can also be to the detriment of their own reputations. One award body is notorious for calling out financial institutions for their proposition in locations in which they’ve never operated. As one industry veteran recounts, “We received an excited call from the event organisers to congratulate us on the success of our banking services in Poland. We’d never operated, marketed or even set foot in the country.”

Other award bodies do all they can to uphold their commercial relationships, doling out prizes to sponsors in thanks for their support. This is always painfully obvious at the award presentation itself, with the winners’ write-up often resembling a Who’s Who of the event sponsors. While your end customers may be oblivious to this, the industry is not. Do your research to check the awards stand up, choosing carefully and avoiding “pay to play”. Take the views of your colleagues, peers and introducers into account before committing precious resource or budget to accolades that could take the shine off the wins that really make the difference.

The best awards do definitely give the industry players more than a proverbial pat on the back; they indicate peer approval and can even work to provide reassurance to potential customers. This was why James Anderson, founder of PAM (Private Asset Managers) Insight, set up the PAM Awards. “A friend and I had invested money into an almost identical mandate with an investment house, but with completely different outcomes.” Anderson explains. “The stimulus behind the PAM Awards was that if you sign a discretionary mandate with a financial organisation, it should be with the confidence that the institution will manage portfolios consistently for all of their clients.”

Take stock

You’ve earmarked the awards you’re going to target; now to hone your sights on the categories themselves. There can be dozens to choose from – one global financial publisher dishes out close to 170 global and regional awards at its annual ceremony. PAM has just 14 categories, but each carries multiple points that must be addressed and substantiated, from fees and performance through to business model, proposition and company ethos. With each entry allowing for up to 2,000 words and many rounds of writing and editing, careful thought should be given before committing to enter.

Realistically rate your chances; look at previous winners and consider how your business would stack up against the firms that made the shortlist before putting pen to paper. If your organisation is one of the most established players in your industry, think twice before hedging your bets on an innovation category. However, if you’ve invested heavily in digital advances with proven results, maybe an award is what you need to cement the strides you’ve made.

Network

Work with your firm’s client-facing, business-development and marketing teams to understand existing relationships with award bodies and the judges themselves. Be aware of any preconceptions and work together to drive clarity and familiarity in the long term. The PAM panel, for example, is made up of investment consultants, private client advisers and practitioners. Stuart Davies, partner at LJ Partnership and a long-standing PAM judge, explains that the panel takes a dual-lens approach when looking at entries. “Judges will often have a ‘coalface’ experience of a firm, so if there’s a disconnect between the case they are making in an entry and the actual client experience, we are likely to be aware of it,” he says.

Davies explains that this can also work to entrants’ advantage: “If an entry doesn’t do the client experience as we know it justice, then we’ll feed this back to the firm in question.”

Planning

The most esteemed award bodies pride themselves on stringent judging processes that leave no stone unturned. For entrants who must call on multiple departments to put their best case forward, effective planning is key to making this as smooth a ride as possible.

Start next year’s planning process as soon as this year’s winners are announced, looking at challenging criteria or statistical requirements and putting the processes in place to address these when you go to enter. Do you measure net new clients, tenure or product take up? Have you got good customer service metrics in place or is it time to engage a third party to assess client satisfaction on your behalf? Try to provide year-on-year comparisons to show the progress you’ve made over the long term. Build in realistic time frames and deliverables for articulating your case, allowing for internal approval and edits to be made.

With no hard and fast rule as to where awards responsibility lies, entries can become a hot potato that’s passed between marketing, business development and strategy teams. Assign a dedicated owner who can rise to the challenge, using third parties to provide seasoned counsel and plug resource where needed.

Budget

Think beyond the outlay required to write the entry itself. Media groups know that their events are a networker’s paradise, so you can expect to pay for the privilege of attending. Look into the guest list; if you expect the C-suite or other influencers to be out in force, it may well be worth investing in your attendance, whether you’ve entered the awards or not.

Look at cost from the outset – a bird’s-eye view of your shortlisted awards and the cumulative spend needed to activate these will help you select those you really want to go for. Secure the budget and then evaluate your returns after the event, looking at opportunities derived from networking as well as award success.

The corporate awards landscape can be a minefield. While many award bodies are genuinely motivated to up their industry’s professional standards, others have set their sights on making a quick buck. A work-intensive and expensive business, investing in the right title could set your organisation strides apart from the competition. And groundwork is the vital first step in getting you there – no matter how tough your market.

In the next of our two-part look at industry awards, we explore the craft of writing a winning entry and how to make the most of your success.

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