Agency Doctor: Trumpet awards success and don't waste the entrance fee

The effort spent entering awards will only pay off if success is used to bring in new business, attract top talent and set agencies apart.

I am writing this piece as the social media frenzy around the Cannes Lions begins. Consultants are posting from airport lounges; selfies in front of the Cannes marina have started appearing and the usual slew of blogs decry the failure of PR to win its fair share of awards. But what value are awards to the average agency?

The PR industry is not short of opportunities to win a gong. The PRCA, CIPR, PR Moment and, of course, PRWeek are just four organisations that run awards programmes giving agencies hundreds of opportunities to demonstrate how creative and successful they have been.

But, once the party dresses and DJs have been sent to the dry-cleaners, are we sure that the time and cost were really worth the effort?

Winning awards should bring a raised profile with both prospects and potential recruits – two growth drivers that are critical to the success of every agency. But to do this, the award has to be in a category that is relevant to the vision and direction of the agency. If you are shifting your focus for growth on to social media for consumer brands, that business-to-business award you picked up is less than helpful when targeting prospects or new team members.

Second, if you do win an award it needs to be promoted consistently. I am always amazed at the number of agencies that fail to communicate their success to clients and prospects in the 12 months following a win. Third, as my colleague Richard Houghton (an award veteran as both entrant and judge) never tires of pointing out, the entry evaluation needs to demonstrate that the campaign objectives were met. And, no, advertising equivalents are not considered as robust evaluation by the majority of award schemes. This really means that when you are planning your campaigns with an eye on winning an award, setting measurable objectives is an absolute must.

Another obvious but important piece of advice is to ensure that you meet the criteria of entry. There are always entries that don’t provide the requisite-sized file for supporting materials or provide links to sites and videos that do not work. There is no quicker way of wasting the entrance fee.

Writing a winning award entry is an art and takes practice. There are a number of specialist freelancers that will do the job for a fee but, rather like social media campaigns, this is not one to pass on to the intern or junior account executive. If you are going to invest the entrance fee, take it seriously and find time to craft a concise and compelling entry that will stand out.

Despite the number of awards schemes available they still have a role to play in agency differentiation, new business and recruitment if correctly targeted and promoted. But the competition remains fierce, so evaluate, demonstrate creativity and check the small print. And, of course, enjoy the ceremony – even if you don’t win.

Theresa Guppy is a partner at Agency People

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