In defence of entering awards

With a slew of agencies swearing off awards, King Kong's Sabri Suby makes the case for why his agency will continue to apply - despite the dramas.

I suspect, dear reader, that you don’t need to be reminded of the scandals that have plagued industry awards in recent times. So I won’t.

What I will do, however, is take the stance that awards are not only still relevant, but that they should remain a source of pride for those who win; that they are a validation of outstanding work and the impact on a business and the industry as a whole greatly outweigh the current avalanche of (justified) cynicism and hostility.

However, with the promise of increased scrutiny of award entries and transparency of the judging process, there is a tremendous opportunity to restore faith in the entire process.

As recent winners of awards ourselves, ahem – the Best IT gong at the Small Business Champions Awards – I have seen the way an award win can fire-up a company. And when we were named Australia’s fast growing full-service digital marketing agency (Australian Financial Review’s Fast Starters List), it sparked new business enquiries, strengthened existing client relationships, lured new talent and, most importantly, provided a career highlight for our hard-working staff.

For a business, an award provides social proof that a company is what they say it is, and at the very least is heading in the right direction. This is particularly beneficial in industries like digital marketing, where some cowboys tarnish the rest of us.

Just as vanity metrics don’t cut it with digital marketing, smoke and mirrors shouldn’t cut it with awards. Transparency and authenticity is expected and, in many people’s opinions, awards have been lacking in these areas.

Fortunately, with the industry now promising a renewed focus on meaningful measurement metrics (such as sales) at the expense of token achievements (such as pitch requests), awards can avoid the perception of being merely back-patting, ego enhancement.

This will, in turn, produce a more even playing field with entrants fighting it out using objective, provable data in their submissions, enabling judges to appraise entries in a more transparent manner. This will only serve to improve the standard of entries, lifting the overall quality of the awards. We need more impressive applications, not fewer.

So when you have good news and good work to share, share it!

Consider the ensuing scrutiny a compliment because you (should) have nothing to hide, and the quality of your work will speak for itself. And with a renewed scrutiny in our industry, it’s near impossible to get away with false claims.

Marketing awards look at different KPIs, including number of media mentions and various measures of engagement.

But – while we can talk ourselves up until our throats are red-raw, a third-party endorsement will always mean significantly more than our own spruiking. Off the back of an award win, we (and many others) proudly share media releases about our wins, list our awards in our email signatures, encourage our sales people to drop casual mentions, display them front-and-centre on our website and our shiny trophies sit proudly in reception.

Of course, while this may lead to cries of peacocking, our experience shows that it attracts all the right kind of attention with more traffic to our website, spikes in new business inquiries and positions us a destination for the best and brightest in the industry. After all, your work can’t speak for itself if you don’t first bring it to people’s attention.

It also reinforces to our existing clients that they are working with an agency doing incredible work and that the great minds who executed the award-winning campaign will also be working on theirs.

Staff morale? It’s impossible to ignore the spring in our team’s step when we win an award. It’s affirmation, it inspires motivation, solidarity and it’s a career highlight that will always have a place on any CV.

In short, it’s something that should inspire your chin to be held that little bit more northward. In an industry as demanding as ours, these benefits can’t be underestimated.

Naturally, there will always be the charge that awards are merely ego-inflating, vanity projects that impede a company’s ability to do their work effectively and it’s impossible to deny that entering awards can be a time-sapping, energy draining exercise.

But if they’re done honestly, strategically – ensuring that the award categories align with your business goals and USPs – and with the appropriate allocation of resources, the benefits will greatly outweigh the cost for the many reasons above.

Even if you don’t win, at the very least, a night out with the team with free-flowing drinks can be a great morale booster, bonding experience and networking opportunity, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

So, if I still can’t convince you that industry awards are still worth pursuing and that the only award an organisation should aim for is a satisfied client, then I can’t fault you. Indeed, a happy client is the ultimate proof that you’re performing well.

However, I have to ask – if we can’t remain positive about the good work we do, acknowledge the work of our peers and be proud of our achievements, then how can we expect those outside the industry to respect this as well?

We can’t let the immoral actions of a minority take the gloss off our achievements and the pride we feel from a job well done. Industry awards aren’t the be-all and end-all, but they are the cherry on top, and what a delicious, rewarding cherry that can be.

I hope to see you at the next awards night!

Sabri Suby is CEO of digital marketing agency King Kong.


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