Untitled design (9)

This post came around based on numerous conversations with people within the industry about awards, so I thought I would seize the opportunity to pitch some questions to a panel and share their thoughts with you.  I wanted to get a snapshot of people’s perceptions of awards, how they add value and what could be done to make them better.

This post was always going to throw up a range of opinions and emotions, but hopefully it might spark some debate about awards in general.

Firstly to introduce the participants for the post:


Andy Barr, Head Yeti from 10 Yetis PR Agency

Barry Adams, Founder at Polemic Digital

Bas van Den Beld, State of Digital & Linkdex

Gus Ferguson, Founder of The Tetrad Consultancy

Lexi Mills, Head of Digital at Dynamo PR

Martin Pezet, Search Marketing Manager at World First

Paul Madden, Co-founder at Link Risk

Richard Shove, Group Organic Performance Manager at Buyagift

Rob Weatherhead, Director at Tecmark

Simon Wharton, MD at PushON

Stephen Kenwright, Head of Search at Branded3


 

Question 1.

Do awards add value to your business either from being shortlisted or winning perspective ?

In my opinion they maybe play a small role but not really a deciding factor. When we won the biggest awards in the PR sector that there was, we did not notice an upturn in business, but it gave us a marketing opportunity.

I firmly believe that an agency’s client list is what attracts other clients. Success breeds success, not to get too Gordon Gecko about it :-)

Andy Barr

Yes they definitely do. They can add a lot of credibility to client pitches and show you are one of the top providers in your industry, especially when you get nominated regularly for different awards.

Barry Adams

I never enter any… but if I did I imagine that it would be powerful from a branding perspective to be able to describe my business as ‘award-winning’.

Gus Ferguson

“Yes, they provide a third party analysis of our expertise which contribute to building trust in our skills and abilities as an agency. The awards also help demonstrate what the best work in our industry looks like, essentially setting the height of the bar. I find it quite motivating for myself and team to try and design campaigns that will be award winning. “

Lexi Mills

Awards in general can add value for our company as they are a sign of trust; so long as the award carries some legitimacy. However, as I am an in-house Search Marketer, awards in this sector mean a lot less for the business as a whole but can help to validate the work I am doing in digital marketing to the wider business. Internal validation for search marketing efforts is important for securing more buy-in from senior stakeholders.

Martin Pezet

Yes, they make us think about each entry and review what we have achieved or how we tell the world about what we do. Its also important for the staff we have to realise that we have reached the point where we believe we have a product worthy of entry.

Paul Madden

I have never entered an awards ceremony at any of my places of employment, so difficult for me to answer. I do think there is some value, however it would largely depend on the awards in question.

Richard Shove

Yes, but only from a PR perspective. This PR could be internal (promoting good work or staff) or external. Once the initial PR of shortlist and winning disappears, they are nothing more than a badge which can be used in presentations.

Rob Weatherhead

To some degree they helped. But after a time you have to make a choice as to where you sspend your efforts. Doing award entries properly is time consuming

Simon Wharton

Definitely, Branded3 got a number of strong leads for being shortlisted for the UK Search Awards last year. Being shortlisted legitimises your claim of being able to do the work…especially in a saturated and incredibly varied field like content marketing, which more businesses seem to be looking for.

Stephen Kenwright

 

Question 2.

Are awards within the industry transparent enough ?

Fuck no! I think the water after the Horizon Oil spill was more clear than the dodgy award judging that goes on across the creative sector.

Andy Barr

Not always. There are quite a few awards where there is no transparency at all about how the awards are judged and what made the winning submission. Especially at awards where you have to pay to submit, the lack of transparency can lead outsiders to conclude it’s just one big scam where awards are given based on behind-the-scenes dealings rather than on merit. Fortunately with some awards, like the various Search Awards for example, are increasingly transparent about the judging process and give detailed information about why a given submission was declared the winner.

Barry Adams

“The problem is that they can never be transparent enough, no matter what you do, because you are dealing with different elements. There are people judging, which means a different judge has a different perspective on things. This also means people will disagree. Both those that are judging as those who are not. The transparancy is growing, with for example giving more explanation from the judges on the results. But there is no way of pleasing everybody.”

