I’ve seen a variety of announcements lately from agencies who have recently won awards for everything from best agency to best creative. As happy as I am for all of the agencies and brands whose work is being celebrated, I started to wonder if these award competitions are really highlighting the absolute best work in our industry. To figure this out I started to do some digging to figure out how a company would come to be considered for these awards. I wanted to dive deeper into how winners are selected, but frankly most of the awards don’t disclose detailed information on this front. After going through that process, I was left with more questions than answers. I wanted to throw this out there and see whether or not you feel like the various opportunities to win awards are really finding and highlighting the best marketers, brands, consultants and agencies in the space. There were two areas I found that I think will help kick start the conversation.
Does a “Pay to Play” Entry Process Find the Best Work?
I have to admit; I was a bit shocked by this finding. I looked at local awards, regional awards and national awards from a variety of different organizations that celebrate marketers. Every single one had a pay to play model, meaning you have to pay to even be considered for one of their awards. As I thought about it, I understood that these organizations need some kind of revenue to actually give a nice trophy, but then when I dug into all of the fees the entry fee was just the beginning. Just looking at the entry fees, I noticed they definitely aren’t for the faint of heart. I saw fees ranging from $150 to $500, just to enter. Awards ceremony tickets ranged from $150-300 per person, not including travel. And some even charge you for displaying your award from $50 for a certificate to packages with trophies up to $800. When you multiply the entry fee by the number of entrants in each of the various categories, it was pretty clear that this is definitely a revenue stream for these organizations. That brings up a lot of questions doesn’t it. Does pay to play actually find the best work or does it find the organizations willing to pay to win an award? If these awards programs are revenue drivers for the organization is there a conflict of interest? If you had to “pay” to be considered for an award was it earned or bought?
My biggest risk assessment with this type of process is that there could be a lot of really great work being done out there by people who might not see the value in paying to enter an awards competition when they are generating a steady stream of business and others like solopreneurs who simply can’t afford it. When you combine the cost with the cumbersome entry process, it’s possible that the process is weeding out some of the real talent these programs are designed to highlight.
Call me naïve, but I honestly thought the people who were considered for awards were hand selected or nominated by third parties.
Are Tangible Marketing Projects the Best Examples of our Work?
For the next search I started looking at what type of awards these organizations give and one thing was super clear, marketing campaigns lead the charge. Sure they are called a variety of things besides campaigns, but when you look at what has to be submitted with your entry it’s clear you have to show something tangible to be considered and the easiest thing to consider is a campaign. Some of the organizations reviewed both internal and external marketing initiatives, but the majority look at externally focused campaigns. I would totally agree that there are some phenomenal marketing campaigns out there, but it made me step back and wonder about all of the other great work that marketers are doing that wasn’t included in any of the categories offered. So I created a list of categories that I think are important, but not offered.
Here are some categories I’d love to see:
- Best ROI optimization (based on optimizing the ROI of a specific program)
- Best end-to-end measurement transformation (demonstrating a measurement transformation from a benchmark (before) to the result (after) and showing the improved measurement capability and newly available metrics)
- Best operationalizing of social media, content marketing, and/or advocacy (based on policies, workflows, and adoption throughout an organization)
- Best social customer care program (based on average time to respond, first-time resolution rates, satisfaction rates and cost to service)
- Most helpful social media or online marketing team (demonstrating helping people through direct engagement, not content)
- Most profitable marketing team (demonstrating the highest ROI for all marketing programs in a single year)
- Best marketing mentorship program (demonstrating internal training and mentorship through all levels of employees)
- Best integrated marketing plan (based on the whole plan, not just one campaign)
- Best culture transformation (demonstrating a shift in culture within an organization around a key area of focus, i.e. social media)
And that’s just a few I saw missing that show a tremendous amount of progress within an organization. The reality is that having one home run campaign is great, but it’s the entire marketing effort that really matters in the long run. That takes us back to where we started, are tangible marketing projects the best way to show real progress? I think there is room for celebration for a winning campaign, but I’d love to expand the focus into some of the things that are less tangible and possibly even more important to long-term success.
My personal position on these awards doesn’t really matter. What matters is whether or not we have a system in place for awards that truly highlights our most important work. With that, I throw it to you.
Do you think these awards programs are finding the best work? Are they highlighting our most important work?
Do you agree with the pay to play model for entering?
If you were to look back over your efforts in the last year, do you think the awards being given cover what you are most proud of?
Have you ever hired an agency or consultant based on awards they’ve won?
What’s working in today’s model? What would make a marketing awards program even better? What do you want more of? What do you want less of?
Consider those questions or add thoughts of your own in the comments section.