And the Award Goes To…YOU! Six Steps for a Winning Awards Strategy

 by Marissa Levin, an EO Chesapeake Bay member and CEO of Information Experts

Visit any business website, and you will likely see a scrolling list of the awards the company has won. Awards for leadership, philanthropy, marketing, design, organizational culture, industry position…there is literally an award for every size company, in every industry. Most awards programs create categories according to revenue size so that every organization has a chance to be honored.

My first company, Information Experts, has won more than 90 awards for creativity, innovation, design and leadership, over a 20-year span. None of these awards happened by chance. On the contrary, Information Experts implemented a deliberate awards strategy as part of a larger marketing strategy.

As you build your business, it’s important to implement an awards strategy as part of your marketing strategy. Awards programs provide these opportunities for businesses and their executives:

Credibility. While it is true that the awards programs are marketing and customer acquisition programs for the sponsoring organizations, the selection process for finalists and winners is grueling and intensive. I’ve been on both sides of the table as an individual winner, company winner, and a judge. I’ve seen (and participated in) the scrutiny that occurs during the evaluation process. Nominating committees, which are selected because of their market credibility, read every word of all nominations that come across the table, and compare them to the required evaluation rubric to ensure finalists and winners meet criteria.

Increased Brand Awareness. Any company nominated for an award gets free promotion and increased brand awareness, once the awards organization releases the finalists. This often includes a video, article, or at the very least, a write-up about the firm. It puts the company on the radar of many people who may not have heard of your organization.

Access to a Network of Leaders. Attending the awards events affords you the opportunity to expand your network with other business leaders.

A Reason to Connect With Your Customer. Winning an award gives you a valid reason for reaching out to your customer. Our customers are flooded with information, and we must seek opportunities for touch-points. Letting them know you are a finalist (or nominee or winner) is a great reason to call or email them.

Great message to employees, prospects, and the market. When a company strives to win, it means they are striving to be the best. Awards recognition goes a long way in building company morale. Employees see that their efforts pay off with industry recognition.

Early stage entrepreneurs and start-ups may hesitate to pursue an award because they think they won’t win. And, they probably won’t. In my experience, very few first-time submissions win awards. However, going through the process still results in many of the benefits I listed above, and it does put the company on the radar for the following year. For every evaluating committee on which I have served, we must indicate whether each submission is a first-time or repeat submission. We are instructed to assess the growth and changes that the company has experienced from one year to the next. Past awards submissions matter. You have to start somewhere!

Like every initiative in a company, the awards process requires a thoughtful strategy. It also requires an internal stakeholder to own the process, and a line item in the budget to cover the costs of the submissions as well as additional marketing events surrounding the award.

Here are the steps to implement an awards strategy:

Understand what’s involved. The three primary tasks involved are researching, writing, and submitting on time.

Assign ownership. Based on the tasks, who in your company is best suited for the job? It should be someone in the marketing function who has strong institutional knowledge, is comfortable conveying the value proposition of the company, and is a strong content aggregator. Awards require financial, leadership, customer, and marketing information. This person should also have the bandwidth to take on this added responsibility.

Research the applicable/appropriate awards. As this is part of an overall marketing strategy, which awards will bring the greatest visibility and credibility? Often a company needs to start with “local” awards (like a county business-of-the-year award) and move up to Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year.

Create an awards submission calendar and associated project plans. Think of awards submissions as deliverables. They will require the same process that all projects require: scope, budget (time billed to overhead and the associated fees), draft, review, and submission. If your company uses a time tracking system, the project owner will have to set up a project code to track hours against it.

Submit the awards and let the company know you’ve done so. Even if the company is not selected, the submission communicates that the leadership team values employee contributions.

Plan for follow-up PR. Plan your customer touch-points and industry promotional strategy. Schedule website updates.

Many PR firms provide awards submission services. This is a great idea for solopreneurs or small companies that don’t have in-house marketing firms. For companies that have in house marketing groups, I recommend trying the in-house route. No one can tell your story better than you can. You may also want to include last-minute details that a third party doesn’t know. Either way, plan to be a winner in 2015. See you at the event, and GOOD LUCK!

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