Bas van den Beld

Not really.

Gus Ferguson

Being able to provide more direct feedback to short listed entrants would be helpful for them, but overall I would consider them transparent enough.

Lexi Mills

I think over the last couple of years this has become a lot better. We are seeing wider selections in judging panels although I still think there is a core clique of agencies which seem to have the time and resources to heavily influence some awards. I don’t feel that there is anything underhand going on though in any of the bigger awards which would be familiar to those in the industry though!

Martin Pezet

More so than expected… :)

Paul Madden

My overall opinion is that they are not. I have seen some truly awful examples of winning entries, that I would not even have shortlisted. There is rarely indication as to why entries win, what they are judged on and occasionally, who judges are and why they are qualified. It often looks like self-interest. Of course, it is up to the individual awards organisers to change this.

Richard Shove

No. Very little transparency over why something wins which leads to bitching and mistrust.

Rob Weatherhead

Mostly, no.

Simon Wharton

It’s the prerogative of each organiser to run the awards how they see fit. It’s nice to be told why you didn’t win something so you know what needs to be improved, but it doesn’t need to be publicised.

Stephen Kenwright

 

Question 3.

In your opinion, what could be done to improve an awards legitimacy ?

Have people judging who are not commercially involved with any competitors to entrants.

Andy Barr

“For me transparency is key – make it clear who is judging, what the winning criteria are, and why the winner deserves it. Also, I am not a fan of increased costs to submit awards. A small fee is fine, but some organisers are really sticking the hand in and going for maximum profitability. That is not what awards should be about. Also I feel that awards should be organised by industry bodies first and foremost, to ensure that there is a level of credibility and trust associated with the award from the get go.”

Barry Adams

“They key is entries and making sure the best really wins. It’s something that is almost impossible, but what you have to strive for is to have as many as possible enter. It has to be a real reflection of the industry, not just the ones that sign up. It’s practically impossible, but that is the best solution. Trying to get as close to that as possible, together with having the right judges and right ‘proof’ will improve legitmacy.”

Bas van den Beld

Build the credibility of the brand behind the awards.

Gus Ferguson

Standardised analytics being run over all campaigns would have been a good way to ensure all information submitted by applicants was accurate.

Lexi Mills

“Most sensible marketers I speak to take these awards with a pinch of salt and don’t get too hung up on them. They are effectively a marketing exercise of agencies to be able to legitimise the work which they have been doing in order to impress new potential clients, and retain existing ones. So long as everyone goes into them with their eyes open, I don’t think legitimacy of the awards as such is in question, more the emphasis certain over-enthusiastic individuals may place on them. It would be useful though if some of the judges were more senior, long standing Digital Marketers and CMOs. This might help to remove the reputation which some people may hold of them being a mutual back-slapping exercise between agencies, and would require a different style of entry to be successful.”

Martin Pezet

As time passes some will grow it stature

Paul Madden

“I am a self-confessed skeptic when it comes to industry awards. My biggest issue has always been about the perception of awards outside of our own circles. This is the biggest challenge for any niche awards ceremony in my opinion. I think the only way to fix this is to potentially partner with a recognised third party, a governing body or well-known publication. Transparency was always the other major issue for me. I think the Search Awards (UK, EU, US) have taken great strides to resolve this. Full disclosure on who is judging, showing videos of judges giving their reasons why they chose a winner, all very good ideas. I think there is a potential further step, where entries are anonymised. This would rule out any potential question marks over self-interest. “

Richard Shove

“Its very difficult, but I think it comes down to: – quality of judges – quality of process (i.e. people trust there is no undue influence, and there is a level of transparency) – legitimacy of winners If people question any of the above then that is where issues arise. “

Rob Weatherhead

Have some sense. A good panel. Awards where you have to go and get votes for yourself are utterly meaningless and only legitimised by those who choose to enter.

