From winning awards to winning coverage

The right accolades can translate into PR gold, if they're touted in the right way to the right people

The right accolades can translate into PR gold, if they're touted in the right way to the right people

"When Jorge Moreno won his first Latin Grammy Award for Best New Latin Artist in 2001, we totally changed the way we promoted him," says Deborah Charnes Vallejo, managing director of Bromley/MS&L in San Antonio, TX.

While working as a spokesman for a Burger King campaign - the PR for which was being managed by Bromley/MS&L - Moreno had been nominated for the award, but no one expected the relatively unknown artist to win the industry's top honor.

"As we watched it come together, we were like, 'Hey, he won, he won!' It was a tremendous boost to the campaign," Charnes Vallejo says. "It immediately became part of our pitch to media."

Since the win, Moreno's career has skyrocketed. His latest project is a collaboration with legendary Latin guitarist Carlos Santana on the soundtrack for the movie Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. In part, Charnes Vallejo links the success of the Burger King campaign, as well as Moreno's quick rise to success as a musician, to the fact that he won such a prestigious award, especially on his first album release.

Not every industry accolade will carry the same weight as a Grammy, but PR and marketing experts across the board agree that the added third-party validation can be invaluable in building reputation and even boosting sales for a product, book, service, or brand.

Steven O'Toole, VP of marketing for iCode, a Chantilly, VA-based software company, says, "Part of my job as VP of marketing for a small, privately held software firm is to help come up with more compelling evidence why our solutions are superior. To a small business owner who's our customer, they need to know, 'Why should I buy from you? I've never heard of you.'"

His company's Everest software tool, which helps small businesses perform a variety of management functions, has won an array of awards, including Best Software Product at the 2000 System Builder Summit in Palm Desert, CA, and the Microsoft Small Business Solution of the Year award at Asia Fusion 2001.

O'Toole is not only aggressive in entering awards, but tries to use the wins as much as possible in all internal and external communications. He puts it into the company's advertising, in direct mail correspondence, and in collateral materials. A prominent section on the front page of iCode's web site, www.icode.com, is dedicated to news about third-party praise for the software.

"We want people to see it, even before they start to look at the product, to overcome any initial doubts or reservations about the company or the product being unknown," he says. "It's almost like an introduction of sorts. When a friend introduces you to somebody, it's a lot different meeting them than if you had met them on your own. So, in a way, our awards are that introduction."

Shel Horowitz, who's written books on ethical marketing, doesn't think you even need to win the award, so long as you are in the running. He advises clients to promote nominations or coming in second. "I believe that being nominated for a prestigious award is a worthy achievement, if it's not a self-nomination process," he says.

Horowitz practices what he preaches. For one of his most recent book releases, Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First, he has entered about half a dozen awards for which he won't know the status until next year. But, he says, "Believe me, if I take second prize, people will hear about it."

O'Toole agrees with that sentiment. When the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) named Everest as a finalist in the prestigious Codie awards, he quickly wrote up a press release touting the near win.

He says, "As a relatively unknown company in our space this puts us in the same category as Microsoft, Symantec, and Adobe." He notes that although it didn't win, his product beat more than 40 other solutions nominated in the Best Business Software Product or Service category, and that, especially in the small business space, people have trained themselves to look for those awards to initially determine which are the best.

Rodger Roeser, VP at Justice & Young Public Relations in Cincinnati, OH, uses a litmus test to decide when to put the time and effort into applying. He says, "You have to ask yourself, 'If I didn't work for this company, would this interest me as a consumer?"

For Roeser, it's all about branding. "Understand how wining this award will benefit your brand," he says, "then, fit the fact you won an award into a larger news trend or story."

He doesn't believe in pitching winning an award willy-nilly to anyone who will listen. "If I see one more release that says, 'Joe Blow won such and such award...' I think they're just wasting their time."

Charles Wasilewski, a business communications professional who recently opened the Basking Ridge, NJ, office of the van Aartrijk Group, based in Springfield, VA, looks at awards pragmatically. He separates them into two categories that help determine when and where they should be promoted.

"I view most awards as being useful for 'soft announcements,'" he says. "That is, they can be used on a website, in an internal announcement or intranet, in a conversation with a reporter or editor, in a speech, and on the bios of executives. The awards that are suitable for external announcement are truly the ones of national or international scope, such as the Baldrige Award."

While most experts believe that an award only should be touted for one year or until the next awards cycle, O'Toole suggests that it can be useful to show a record of accomplishment over a number of years.

"In some cases having older awards as well as new ones says we were good then, and we're still good today," he says. "It's when a product was good then but is missing the 'still good today' part that older awards can have a negative effect."

The hardest question to answer, however, is how awards translate to sales gains or other increases in the bottom line.

"It's tough to tie sales gains to an award, but having a 'portfolio' of awards is a necessary part of our product communication and positioning," says O'Toole.

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Technique Tips

Do look for awards conferred by prestigious organizations

Do include most awards in corporate materials

Do fit the winning of the award into a larger trend

Don't keep flagging awards beyond their half-life - usually a year or until the next awards cycle

Don't send news about winning an award to the editor of a competing publication or organization

Don't waste your time and money applying for awards where there's only a small chance of winning

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