Simon Wharton

The legitimacy of the award comes from the quality of the brands and agencies involved, so going up against the best of the best, the iCrossings and the Epiphanys etc. in our case, is what makes you want to win the awards. It’s always nice to get recognised for great work, but an award should be a way to identify who is doing the very best work and who is worth working for (for staff) and with (for brands), so the most prestigious awards are the ones where the playing field is kept high

Stephen Kenwright

 

Question 4.

Have awards become devalued as a result of saturation ?

Yes. And also the fact some of the award categories and the winner opportunities themselves just don’t make sense. One awards we were at last year had Bronze, Silver and Gold winners. Some categories had three bronze winners, one gold, no silver. One bronze and nothing else etc etc… although, those awards did have the creepiest entertainment too… some puppet woman from the 70s.

Andy Barr

“To a degree, yes. We see new awards pop up all the time and often these are just quick cash-ins for the organisers with little thought given to the credibility of the award. I’ve seen some recent awards where you have to pay to submit, but then the judging is supposedly a crowdsourced affair, yet in such a way that you don’t see what others are judging on, which makes the whole thing very questionable indeed. So you have a paid submission, no credibility in the judging panel, and no transparency on winning criteria. That to me looks like a total scam. Also the lack of exclusivity of awards means everyone and their dog can now get shortlisted or win one. That diminishes the value of awards as clients will increasingly just roll their eyes at the ‘award-winning’ label that agencies give themselves.”

Barry Adams

The more awards, the less value of course. So yes there is something to that. In the end people will not want many different ones though, so the one that has the most credit and the most traction will survive.

Bas van den Beld

Kind of… the big brand’s awards still have value. There are too many small awards only events though. Basically scams.

Gus Ferguson

The PR industry seems to be more saturated than the SEO industry but this doesn’t seem to impact their value. From where I stand I think awards carry greater gravitas in the PR industry from a sales perspective than they do in SEO, as the people purchasing PR seem to be more inclined to reference awards than those purchasing digital SEO expertise. I think this is most likely due to the infancy of the SEO in comparison to the established nature of PR.

Lexi Mills

We are in danger of getting to that point, but not quite yet. There’s only a few in the UK which most marketers would have heard of and the industry is growing at such a rate that I think there is room for a few jostling for our attention.

Martin Pezet

Not yet… soon….

Paul Madden

Definitely. I think this is largely due to so many people wanting a piece of the exposure that goes with putting on an awards, particularly from publishers. Within the search industry, some awards hold more merit than others but I don’t think there is a completely recognised awards like the Oscars in the film industry. On top of this, search is obviously a small part of a bigger industry, marketing, which has awards of its own.

Richard Shove

“To a degree yes. Pretty much any agency of note can put a winners badge on their website from one awards or another. People from outside the industry wont know which are reputable awards and which arent which in turn brings the credibility of the industry as a whole down. Some will always retain more credibility than others but this is only maintained through the quality of the judging panel, the process, and the trust in the eventual winners.”

Rob Weatherhead

Very much so.

Simon Wharton

No, everyone knows which are the important awards. The rest look good on the shelf too.

Stephen Kenwright

 

Question 5.

If you were judging (or have judged) an awards, what would you look for in a winning entry ?

Pure and simple, what was the client goals and did the campaign smash them. Nothing else other than that.

Andy Barr

I always look for client results. I don’t care much for how good a project looks or how creative it was, I just want to know what it delivered in terms of ROI for the client. For me that should be the foremost criterium where award submissions are judged on.

Barry Adams

“I’ve judged several years and the two things I’ve always really looked for in a winning entry was: 1. are they moving the boundaries, trying out new ideas, being innovative? 2. did they really help the client forward? It’s not just about doing a good job, it’s about doing a really good job”

Bas van den Beld

Results, results and results

Gus Ferguson

So many entries fall flat because the person filling in the form has not actually answered the questions being asked despite providing lots on interesting information. Its important the the award entry first answers the core questions in the awards form…it sounds silly I know but it happens more often than you would think! SEO sits at the epicentre of several converging industries, it’s important to make sure that integrated campaign work is of an award winning standard for every industry that it touches on.

Lexi Mills

I’m fairly data driven, so I would be looking to cut through any of the marketing fluff and get down to numbers. I would want to see impressive returns/growth in sectors which are notoriously difficult to make headway in. Creativity is always going to be subjective, which is why I would prefer to concentrate on the bottom line.

Martin Pezet

“Honesty The amount of effort or work that has gone into the product or project The passion of the people entering”

Paul Madden

Assuming we are talking about search, I think the most important thing is the proven results. This, for me, would be visits and revenue relative to the niche in question. On top of this, how well it fits in with overall brand strategy and messaging would be of great importance.

Richard Shove

True value add. I would try and cut through the bullshit put in front of me and get to the real truth. It seems that the winners of awards are often those who know how to write the best entry and not those who run the best campaigns. Id also suggest there is a fair amount of embellishment in entries so any way of stripping that out would level the playing field.

Rob Weatherhead

See that the questions are answered and then test any supporting data.

Simon Wharton

Has it been done before? What was the ROI? What were the KPIs and did it exceed them? Nothing ticks every box so it’s important to know what the boxes were.

Stephen Kenwright

 



So after polling people based on the questions I asked, Rachel from Manchester Digital reached out regarding the Big Chip Awards to put across their view.  A nice way to round up the post.

The Big Chip Awards have existed for 17 years. The steering group, the judges and the organisers pride themselves on being involved in Big Chips because they are credible; they are not for profit and they are respected within the digital community in the North.

That said, the Big Chips are often tarred with the same brush as other awards. Naysayers might suggest that only “mates” get shortlisted, or those sponsors that have paid the most. Perhaps the organisers have a vested interest in that company. We’ve seen it all before. But the Big Chips stand apart from this. Headline and category sponsors are excluded from entering and they have no place around the judging table. It is of paramount importance to us that the Big Chips are independent and that they are credible.

We don’t shortlist every entrant just for table sales. We shortlist those that we think are worthy. If that means shortlisting just 3 companies out of 25 who entered, or not even shortlisting any (both real examples), then so be it.

Transparency of awards, in this industry and all others, is a real issue. Yes, some awards could be more transparent but we shout from the roof tops about how credible and independent we are, yet questions will still be raised if Mr X doesn’t agree with the winner of Best Digital Agency, for example. There is no way of getting around this. We share the judges’ comments on the evening, as do most organisers but still there will be people who disagree. This is the nature of what we do.

All we can do is continue the work that we’re doing and rely on the ambassadors that we have in the industry (of which there are many) to support our work and why we do it.

There are many, many digital awards in the UK and yes, perhaps we aren’t far off saturation point but if people continue to enter and continue to benefit from being shortlisted or winning, then where’s the harm? If the industry feels strongly about the legitimacy and transparency of some awards then those awards will soon cease to exist. At the minute though, the opposite appears to be happening. We can’t simply change things with our words; we have to take action.

Rachel Thompson, Big Chip Awards

 

If you made it all the way to the bottom, then congratulations and thank you for reading, feel free to join the debate in comments or tweet me your thoughts.

NB. I offer an awards consultancy service which you may be interested in.

Comments

  • Sam Brown

    I see awards as having the same issue as boxing …in that there are so many belts for the same weight categories, there are far too many awards – how do you know what’s the best?!

    May I propose the development of Unified Digital Marketing Belts? The owner of the belt of each discipline are the only people who can call themselves the Undisputed Digital Agency Champions. They hold the belt for 6 months and as it’s an actual belt, can parade it at any pitches they want. At the end of the six months, the current title holders have to submit a new case study that others can choose to ‘fight’.

    If someone doesn’t agree with the current title holder, all they have to do is submit a challenge at the end of the next reign.

    To choose the initial holder(s), 30 agencies submit a case study to enter the first ever Agency Rumble. The judging panel reveal the results over the course of a week via new 2000 word stories each day detailing why each one was eliminated.

    April 9, 2015 at 1:46 pm

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